Take out style Kung Pao Chicken with a perfect savoury sauce with a touch of sour and sweet, and the addictive tingling heat from sichuan peppercorns. This is made with the chicken tenderised using the Chinese restaurant technique called velveting which is super easy!
This is a much requested recipe by readers!!! So for all those who asked for it, thank you for your patience. 🙂
Kung Pao Chicken is actually a traditional Chinese dish. It’s a dry-stir fry, which means it is not swimming in loads of sauce, as many Western Chinese take out dishes are.
But you know what? The sauce flavour would be far too strong if there was loads of it in Kung Pao Chicken. Unless you fiddle with it and make it with less kapow flavours, in which case it isn’t really Kung Pao Chicken anymore.
So this is actually a pretty authentic Kung Pao Chicken, though a wee bit westernised because my palette finds the really traditional Chinese Kung Pao Chicken lighter on flavour than Western versions.
Kung Pao Chicken isn’t huge in Australia (yet…) though it has started appearing in some popular Chinese restaurants like Mr Wong’s in the CBD in Sydney. Though I did think that version was a slightly “modernised” version, reflected in the price of the dish!
In anycase, as always, homemade is so much better. And so much cheaper. It is with the utmost respect for those manning the kitchen at Mr Wong’s that I say while their food is amazing, I can’t make the 40km trek into the city and shell out $27 every single time I have a craving for Kung Pao Chicken!
Normally with stir fries, I say “it’s all about the sauce, the sauce, the sauce!” In this case, it’s actually more than just about the sauce! Here are the key elements of a great Kung Pao Chicken:
- Sauce – getting the right savoury/sour/sweet balance is critical! The sour is from Chinese black vinegar but other vinegars can be substituted. For extra depth of flavour and also colour – because I am partial to the Kung Pao Chicken’s with darker coloured sauce – I add a touch of dark soy sauce. Some authentic recipes use dark soy sauce, some don’t;
- Crunchy Peanuts – don’t skimp on the step of roasting the peanuts to make them super crunchy! It’s essential for a real Kung Pao Chicken experience!!
- Sichuan Pepper – It ain’t Kung Pao Chicken if there’s no Sichuan Pepper! Sichuan Pepper (or Szechuan) is very different from other peppers and chilli because it is a numbing heat, rather than hot heat. I describe it as a “cold” tingling sensation and there is simply no substitute. However, if you really can’t find it, I promise you that this stir fry is still really tasty. It just isn’t Kung Pao Chicken!
- Dried Chillis – As with Sichuan Pepper, a Kung Pao Chicken isn’t complete without dried red chillies. It’s a must! It’s a key ingredient for the aromatics for this stir fry and provides the “hot” spiciness.
There are countless websites that have a version of Kung Pao Chicken, some from more qualified, professional chefs than me. So I’m not going to yell “MINE IS THE BEST! THE BEST!”
But mine is perfect to me, and what I think is closest to proper Chinese restaurant versions. I’ve tried quite a number of other recipes, including from a gourmet magazine that shall remain unnamed. 😉 And I still prefer mine.
I’d love to know what you think if you try it! – Nagi x
- 1 lb / 500g chicken breast or boneless thigh fillets , cut into bite size pieces
- 1 1/2 tsp baking soda / bi-carb soda (Optional: Note 1)
- 1 tsp cornflour / cornstarch
- 2 1/2 tsp light soy sauce (Note 2)
- 1/2 tsp Chinese Dark Soy Sauce (Note 3)
- 1 tbsp Chinese black vinegar or white vinegar (Note 4)
- 1 tbsp chinese wine (shaoshing / shoaxing wine) or dry sherry
- 1 tsp hoisin sauce
- 3 tsp sugar (preferably white, otherwise brown)
- 1/2 tsp sesame oil
- 3 tbsp water
- 1/2 - 1 tsp sichuan peppercorns (Note 5)
- 1 cup peanuts , preferably roasted and unsalted (Note 6)
- 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)
- 2 shallots/scallion stems , cut into 2cm/ 3/4" pieces, white parts separated from green
Tenderise Chicken: Combine chicken with baking soda, set aside for 20 minutes. Rinse thoroughly and pat dry with a paper towel.
Sauce: Mix cornflour and soy sauce in a small bowl until cornflour is dissolved. Then mix in remaining Sauce ingredients.
Heat dry wok over medium heat. Add sichuan peppercorns and toast, shaking the wok, for ~1 minute until fragrant. Transfer to mortar and pestle, and let it cool. Then crush - it doesn't need to be ground to a fine powder.
Meanwhile, add peanuts to the wok and cook for 2 minute, stirring or shaking the wok, until lightly browned. Transfer to bowl and set aside to cool to become crunchy.
Heat oil in wok over high heat. Add garlic, ginger and chillies. Cook for 30 seconds or until fragrant.
Add white part of scallions/shallots, chicken and ground sichuan pepper. Stir fry until chicken is white all over but still slightly raw inside.
Add Sauce, scraping it all in. Bring to simmer, mixing constantly, until almost all the sauce is evaporated and coating the ingredients - it should not be saucy. Just before the end, mix through peanuts and green part of scallions/shallots.
Serve immediately, with rice!
1. This is used to velvet the chicken, a technique used by Chinese restaurants to tenderise the chicken. There are a couple of ways to velvet chicken but I find this the cleanest and easiest.
This step is optional but I think it makes a huge difference when using breast, like I have in this recipe. It's not as critical if using chicken thighs as they are juicier.
2. Light Soy Sauce is saltier and lighter in colour than all purpose soy sauce (like Kikkoman). The bottle will have "light soy sauce" written on it. It's available in large supermarkets - e.g. Coles and Woolworths in Australia. It can be substituted with all purpose soy sauce - like Kikkoman.
3. Dark Soy Sauce is much darker in colour than Light Soy Sauce has has more flavour. The bottle has "dark soy sauce" written on the label. This is mainly to darken the colour of the sauce so if you don't have it, you can substitute with all purpose soy sauce or even with light soy sauce.
4. I like to make this with Chinese black vinegar which is the authentic way of making it. It looks like balsamic vinegar. It's available at Asian stores and some large supermarkets. You can substitute with white vinegar or even a mild balsamic vinegar (plain one).
5. Sichuan peppercorns are not that spicy, they sort of make your mouth numb. In a pleasant way! They can be purchased at Asian grocery stores, fruit & veg stores that stock spices and some supermarkets. In Australia, they can be purchased at Harris Farms. In America, I am told that sichuan pepper is sold at Wholefoods!
You get the best fragrance and tingle by toasting and crushing your own peppercorns. But you can use ground sichuan pepper if you prefer - use around 1/2 a teaspoon (adjust to taste). If you like spicy food, use the full 1 tsp, but if you prefer milder spice, start with 1/2 tsp then add more to taste.
6. The peanuts are made super crunchy by toasting them in the wok. I find that toasting roasted peanuts become crunchier than raw peanuts which take longer, but you can use either. It's best to use unsalted so as not to make the stir fry too salty.
7. I find that the spiciness of dried chillies drastically differs from brand to brand! So adjust this to taste. Cut off a tiny bit of the chilli and check how hot it is, then decide how many to use. I typically use 6 dried chillies that are around 6 - 7cm/ 2.5" long, deseeded.
8. Nutrition per serving, Kung Pao Chicken only (no rice), assuming 4 servings and that chicken breast is used. 207 calories is attributable to the peanuts (being 1/4 cup per person).
PS No Dozer photo bombing today. He disappears when he smells spicy things being stir fried!!!!