So, you think you know Kung Pao chicken? Sorry, a punch card at Panda Express doesn’t count. Actually, a key ingredient to the dish, Sichuan peppercorns, was outlawed in the US until 2005, so the Kung Pao you grew up with… well, how can I say this? It might not be all that authentic.
China has some of the most ridiculously delicious food on the face of the planet and has been churning out amazing food for millennia. Seriously, after the first week living and eating in Beijing, my wife and I gave up on saying, “Wow! This is delicious! I’ve never even heard of this dish!” and just ate in blissful silence.
Don’t believe me? Grab your chopsticks and hop on a plane.
Note: Jack, our Chinese friend and culinary wizard, guided us through the flavors, traditions, and deliciousness of the country while we lived there. This is his recipe, and all credit goes to him.
LET’S GET COOKIN’
Dice your chicken into small cubes. Think something about twice as large as playing dice. Then throw in three tablespoons of cornstarch and 128 grains of salt. Count the grains! I kid. A pinch. Sprinkle a pinch of salt and stir up the starchy [almost Kung Pao] chicken.
Set that off to the side and get your prepping pants on!
Clean your leek and slice off the leafy bit. We only need the stem. Slice it in 1/2-inch slices and put them in a medium bowl (you’re going to mix your sauce in this bowl [spoiler]). Green onions get cleaned and sliced to an inch long. Don’t agonize about getting them perfect, we’re just going for a size that can easily be picked up with your chopsticks.
Use a spoon to peel your ginger, and slice it into thin wafers. If you can’t imagine a thin wafer, grab two pennies, sterilize them, then try to get your ginger to that thickness. The same goes for your garlic. Two pennies thick (that’s a scientific unit of measurement. I checked!).
Now, you’ve just done the heavy lifting for your Kung Pao Chicken.
Combine all your prepped veggies, and everything else on the list, save for your chili pods and Sichuan peppercorns in a bowl and stir it. Don’t worry if your sugar is still a bit grainy, the heat from the wok will melt those stubborn grains, and your sauce will emerge like a spicy phoenix from the bubbling cauldron.
Throw your wok on medium-high heat (if high is 10, shoot for 7 to 8) then dump in about ¼ cup of oil. In China, I learned that there isn’t such a thing as too much oil. I use avocado oil for my wok, because it is a high heat oil (it’s not virgin and won’t smoke, separate, and ruin the dish), and it doesn’t skew any flavors.
Toss in your peanuts and keep them moving! Don’t stop stirring! Don’t you dare! It’s hard work, but the pay off is worth it.
When your peanuts are a nice off gold color, strain them off and return the oil to your pan.
Now, throw in your chicken. Scratch that. Gently put your chicken in the wok in a way that won’t spray grease all over you and your kitchen.
Keep the chicken moving and cook until it turns white. When that happens, dump in your sauce with all the rest of the ingredients. Don’t forget about your Sichuan peppercorns or fiery chilies! Everything in!
Stir and stir and stir until your sauce turns a slight caramel color. Don’t overcook it! You’re going for Kung Pao perfection in a bowl.
Pull from the wok and eat immediately! You rice should be done so it can act as a tongue saver. A life raft in the tumultuous sea of spice. A beacon of icy relief after a blast in the inferno of Sichuan fire! A—
Okay, I’m done.
COMMON QUESTIONS ABOUT THIS KUNG PAO CHICKEN
What can I substitute for Tien Tsin chiles?
If you don’t have Tien Tsin chiles, you can use Thai chiles or chile de arbol. This will change the flavor ever so slightly, but honestly, with all the powerful flavors in this Kung Pao Chicken, you’ll barely notice.
I don’t like spice. How can I make this without the heat?
Great question! If you don’t enjoy the heat of these chiles lighting up your tastebuds, don’t add the Tien Tsin chiles or Sichuan peppercorns. Instead, add 1/2 cup of bell peppers with the rest of your veggies (step 8 below).
What can I substitute for Chinese cooking wine?
You can substitute this with rice wine vinegar. So, you’ll need 3 teaspoons of rice wine vinegar total for this Kung Pao Chicken recipe.