Sunday, May 9, 2010

Real Kung Pao Chicken

My first date with my husband only lasted a couple of hours, but in that short time he managed to inform me that he hated sunshine, karaoke, coffee, San Francisco, and Chinese food. Item for item that was pretty much my go-to response for the "things I love" section of the multiple dating social networking sites I belonged to at the time. I guess it's true what they say about opposites attracting. Still, you'd better believe I launched my campaign to convert him to a Chinese food lover as soon as the words were out of his mouth. It started with the really easy-to-like stuff: homemade potstickers, wonton soup. Soon he was seeking out the best Szechuan hot pot with me. These days, I make Chinese food nearly once a week and he always goes back for seconds.

I understand what his problem was. There's a lot of bad, greasy, Americanized slop out there masquerading as Chinese food. Some of the top offenders—beef with broccoli and egg foo young come to mind—aren't even based on actual Chinese dishes, while others, like Kung Pao chicken have been watered down beyond all recognition. Instead of the slightly-sweet, gloppy-sauced hodgepodge you get from your local take-out, picture wok-charred chicken in a sea of smoky red chilis, finished with a tongue-tingling dose of Szechuan peppercorn. If this doesn't convert you into a believer, nothing will.

Real Kung Pao Chicken (adapted from Land of Plenty by Fuchsia Dunlop)

2 boneless chicken breasts
3 cloves of garlic, minced
Equivalent amount of minced ginger
4-5 green onions, sliced thinly
1 tablespoon of canola or peanut oil
½ tablespoon cayenne or Indian red chili powder
1 tablespoon of Sichuan peppercorns
Large handful (at least 10) dried red chilis (I used de Arbol)
Large handful of roasted unsalted peanuts

2 teaspoons light soy sauce
1 teaspoon Shaoxing rice wine
1½ teaspoons corn starch

1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon black Chinese vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon chicken stock or water

1. Cut the chicken into bite-sized chunks. Mix all the marinade ingredients together, making sure the corn starch is completely dissolved. Then marinate the chicken for about 15 minutes.

2. With a pair of kitchen scissors, snip the chilis in half. Place these, along with all of your other ingredients (garlic, green onions, ginger, chili powder, peppercorns, peanuts) near the wok.

3. Combine all of the sauce ingredients in a small bowl, mix well, and taste. Adjust seasonings if necessary.

4. Turn on your overhead vent. Heat up a tablespoon of oil in your wok over high heat and wait for it to get fairly hot. Add the chilis, cayenne, and Szechuan peppercorn and stir until they become fragrant and darken slightly (about 2 minutes).

5. Add the chicken pieces to the wok and stir them around, making sure you maintain a high heat. Break the pieces up, then add the ginger and garlic and stir fry for a few minutes until the chicken is nearly cooked through. Add the green onions and stir for another 30 seconds.

6. Give the bowl of sauce a final stir, then add it to the hot wok. Mix well so that all the ingredients are coated. Add the peanuts, give another stir, and serve, piping hot.


  1. That looks so delicious! I love Kung Pao chicken. I miss those take out version Chinese food.

  2. I agree. There are a lot of bad Americanized Chinese food out there.

    Looks delicious, that's what I call real Chinese food.

  3. Kung Pao Chicken is my absolutely favorite dish, and it’s the one that prompted me to learn a bit about Asian cooking and condiments. This is a great dish that’s been butchered by so many take-out joints and it's hard to find an authentic version. I'm glad I found your recipe. Thanks!

  4. I'm do believe that people don't like certain cuisines only because they've had bad examples of it. I've converted my now husband to Mexican, Korean, and Indian foods!

    Your kung pao chicken does look like an excellent example!

  5. Thanks everyone for the comments about this looking delicious! :)

    @Su-Lin, I totally agree! Knowing that there's a much better version of Chinese food out there is what led me to really seek out great versions of other cuisines like Mexican, Indian, etc. Nice work converting your husband too. ;)

  6. Yes please give Chinese food a better name and better flavor than it has been imbued with by bad take-out! It really is amazing how much better ALL authentic cuisine is than it's take-out versions. This looks delicious! I am SO trying it.

  7. Hello there - thanks for this recipe, I made it last night and it was absolutely delicious. Very spicy too, just the way I like it.

  8. Love it. Except at our house my kid calls it Kung "Pop" Chicken!

  9. My hubby made this last night and it was deeeliciousness! so much flavor. the best Kung Pao we've ever had. Thanks so much for the recipe. Tonight we are going to try to Tikka Masala...

  10. What can I sub for black vinegar? Can not have wheat.

  11. I am not super familiar with the gluten-free diet, but balsamic vinegar is the most commonly-recommended substitute for black vinegar.


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