Kung Pao Chicken – it’s savory, it’s sweet, it’s tangy, and those dried chilis give it just a bit of kick! Don’t be intimidated by the number of ingredients, you can whip this up in half-hour or less. Perfect week-night meal!
How many of you like Chinese food?
ME ME ME! We all have those nights when we simply don’t feel like cooking and search for take out menus in the kitchen drawer. Eight out ten times we reach out for those menus with the firing dragon. But rarely have I come across fantastic Chinese take out here in Florida. Don’t get me wrong, I have been to some amazing Chinese sit down restaurants, but somehow I never get excited over the usual take out. It lacks that punch or flavor. But of course, you get what you paid for.
The other alternative is start “woking” in your own kitchen and filling up your pantry with all those dark colored sauces, start sprouting, and dicing those colorful fresh veggies. Then you can control what you like in your stirs and fries. You like them garlicky? Or do you like more of that gorgeous ginger root? Perhaps a bit tangier with a little more vinegar? In my case, it’s more of those red peppers to make it Sichuan fiery with invisible dragons smoking from the dish… Don’t worry, I didn’t put too much in yours!
I escorted package tours in China back in another era, 2006-7. That’s when I had my first authentic Chinese food in the land of dragons, and it’s completely different from what you get in rest of the world. Our favorites like orange chicken and general Tso don’t even exit in mainland China. It’s such a huge country and they have different regional cuisines like Cantonese, Sichuan, Zhejiang, Hunan, Shandong and so many others with lots of steamed, braised and boiled dishes made with exotic sounding plants and animals… more about that in some other blog.
Saying all that, I still chow down on my orange chicken or a big bowl of Chop Suey with just as much vigor as a nice authentic Yum Cha. That’s the beauty of creativity… some entirely new and delicious thing exists thanks to the creativity of some chefs in a bygone era, when Chinese immigrants suddenly crowded the western shore… or some fusion Indo-Chinese dish loaded with tons of garlic and maybe a garnish of coriander.
Well, it’s just my love of Chinese food causing my rambling, as most of the time I am just not completely satisfied when I open that take out carton. I would be just happy chappy if I get some perfectly balanced hot, sweet and tangy stir fry with crunchy veggies over a big bed of rice. Such a small wish, yet so hard to find in Florida.
That started my experimenting with different stir frys at home. When it comes to stir frys, the sauces I can’t do without are soy sauce, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, some nice rice vinegar, sometimes some hot sauces or hot and sweet sauces, and honey. You can whip up a mighty good stir fry using some or all of these.
What is Kung Pao Chicken?
Tonight I feel like something fiery. I love spicy food, from Jamaican Jerk to Hunan Shrimp to fiery Salsa Taquera. That’s why I’m thinking Kung Pao style chicken. This authentic dish, sometimes called as Gong Bao, is from the Sichuan province, known for its spicy food.
They often use the Sichuan peppercorn, which gives a mouth numbing effect when eaten raw. You can find them in Asian stores. Otherwise, just your regular dry red chilies are enough to reach for that glass of water if you are spice intolerant, like some members of my family. And no, I’m not talking about Jason here, he can take more heat than me… so we are well matched in that aspect.
- Boneless skinless chicken thighs – You can substitute with breast, but these are juicier.
- Bell Peppers – I am using one red and one green.
- Garlic – This usually finds its way into my dishes!
- Ginger – A stir fry staple.
- Dried chilis – We want some kick here.
- Scallions – Because.
- Peanuts – Crunchy goodness.
- Cooking oil – For frying.
- Corn starch – To make the chicken crispy.
- The sauce – This is the soul of the dish. Soy sauce, hoisin sauce, white vinegar, cooking sherry, chicken broth, sesame oil, sugar and corn starch.
So here is how to wok it…
Stir frying is super quick, most of your time is prep work. First cut your chicken into bite sized pieces and marinate in a mixture of cornstarch, cooking sherry (better yet, Chinese wine if you have it), soy sauce, corn starch and a little oil. This not only tenderizes the meat a bit, but when frying it seals the moisture in so you get a golden crunchiness outside.
Then, while chicken is marinating, whip up the sauce, dice your veggies and get your peanuts ready. Now you are all ready, this will be really quick!
Get your wok sizzling hot and add oil. Add your marinated chicken and fry 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove and set aside.
Add a little more oil, then in goes your ginger, garlic, bell peppers… next red chilies…
Return chicken to pan, add Kung Pao sauce… peanuts, scallions… stir and fry continuously by tossing and turning, back and forth, circular, turning and flipping… this is the fun part! Serve alongside white rice. Better than takeout!
People often ask:
- Can I substitute white meat chicken? Absolutely! I like the juiciness of thighs, but use whatever cut is your favorite.
- How do I store leftovers? You can refrigerate your leftovers in an airtight container for up to four days.
- How spicy is this? It does have a pretty good kick, but nothing extreme. If you are concerned just use less chili peppers. You can always use more next time!
- Can I omit the peanuts? Of course. If you have an allergy you can leave them out altogether or experiment with other nuts. I remember the night I replaced them with my favorite cashews and it was AAMazinggg!
- How about different veggies? Yes, it’s your stir fry, please experiment! I would love to hear what kind of variations you come up with!
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Kung Pao Chicken, on my Gypsy Plate… Enjoy!
Looking for more 30-minute-or-less weeknight dinner ideas?
Chicken Lettuce Wraps with Peanut Sauce
Puerto Rican Picadillo
Caribbean Coconut Mussel Curry
Chili Lime Shrimp Tacos with Mango Salsa
Blackened (AKA Cajun) Shrimp and Grits
Flank Steak Fajitas
Easy Creamy Chicken Skillet
- 1 &1/2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs cut into 1 inch cubes
- 1 Tbsp cooking oil
- 2 Tbsp cooking sherry
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp corn starch
- 1/2 cup chicken stock
- 6 Tbsp soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp white vinegar
- 2 Tbsp cooking sherry
- 2 Tbsp hoisin sauce
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 1 Tbsp corn starch
- 4 Tbsp cooking oil divided
- 2 1/2 Tbsp garlic (6-8 cloves)
- 3 Tbsp ginger
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 green bell pepper
- 8-10 dried chilies
- 4 green onion cut to 1 inch pieces
- 1/2 cup roasted peanuts
- 2 tsp sesame oil
- First, mix all chicken ingredients, set aside.
- While chicken marinates, mix sauce and dice vegetables.
- Heat a large skillet or wok over high heat. Add 2 tb cooking oil, then fry chicken for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once it begins to brown, remove from pan and set aside.
- Add remaining cooking oil, ginger, garlic, chili peppers and bell peppers. Fry for 1 minute, stirring frequently.
- Add sauce, bring to boil. Once it begins to thicken, add chicken mix everything nicely for about 2 minutes.
- Add peanuts, green onions and sesame oil, simmer for about 2 minutes.
- Serve with rice. Enjoy!
- If you are a little spice-leery, start with half as many chili peppers.You can always experiment to find your sweet spot.
- You can use chicken breasts for a slightly leaner dish, but thighs are sooo much tastier here!
- The leftovers make a wonderful lunch!
- Try replacing peanuts with cashews for a slightly different taste.
Nutrition InformationYield 6 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 332Total Fat 20gSaturated Fat 3gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 16gCholesterol 47mgSodium 1383mgCarbohydrates 23gFiber 3gSugar 10gProtein 17g
Nutrition information calculated by Nutritionix.
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