Take out style Kung Pao Chicken with marinated chicken, the signature sweet-sour-salty Kung Pao sauce with the addictive tingling heat from sichuan pepper.
It’s an explosion of big, BIG flavours – and it’s a really quick and easy recipe.
Kung Pao Chicken
Kung Pao Chicken is a Chinese takeout favourite that is mouthwateringly good and highly addictive – so it’s a good thing it’s easy to make at home so we don’t need to order takeout every time we crave it!! We love the strong flavoured sweet-sour-savoury sauce with the signature tingle of numbing heat from the Sichuan pepper!
If you’re wondering whether Kung Pao Chicken is authentic Chinese, the dish as we know it outside of China is a slightly westernised version of an authentic Chinese Sichuan dish.
But with Kung Pao Chicken, the sauce is very intense flavoured so you don’t need loads of it. When it mixes in with the rice, just a bit of sauce goes a long way.
What goes in Kung Pao Chicken
Most of these ingredients are pretty mainstream Asian cooking ingredients. I’ve provided substitutes for the Chinese cooking wine in the recipe.
The ingredients I describe in a little more detail below are:
- Sichuan pepper
- Chinese vinegar
- Dried chillies
I like to use chicken thigh because it’s juicier than breast and tenderloin. If I make this with chicken breast, I always tenderise it using a Chinese restaurant technique using baking soda (bi-carb). It’s super simple, see directions here: How to Velvet Chicken.
This is the ingredient in Kung Pao sauce that makes it Kung Pao and not just any type of stir fry sauce. I describe it as a little bit lemony with a numbing spiciness, rather than hot spiciness like almost every other chilli.
I used to use whole peppercorns but nowadays I tend to use pre ground both for the convenience and also because it’s finely ground. In contrast, if you grind your own, there tends to be little gritty bits in it – albeit the flavour is a bit better.
Best substitute for Sichuan pepper is white pepper.
Not all dried chillies are created equal and in fact, the same type of chillies can vary in spiciness throughout the year. So for dried chillies, always taste them and make a judgement call on how much you can handle! Most of the heat is in the seeds which are removed.
If you really don’t think you can handle any chilli at all, use them when cooking but don’t eat them. The chillies add flavour to to sauce so don’t skip them.
Here’s what goes in Kung Pao Sauce:
- Sichuan Pepper – described above
- Chinese Black Vinegar – described below
- Cornstarch / cornflour – to thicken the sauce
- – subs available
- Soy sauce, sugar and water
Chinese Black Vinegar
Looks like balsamic vinegar and, surprisingly, tastes vaguely like it. Available in Asian stores and costs only a couple of dollars for a big bottle. Be sure not to get Taiwanese or another Asian black vinegar (some taste completely different), make sure you get Chinese black vinegar (read the label!).
If you can’t find it, don’t worry, you can use rice wine vinegar, plain white vinegar or even balsamic vinegar. I’ve made Kung Pao Sauce so many times and tried it with each of these, and it’s actually quite similar.
Quick to cook
As with most stir fries, once you start cooking, things move quickly! It takes about 6 minutes to cook. So make sure you have all ingredients prepared and ready to toss in.
Key Tip: Cook the Kung Pao sauce down until it reduces to a syrupy consistency with quite an intense flavour. That’s the Kung Pao way!!
Phew! I don’t usually end up writing so much stuff about ingredients in a post! So I’m signing off here and handing over the recipe. Don’t forget the recipe video below! I think it’s especially useful to see the consistency of the sauce at the end – it should be thick and syrupy, and intense dark brown colour. Enjoy! – Nagi x
More Chinese takeout favourites
- Chow Mein
- Cashew Chicken
- Beef & Broccoli
- Chop Suey (Chicken Stir Fry)
- Spring Rolls
- Chinese BBQ Pork (Char Siu)
- See all Chinese recipes
WATCH HOW TO MAKE IT
Kung Pao Chicken
- 1 lb / 500g chicken thigh , cut into bite size pieces
- 2 tsp cornflour / cornstarch
- 1 tbsp light soy sauce (Note 2)
- 1.5 tbsp dark soy sauce (Note 3)
- 2 tbsp Chinese black vinegar (Note 4)
- 1 tbsp Chinese cooking wine (Note 5)
- 3 tbsp sugar , any
- 1/2 tsp sesame oil
- 1/3 cup water
- 2 tbsp peanut oil (or other cooking oil)
- 2 garlic cloves , minced
- 1 tsp ginger , finely chopped
- 6 - 10 dried chillies (adjust to taste), cut into 2cm/ 3/4" pieces, most seeds discarded (Note 7)
- 3 green onions , cut into 2cm/ 3/4" pieces, white parts separated from green
- 1.5 tsp ground sichuan peppercorns , adjust to taste (Note 6)
- 3/4 cup whole peanuts (or 1/2 cup halved) , roasted unsalted
Sauce & Marinade Chicken:
- Mix cornflour and soy sauce in a small bowl until cornflour is dissolved. Then mix in remaining Sauce ingredients EXCEPT water.
- Pour 1.5 tbsp Sauce over chicken. Toss to coat, set aside for 10 - 20 minutes.
- Add water into remaining Sauce.
- Heat oil in wok over high heat. Add garlic, ginger and chillies. Cook for 30 seconds or until fragrant.
- Add chicken, cook until it turns white, then add the white part of the green onions. Cook until chicken is cooked through - about 2 minutes.
- Add Sauce and Sichuan pepper. Bring to simmer, mixing constantly, until almost all the sauce reduces to a thick syrup.
- Just before the end, mix through peanuts and green part of the green onions. Also check spiciness - add more Sichuan pepper if you can handle the heat!
This Kung Pao Chicken recipe was original posted in April 2016. Recipe has been slightly modified so there’s a touch more sauce – by reader demand! 🙂
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