Kung Pao Chicken

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Originating in the Sichuan Province of China, Kung Pao Chicken is a popular dish throughout China and the Western world.   It is believed to have been named after the governor of Sichuan, Ding Baozhen of the Qing Dynasty.  His official title, Gong Bao (meaning “palatial guardian”), is thought to have inspired the name of the dish.  The name continued until the Cultural Revolution when any association with Ding Baozhen became politically incorrect.  Thus, the name of the dish was changed to simply “fast-fried chicken cubes” or “chicken cubes with seared chiles” until the 1980′s when the political climate cooled and it’s original name was reclaimed.

Not for the faint of tastebuds, this dish packs a punch, or I should say “PAO!”

The key component to authentically-tasting Kung Pao is the use of whole sichuan peppercorns.  Commonly used in authentic Asian cuisine but not as often found in Americanized Chinese cooking.  Not actually a peppercorn or even related to the pepper family at all, the sichuan peppercorn is actually part of the citrus family and its flavor bears some subtle nuances to its genus.  It is one of the ingredients in Chinese Five Spice Powder, and is also traditionally used in Chinese medicine.

Though used in the traditional Chinese versions of the recipe, sichuan peppercorns are not commonly used in Americanized versions.  This is due to the fact that the sichuan peppercorn was banned from importation to the U.S. from 1968 until 2005, because it was viewed as a potential carrier of “citrus canker,” a tree disease that can potentially harm citrus crops.  The ban was lifted in 2005 and we now have access to this distinct and delicious ingredient.

Highly flavorful and aromatic, sichuan peppercorns impart a tingling numbness that enriches fiery tastes.  Look for sichuan peppercorns in your local Chinese market or order it online.

There is a reason why this dish is such such a popular Chinese staple in North America.  It’s delicious!

Let’s get started!

Combine the chicken with the marinade ingredients and let sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes.

Kung Pao prep 1

Combine all the sauce ingredients in a bowl (the following can be easily found and purchased online here:  Hoisin SauceChinese Rice Wine, Chinese Black Vinegar, Sesame Oil.

Kung Pao prep 2

Here is what the sichuan peppercorns look like.  You’ll need about 1 1/2 tablespoons.  The is no substitute for it’s flavor.

Kung Pao prep 3

Heat the oil in a wok or skillet over high heat and, once the oil is hot, briefly fry the sichuan peppercorns and broken up chilies, about 15 seconds.

Kung Pao prep 4

Add the chicken and fry until no longer pink.

Kung Pao prep 5

Have the green onions, garlic and ginger chopped and ready to add.

Kung Pao prep 6

Add the garlic, ginger, and white parts of the green onions (the whites take longer to cook and you want to avoid the green parts getting too soggy).  Fry for another 30 seconds.

Kung Pao prep 7

Add the peanuts and toss to combine.

Kung Pao prep 8

Pour in the sauce and stir until thickened, about 30 seconds.

Kung Pao prep 9

Add the green onions and stir to combine.

Kung Pao prep 10

That’s it!

Kung Pao prep 11

The luscious Kung Pao Chicken is ready to eat!  Serve immediately with some steamed rice.

Kung Pao prep 12Kung Pao 1 smKung Pao Chicken 2_cropped

Note:  See bottom of recipe for a vegetarian/vegan version.

Asian food lovers, don’t forget to check out this recipe for the Best Homemade Teriyaki Sauce!

Kung Pao Chicken
Cuisine: Chinese
Serves: 4
  • 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast or thighs, cut into ¾-inch cubes (Vegetarians and Vegans: Use chicken substitute such as Butler's Soy Curls, or 1 pound tofu cubes fried and baked - * see instructions under the recipe box)
  • 2 tablespoons peanut or extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 to 10 dried red chilis (or less depending on heat preference), broken up in large pieces, seeds and membranes carefully removed and discarded
  • 5 green onions, sliced, the green and white parts kept separate
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
  • ½ cup unsalted dry-roasted peanuts
  • Marinade:
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
  • ½ teaspoon cornstarch
  • Sauce:
  • ¼ cup Chinese black vinegar, or substitute good-quality balsamic vinegar
  • 1½ tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1½ tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 1½ tablespoons sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1½ tablespoons whole sichuan peppercorns
  1. In a medium bowl, stir together the soy sauce, rice wine, and cornstarch until the cornstarch is dissolved. Add the chicken and toss to coat and let it marinate for at least 10 minutes.
  2. In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, sesame oil, sugar, and cornstarch. Stir until the sugar and cornstarch are dissolved. Set aside.
  3. Heat a wok or large skillet over high heat until a drop of water sizzles when thrown in. Add the oil and coat the bottom of the pan. Add the chilies and sichuan peppercorns and stir-fry for 30 seconds until the chilies begin to darken in color.
  4. Add the marinated chicken and stir-fry until no longer pink.
  5. Add the white parts of the green onion along with the garlic and ginger and stir-fry for another 30 seconds. Pour in the sauce and stir, coating the chicken. Add the peanuts, stir to coat, and cook for another 2 minutes.
  6. Transfer to a dish, sprinkle the green parts of the green onions on top, and serve immediately with rice.


* NOTE TO VEGETARIANS:  To make this dish meatless, prepare the tofu as prepared in Creamy Mushroom and Tofu Stroganoff, but add the step of first evenly sprinkling the tofu cubes with 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and 1 teaspoon of sesame oil, toss to coat and then proceed with the remaining instructions as follows:  http://daringgourmet.com/2013/01/15/creamy-mushroo…ofu-stroganoff/

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17 Responses

  1. wrote on

    I am adding this to my March 2013 menu that will be available as a free printable with a hyperlink back to your website. Thank you so much for helping me prepare my menu. :)

    • The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      Thank you for the compliment, Penny. I’m honored to be part of your March menu line-up and look forward to seeing what other goodies you include. Thanks for visiting.

  2. aderline

    wrote on

    Loved it♡♡♡

    • Kimberly @ The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      Fantastic, aderline!! So thrilled it was a success and thanks for the feedback!

  3. leah v.

    wrote on

    My husband loved this so much that I made it twice in the same weekend. I have tried quite a few Asian recipes, but this is the best ever! Thanks so much!

    • Kimberly @ The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      You’ve made my day, Leah, thank you! :)

  4. Anonymous

    wrote on

    I made this dish tonight. It was fantastic to say the least. We served it with rice and stir fried sweet peppers and I made a papaya coconut whip for dessert. it was a really nice gluten free menu. Thanks for the Asian peppercorn explanation.

    • Kimberly @ The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      Fantastic, so happy to hear it was a hit! The papaya coconut whip sounds like the perfect follow-up to a spicy meal.

  5. EH

    wrote on

    My family did not like this recipe.

    • Kimberly @ The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      Sorry you didn’t like it, EH. Have you had kung pao chicken before so you’d know what to expect? This is very similar to what you’ll find in the best Chinese restaurants and many readers have told me it’s even better. It’s one of our favorites. But it is very spicy!

  6. Anonymous

    wrote on

    I love it

    • Kimberly @ The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      Thank you!

  7. Nikki

    wrote on

    It looks delicious, but could you please tell me how many calories there would be per serving? Since I’m currently on a weight loss plan, it would be helpful to know the nutrition information. Thank you!

    • Kimberly @ The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      Hi Nikki, I haven’t calculated that information but there are several sites, like fitday.com, where you can enter the ingredients and it gives you the nutritional breakdown. If you’re on a weight loss program though I wouldn’t recommend this or anything with a good amount of sugar in it.

  8. reverendsupreme

    wrote on

    Looks pretty awesome but, you’re missing one key step in making it authentic and delicious – velveting the chicken meat before stir-frying. You do that, this becomes godly.

    • Kimberly @ The Daring Gourmet

      wrote on

      Velveting is rather godly, I agree! :) I velvet the chicken in my Chinese Orange Chicken but most Kung Pao I’ve seen in restaurants and have had served by Chinese friends isn’t velveted. It’s probably just a matter of personal preference.

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