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 – are you ready??
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! 🙂
KUNG PAO CHICKEN – AN EXPLOSION OF FLAVOUR!
Kung Pao Chicken is a Chinese dish that’s hugely popular in the States. In Australia, it’s always been served at Chinese restaurants in Asian neighbourhoods, but not at everyday suburban Chinese takeout places so it wasn’t something familiar to most Aussies.
Nowadays though, thanks to an increasing number of “trendy” Asian places (you know the type – dark and noisy, expensive modern Asian fit outs, hip servers and fancy cocktail menus), Kung Pao Chicken is increasing in popularity.
As much as I love Kung Pao Chicken served at these trendy restaurants, I can’t make the 40km trek into the city and shell out $27 every time I had a craving for Kung Pao Chicken, so it was essential that I create a great but easy recipe to make at home!!
TELL ME – WHAT IS KUNG PAO CHICKEN??
Kung Pao Chicken as we know it is a slightly westernised version of an authentic Chinese Sichuan dish. The sauce is a dark brown colour and it’s sweet as well as tangy with a tingle of heat from Sichuan peppercorns and dried chillies.
Traditionally in China, it’s a dry stir fry which means, unlike 99% of other Asian stir fries on my site like Chop Suey, Beef and Broccoli and Cashew Chicken to name a few, it’s not swimming in loads of sauce. 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.
Though…. having said that, since I first published this recipe, I’ve modified the recipe to increase the sauce slightly. By reader demand! 🙂
INGREDIENTS IN KUNG PAO CHICKEN
The stir fry itself includes aromatics (garlic and ginger), chicken, green onions and peanuts – all things that regularly make an appearance in my stir fries.
The two key ingredients in Kung Pao Chicken are Sichuan Pepper and dried chillies.
1. Sichuan Pepper – 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.
If you really can’t find Sichuan pepper, use white pepper as a substitute.
2. Dried Chillies – 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.
KUNG PAO SAUCE
A great Kung Pao sauce like you get at your favourite takeout places has the perfect balance of sweet-sour-salty with a tingle of numbing heat from Sichuan pepper. Here are the key elements of Kung Pao Sauce:
1. Sichuan Pepper – As described above; and
2. 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.
In addition to these, other ingredients are more typical Chinese sauce ingredients – Chinese cooking wine (don’t worry, there’s subs!), dark and light soy sauce, water, sugar and cornflour / cornstarch for thickening.
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
WATCH HOW TO MAKE IT
Recipe video above. Kung Pao chicken - done right! The flavour of this sauce is very similar to proper restaurant versions, with a great balance of savoury-sweet and sour with the numbing tingle from Sichuan pepper. Use whole Sichuan peppercorns if you have them, otherwise ground is fine (which is what I use).
- 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
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!
Serve immediately, with rice!
1. Chicken: Breast can be used. If using breast, option to tenderise to make it juicier and soft, like you get at Chinese restaurants. I do not tenderise chicken thigh because it's juicy and tender enough.
TENDERISING OPTIONfor breast : Cut chicken into bite size pieces, coat with 1 1/2 tsp baking soda (NOT baking powder). Set aside 20 minutes, then place in colander and rinse well under running water. Dab with paper towel to remove excess water (doesn't have to be 100% dry). Chicken is now tenderised - proceed with recipe.
There are a couple of ways to velvet chicken but I find this the cleanest and easiest for home cooking, and 100% effective every time (plus forgiving, can leave even 1 hour and it's fine).
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. Chinese black vinegar for the sour is the authentic way of making it. It looks like balsamic vinegar, tastes like it too but with a slight savoury edge. It's available at Asian stores and some large supermarkets. Substitute with 1.5 tbsp of rice wine vinegar, or 1 tbsp white vinegar or even a mild balsamic vinegar (plain one).
Do not use Taiwanese black vinegar (which is also sold at some Asian grocery stores), it tastes like sour Worcestershire sauce and it changes the flavour of this recipe. Bottle label will say "made in Taiwan".
5. Chinese Cooking Wine is also called shaosing / shoaxing wine, see here for more information. It's the ingredient that makes recipes truly taste like what you get at Chinese restaurants.
Substitutions: dry sherry or mirin (if using mirin, skip the sugar) or Japanese cooking sake (rice wine). If you can't consume alcohol, then skip it but use chicken broth in place of water.
6. Sichuan peppercorns are not that spicy, they sort of make your mouth numb. In a pleasant way! I used to grind my own but nowadays I just buy ground. If you grind your own, toast them in a dry pan first then grind - it will have slightly better flavour but you get grittiness.
Taste first for spiciness as I find that the spiciness varies. Add more at the end if you want more heat.
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!
7. Dried chillies: 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 assuming chicken thigh is used. 150 calories of this is attributable to the peanuts.
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