Kung Pao Chicken

Kung Pao Chicken is a dish I’ve discovered only recently because it is not on menus of Chinese restaurants or take-out places in the Netherlands. ‘Chinese’ restaurants in this country are in fact Chinese-Indonesian, the chefs are mostly trained in the Netherlands at the same school, and the menus of those restaurants are mostly all the same and have been like that for thirty years. I’ve never been to China and am certainly not a connaisseur of Chinese food, but I do know that this is healthy, very tasty, and quite fast and easy to make. Kung Pao Chicken is a stir-fry dish that originated in Szechuan cuisine, containing chicken, peanuts (or cashews), vegetables, (dried) chile peppers, and Sichuan peppercorns. The latter are not actual peppercorns but the husk around the seeds of a type of prickley ash.

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When looking at various recipes for this online, I noticed that many of the American recipes refer to bell pepper as ‘filler’, used by restaurants to serve less chicken. I think that is quite funny, as at least in this country bell peppers are more expensive (although not much) than chicken. I think bell peppers work very well in this recipe, and if you serve this with rice you have a full meal with healthy amounts of vegetables, meat, and rice. You can vary the amount of chile peppers to make this as hot as you like. As usual with chicken recipes, I prefer chicken thighs over chicken breast because the meat has more flavor and is not as dry.

Ingredients

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For 2 servings

225 grams (.5 lb) boneless skinless chicken thighs, in cubes

2 yellow bell peppers

2 green onions

40 grams (1/4 cup) peanuts (raw or roasted, unsalted)

dried chile peppers (1 = mild, 2 = medium, 3 = hot, 4 or more = very hot)

1 tsp whole sichuan peppercorns (or 1/4 tsp ground sichuan pepper)

1 clove garlic

3 Tbsp oil for stir-frying

For the marinade

1 tsp corn starch

1/2 tsp sesame oil

1 tsp soy sauce

1 tsp shaohsing rice wine

For the sauce

2 Tbsp soy sauce

1 Tbsp shaohsing rice wine

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp rice vinegar (optional)

Preparation

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Combine the chicken in a bowl with 1 tsp corn starch, 1/2 tsp sesame oil, 1 tsp soy sauce, and 1 tsp shaohsing rice wine.

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Stir until well mixed and the chicken is coated with the marinade on all sides. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate for about 25 minutes at room temperature.

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Meanwhile, prep the veggies. Clean the bell peppers and cut into pieces about the size of the chicken. Chop the green onions and separate the green part. Mince the garlic. Roughly chop the dried chile peppers and remove the seeds.

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Mix the ingredients for the sauce (2 Tbsp soy sauce, 1 Tbsp shaohsing rice wine, 1 tsp sugar, 1 tsp rice vinegar) in a small bowl.

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Whole sichuan peppercorns are not nice to have in the final dish because of the texture. To extract their flavor, heat the oil in a wok, add the sichuan pepper corns, lower the heat, and allow the sichuan peppercorns to flavor the oil. (Skip this step if using ground sichuan pepper.)

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Remove the sichuan peppercorns with a slotted spoon before you continue. Now heat the oil over very high heat.

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Add the chicken when the oil is very hot. Stir-fry just until golden.

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Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon. It should be only 80% cooked at this time. Chicken should be cooked through, but do not overcook it or it will become dry and tasteless.

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Add the bell pepper, chile peppers, garlic, and white part of the green onions to the wok. Add the peanuts as well if using raw peanuts. If you like your peanuts well-roasted, you could even start by roasting them first. Stir-fry for a few minutes.

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Lower the heat and add the sauce. (This is where to add the ground sichuan pepper, if using.)

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Stir and cook for a minute until the sauce has reduced somewhat.

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Add the chicken and green part of the green onions. This is where you add roasted peanuts if using. Stir and cook for another minute until the chicken is coated with the sauce and warmed through.

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Serve on warm plates with rice. Of course you can also serve it in more of a Chinese fashion with chop sticks.

Wine pairing

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As with many spicy Asian dishes, Kung Pao Chicken is outstanding with a dry gewürztraminer. We enjoyed it with this magnificent gewürztraminer from Elena Walch from Alto Adige (Südtirol) in the North-East of Italy.

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35 thoughts on “Kung Pao Chicken

    1. It certainly is. Although I mostly cook Italian, I do experiment with other stuff as well, like Japanese. The main issue with that is that I do not have as much of a reference as with Italian cooking, so I’m not sure if I’m doing it ‘right’.

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  1. Kung Pao Chicken is GOOD! In California, we have the best Chinese restaurants. I took Chinese cooking class long time ago… I like to post a simple Mu Shu Chicken one of these days. Can you get Mu Shu Chicken in Netherland?

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    1. Never heard of Mu Shu Chicken. Will have to look it up. We do have some Chinese-Chinese restaurants (rather than Indonesian) in Amsterdam that will probably have it, as well as Kung Pao.

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  2. Nicely done. Kung Pao is ubiquitous on Chinese restaurant menus here in North America, but it often varies quite widely from it’s roots. It is one of my ‘signature’ dishes and one I often use to gauge the quality of cooking in restaurants. One of the main features of traditional Kung Pao is that whole small dried chilies (or larger chunks of bigger ones) are used…. they get sauteed in hot oil until they are just turning black… it gives the dish a characteristic ‘scorched chili’ flavor…. this is not often done in westernized versions though.

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  3. this is one of my favorite Chinese dishes and I am planning on making it as soon as I get my hands on Sichuan peppercorns. I received a Sichuan cookbook for Valentine’s day so I am eager to see how its recipe compares to other ones I’ve used from online sources.

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  4. We’re sitting here wondering what the hell to eat this evening and now I’m inspired…to grab the phone and order a take away (delivered of course its too cold to go out now) Thanks for the inspiration!

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  5. Kung Pao has been a favorite of mine for years, Stefan, although I’ve never thought to try to make it at home. I just don’t make many Asian (Chinese, Thai, or Japanese) dishes at home. Considering the plethora of Asian markets around me, I should give it a try. This is a good place to start. Your research paid off with an authentic dish, one that I’ll surely love. Thanks for sharing and for taking the time to post a great how-to post.

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  6. One of my favorite dishes! I can’t believe I missed so many of your posts. On the other hand, I am looking forward to reading them all…

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        1. Indeed!
          I think you may also have missed the comments a while back (I don’t remember to which post) between Conor and me of meeting up at your place some time since you seem to have the highest number of guest rooms 🙂

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          1. I did miss those comments. I’m putting together a week long food and lifestyle photography workshop for next fall… Whether it’s then, before or after, it sure would be great to finally meet you in person. Many bloggers are actually coming to visit this summer. Steve, Tom, Maggie, Janette and the list goes on and on… 🙂

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            1. It would be great to finally meet in person, and I’m sure this will happen. Not sure about this year though, as we already have too many plans as it is with a 10-day boat trip during which I will cook on a daily basis for a group of 30 and our participation in the Amsterdam gay pride canal parade 🙂
              It would be nice to visit wineries in the Bordelais though, which I have never done, so I should probably plan to come over in 2014 🙂

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          1. It doesn’t mean anything. I have more than 1700 followers and most of them don’t receive my updates anymore. The most loyal readers have refollowed and everything is back to normal for them. I have lost all the others, even though WordPress show them as followers… I have complained but they are useless…

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