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Kung Pao Chicken

A traditional Sichuan dish and popular Chinese takeout food made easy and healthy at home

by Shirley
Kung Pao Chicken

Kung Pao Chicken is a well-liked traditional Sichuan food, which is also a popular Chinese food takeout menu item for restaurants like Panda Express. This yummy healthy Kung Pao Chicken Recipe combines authenticity and popularity in one bowl. So naturally delicious and easy to make at home. Perfect to pair with rice for a quick, tasty, and healthy rice bowl dinner.

Kung Pao Chicken

What is Kung Pao?

Kung Pao is Cantonese phonetic spelling for 宫保, or Gong Bao per Roman Pinyin phonetic systems, which is the prevalent system adopted in mainland China. 宫保 {Kung Pao) refers to one of the titles of the royal court of the Qing Dynasty {1644~1912} who are responsible for educating the heir to the throne, usually the eldest son of the Emperor.

One of the officials Baozhen Ding {丁宝桢} was fond of cooking. He especially liked chicken, fried peanuts, and spicy food. Legend says he invented this savory spicy chicken stir fry with fried peanuts. In his memory, people started to call this hot spicy Chinese chicken food Kung Pao Chicken {Gong Bao Ji Ding 宫保鸡丁}.

Kung Pao Chicken

Kung Pao Sauce Recipe

Kung Pao sauce uses soy sauce and Zhenjiang vinegar as the primary sauce base, with a pinch of sugar. When combined with the ginger, garlic, and green onion, it gives you this appetizing mouth-watering flavor and taste.

The iconic Kung Pao flavor, however, is coming from the classic Sichuan food ingredient Sichuan pepper. Called Hua Jiao {花椒} in Chinese, which literally translates as Flower Peppercorn, Sichuan pepper is also known as Numbing Pepper for its sensational tingling feeling left on the tongue.

For the best taste, get the quality fresh Sichuan peppercorns, store them in an airtight glass jar, and grind a tiny small batch as you go.

Kung Pao Chicken Ingredients

What types of chicken meat is best for Kung Pao Chicken?

Chicken thigh or leg meat is ideal but chicken breast can work too

Chicken thigh or leg meat is much tender and flavorful compared to chicken breast. However, chicken breast could work too. Remember to use a meat tenderizer to pound the meat and cut it into thin layers first. Using a tiny bit of baking soda to marinate chicken breast first thing first can also help tenderize the meat. Use 1/4 tsp for a pound of chicken breast.

By the way, using baking soda to tenderize meat is my routine step to tenderize beef for stir fry. The key to juicy delicious Mongolian Beef and Beef with Broccoli.

How to make your own boneless chicken thigh meat using drumsticks?

These days I use drumsticks a lot when I found out the price for organic drumsticks is about 40% of the boneless chicken thighs. It is not hard at all to remove the bone from the drumsticks to get the boneless chicken leg or thigh meat.

remove bones from drumsticks for chicken thigh meat

Use a quality sharp chef’s knife to cut into the meat next to the bone. While your left hand (or less dominant hand) rotates the bone, your right hand continuously slices the meat around the bone, until you have peeled off all the meat on the bone.

How to make Chinese pan-fried peanuts?

Chinese pan-fried peanuts are the highlights of the Kung Pao Chicken. They are super easy to make as long as you know the tips and tricks and take about 10 minutes. Read here a guided recipe and more details.

Chinese Style Pan Fried Peanuts

Do you like classic & healthy Chinese food? Make sure you check out below:

Kung Pao Chicken

Kung Pao Chicken Recipe

Yield: 4 servings
Prep Time: 18 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 28 minutes

Kung Pao Chicken is a well-liked traditional Sichuan food, which is also a popular Chinese food takeout menu item for restaurants like Panda Express. This recipe combines authenticity and popularity in one bowl. So naturally yummy, easy to make, and healthy.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb chicken thigh or leg meat, boneless and skinless, or chicken breast, see notes
  • 1 tbsp canola oil
  • a small piece of ginger, about 10 g, thin sliced and minced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, thin sliced
  • 1 tsp Sichuan pepper {Hua Jiao}, freshly ground
  • 3 dried red chili pepper, chopped into haves
  • 1 small zucchini, about 5 oz, cut into small bite-size cubes
  • 1 small red bell pepper, about half-pound, cut into small bite-size squares
  • 3 stems of green onion whites, cut in angles
  • 1 cup fried peanuts, home fried preferably, see notes

For Marinating the Chicken:

  • 1/4 tsp Himalayan pink salt
  • 1/2 tbsp Shaoxing Wine
  • 1 tbsp naturally aged soy sauce or dark soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp arrowroot flour

For Stir Fry Sauce:

  • 1 tbsp naturally aged soy sauce or dark soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp Zhenjiang vinegar
  • 1 tbsp organic cane sugar
  • 1 tsp arrowroot flour

Instructions

  1. Gather ingredients. Add everything under "For Marinating the Chicken" into a small bowl, whisk and mix well. Add everything under "For Stir Fry Sauce" into another bowl, whisk and mix well.
    Kung Pao Chicken Ingredients
  2. Remove skins and/or bones from the chicken thighs if necessary, and cut them into small cubes.
    remove bones from drumsticks for chicken thigh meat
  3. Place chicken cubes in a mixing bowl, add everything under "for marinating", mix well, and set aside.
    Marinating chicken for Kung Pao Chicken
  4. Place everything under "For the Stir-Fry Sauce" in a small bowl, and mix well.
  5. Cut green onion whites at angles about 1.5 inches long. Cut green bell pepper into small square shapes
  6. Turn the heat to medium-high, and heat a hard-anodized frying pan for 1 minute.
  7. Add about 2 tsp canola oil and marinated chicken chunks. Toss the chicken using a pair of bamboo spatulas until the chicken is cooked about 3 minutes.
    Cook the marinated chicken cubes in the Frying Pan
  8. Move the chicken pieces to one corner of the pan to empty some space on the frying pan. Add about 1 tsp canola oil, along with the ginger, garlic, green onion, red chili pepper, and Sichuan pepper powder. Toss and mix for about 15 seconds or till fragrant. Fold and mix the chicken with the fried seasoning mixture, and blend well.
    cooking Kung Pao chicken
  9. Add zucchini and red bell pepper, and continue to toss and mix for about 3 minutes.
    Cook Kung Pao Chicken in the fry pan
  10. Re-mix the sauce quickly and then pour it into the pan in a circular motion. Mix and fold using a pair of bamboo spatulas until the sauce is thickening and the chicken is coated and glazed with the sauce, about 2 minutes.
    Cooking Kung Pao Chicken in the Fry Pan
  11. Turn off the heat, add the pan-fried peanuts and fold them into the dish and serve hot. Enjoy a naturally yummy Kung Pao Chicken.
    Kung Pao Chicken

Notes

  • See here for a step-by-step tutorial on how to make pan-fried peanuts at home.
  • arrowroot flour is my go-to superfood gluten-free starch alternative. Feel free to substitute with your starch choice.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 687Total Fat: 45gSaturated Fat: 9gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 34gCholesterol: 197mgSodium: 2219mgCarbohydrates: 20gFiber: 5gSugar: 7gProtein: 57g

Nutrition calculation is provided by Nutritionix to the best knowledge per ingredients description and isn't always accurate.

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