Kung Pao Chicken

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Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

Please welcome contributor Garrett McCord as he shares one of his favorite go-to Chinese (American) dishes, Kung Pao Chicken. ~Elise

Kung Pao Chicken (also known as Gong Bao or Kung Pow) is probably the dish most associated with Chinese food in America. This dish is also one of the most authentic dishes on the menus of Chinese restaurants and owes its fiery flavor to two particular ingredients: chilies and Szechuan peppercorns.

The chili peppers most commonly used for Chinese cooking are Tien Tsin chilies, named for their province of origin. They’re quite hot and possess an earthy pungency.

Szechwan (or Sichuan) peppercorns were actually banned by the FDA until 2005 due to their potential to carry citrus canker. Now they’re permitted for import but only after they’ve been heat treated.

Kung Pao Chicken

Rather than being hot or pungent, they’re slightly citrusy and create a slight numbing, tingling sensation as opposed to the burning, hot sensations of peppers and chilies (think the tingle on your tongue from a carbonated drink).

You can find both in Asian markets or order them easily (and cheaply) online as a little goes a long way.

If you like spice then this is your dish. You can use any red dried chilies and the Szechwan peppercorns are optional, though the dish isn’t the same without them and there isn’t a good substitute.

Like any stir-fry this is quick, cheap, and flavorful. It’s also an exemplary example of Szechwan cuisine due to its combination of sweet, sour, salty, and hot tastes. Serve with rice and a hearty dark beer.

Kung Pao Chicken Recipe

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  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cook time: 10 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons of sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon of Szechwan peppercorns (optional)
  • 8 red, dried chili peppers
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 tablespoon of freshly grated ginger
  • 6 green onions, chopped
  • 2/3 cup of roasted, unsalted peanuts

For the marinade

  • 2 teaspoons of soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons of sherry or Shaoxing rice wine
  • 1 tablespoon of water
  • 2 teaspoons of cornstarch

For the sauce

  • 3 teaspoons of Chinkiang or 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons of soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon of water
  • 3 teaspoons of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of cornstarch

Method

1 Marinate chicken: Mix together the marinade ingredients. Chop the chicken into bite sized pieces and toss them in the marinade and set aside.

2 Whisk together sauce ingredients: Combine all the ingredients for the sauce, whisking well to ensure the cornstarch is fully incorporated. Set aside.

3 Slice garlic, deseed and chop chilies: Thinly slice the garlic. Break the chilies open and discard the seeds inside, then cut them into a few large pieces (the dish will already be very hot, keeping the seeds will make it near inedible).

4 Stir-fry chilies and peppercorns: Place the 2 1/2 tablespoons of sesame oil in a wok or large saute pan and place over medium-high heat. Add the chilies and Szechwan peppercorns if using. Stir-fry for a few second until they become fragrant being careful not to burn them.

5 Add chicken, then ginger, garlic, green onions: Add the chicken, as soon as the pieces have separated add the ginger, garlic, and green onions. Stir-fry for a few minutes until the chicken is cooked through.

6 Add sauce, then peanuts: Add the sauce and toss. When the sauce becomes thick add the peanuts, toss, and serve.

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Garrett McCord

Garrett McCord is a food writer, writing instructor, culinary consultant, freelance food photographer, and recipe developer who shares his enthusiasm for food and the written word through his blog Vanilla Garlic. Garrett's cookbook, co-authored with Stephanie Stiavetti, is Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese

More from Garrett

Links:

Szechwan Peppercorns on Wikipedia

Szechwan Peppercorn Ban Ends

Showing 4 of 21 Comments

  • L & S

    My husband and I spent three months traveling in China last year. With the help of an iPhone application called China Menu (http://chinabites.com/iphone/pressrelease/), we frequently ordered Kung Pao Chicken. Since returning, we’ve tried the dish at several restaurants and it has always seemed a little off. This recipe is fantastic! We just made it with the peppercorns. We like our food spicy, and it was perfect. The best Kung Pao we’ve had in the U.S. Thanks.

  • Mary Kay

    Delish and doable as always. I used cooked chicken and I only had to buy the fresh ginger – great meal!

  • Foodrepublik

    Great recipe! I live in China and Kung Pao chicken is one of my favorite dishes. This recipe looks pretty authentic. I prefer to use ground Sichuan peppercorns though, as the whole ones are quite overwhelming if you happen to get a few in one bite. One question about the ChinKiang vinegar – is that black vinegar, red, or just plain white rice vinegar…or something else entirely?

    ChinKiang is a black vinegar. ~Garrett

  • Nadine

    This Kung Pao recipe was great. Wonderful flavors–and not at all gloppy like some Kung Pao can be. Also, you’re right, the Sichuan peppercorns do add something.

  • Elizabeth

    I have fond memories of eating Kung Po chicken in Nigeria in the nineteen eighties — the only dish in the hotel’s Chinese restaurant that was any good. Probably because chicken, peanuts and hot peppers are Nigerian staples, and there were no vegetables to go soggy. But I just made your version, and it was MUCH better. Thank you for improving on my memories.

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