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.
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.
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)
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.
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.)
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.
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.