Authentic and thoroughly delicious, this Kung Pao Chicken rivals your favorite takeout or restaurant version and is super quick to make! And get ready to brace yourself because this dish packs a PUNCH!
Kung Pao Chicken originated in the Szechuan province of China and is popular both throughout China and the Western world. It’s believed to have been named after the governor of Szechuan, Ding Baozhen of the Qing Dynasty. His official title, Gong Bao (meaning “palatial guardian”), is thought to have inspired the name of the dish (“Bao” became “Pao”). The name “Kung Pao” continued until the Cultural Revolution when any association with Ding Baozhen became politically incorrect.
At that point 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 of Kung Pao Chicken was reclaimed.
And so it remains today as one of the most popular of all Chinese dishes. 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 szechuan peppercorns. They’re commonly used in authentic Asian cuisine but far less known in Chinese-American cooking. That’s largely because it was banned from importation to the U.S. from 1968 until 2005, being 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.
Not actually a peppercorn or even related to the pepper family at all, the szechuan peppercorn is 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 Chinese Five Spice Powder, and is also traditionally used in Chinese medicine. Szechuan peppercorns have an extraordinarily unique flavor and there are no substitutes.
Highly flavorful and aromatic, szechuan peppercorns impart a tingling numbness that enriches fiery tastes. Look for szechuan peppercorns in your local Chinese market or order szechuan peppercorns online.
Kung Pao Chicken has rightfully earned its place as one of the most popular Chinese dishes – it’s delicious!
Let’s get started!
Combine the chicken with the marinade ingredients and let sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes.
For the BEST flavor results, check out our BEST Homemade Hoisin Sauce!
Heat the oil in a wok or skillet over high heat and, once the oil is hot, briefly fry the szechuan peppercorns and broken up chilies, about 15 seconds.
Add the chicken and fry until no longer pink.
Have the green onions, garlic and ginger chopped and ready to add. 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.
Add the peanuts and toss to combine. Pour in the sauce and stir until thickened, about 30 seconds. Add the green onions and stir to combine.
The this luscious Kung Pao Chicken is ready to eat! Serve immediately with some steamed rice.
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
- 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts or thighs , cut into 3/4-inch cubes (see Note below for vegetarian option)
- 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
- 1/2 cup unsalted dry-roasted peanuts
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
- 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1/4 cup Chinese black vinegar , or substitute good-quality balsamic vinegar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 1/2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
- OR Best Homemade Hoisin Sauce (click link for recipe)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1 1/2 tablespoons whole szechuan peppercorns
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 szechuan peppercorns and stir-fry for 30 seconds until the chilies begin to darken in color.
- Add the marinated chicken and stir-fry until no longer pink.
- 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.
- Transfer to a dish, sprinkle the green parts of the green onions on top, and serve immediately with rice.