Kung Pao Chicken

Authentic recipe for Chinese kung pao chicken. Fast, hot, delicious.

I'm dreamin' of kung pao chicken

Olympians may dream of fast finish lines and stirring national anthems. But me, after making this authentic kung pao chicken for last week's opening of the summer Olympics, I was dreaming of more kung pao chicken. Seriously, I couldn't wait to make it again and so I did, just three days later.

The recipe comes from the food blog Appetite for China by Diana Kuan, a food writer who is 'eating, traveling and writing her way across China'. I was taken by the simplifications Diana made to her own recipe, how she made an authentic Chinese dish accessible in my Western kitchen. The sauce is a many-layered mahogany, sleek and pungent. The chunks of chicken are moist and tender. The peanuts add crunch and the fresh green onion adds contrast. Here I go again, dreamin' of kung pao chicken ...

All except two of the ingredients are found in or easily substituted by most Western pantries. I found the other two at an international grocery and invested all of $4 for enough for 20-30 kung pao chicken suppers.

The first was a bag of dried red chilis, about an inch long and hot, though not as hot as feared. With the first batch of kung pao chicken, I used only five chilis, with the second, ten -- both dishes were good, one slightly hotter than the other, neither one tongue-burning.

The second was whole Sichuan peppercorns, which, turns out, aren't actually peppercorns at all but the outer pod of a fruit. (More about Sichuan peppercorns / Sichuan pepper from Wikipedia.) Nor are Sichuan peppers marketed in the U.S. as peppercorns, but as fagara or flower pepper (according to Wikipedia) and as dried prickly ash (according to the package from my grocer, who says that it's illegal to import Sichuan peppers into the U.S. so another name is applied).

Since this is a stir-fry, it's important to gather and prep all the ingredients before beginning to cook. The first time I made the chicken, I collected everything a couple of hours beforehand, then cooked the chicken in about 10 minutes. The second time, I prepped and cooked start-to-finish in just 30 minutes and served with Oven-Baked Brown Rice.

The Olympics are exciting enough: think about this chicken for a night gathered round the television, taking in the spectacle. Then we can all have our Olympic dreams.

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Meaty moist chicken in a hot mahogany sauce
Hands-on time: 30 minutes
Time-to-table: 30 minutes
Serves 4
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon rice wine (or another dry wine)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 16 ounces boneless skinless chicken breast, trimmed if needed, cut in bite-size pieces

Whisk marinade ingredients. Stir in chicken as it's cut. Let rest while prepping the remaining ingredients.

  • 10 dried red chilis (or start with 5 for mild heat)
  • 1 tablespoon whole Sichuan peppercorns
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
  • 5 - 6 green onions, chopped
  • 3 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon chicken stock or water

Whisk together.

  • A handful of dry roasted peanuts
  • For garnish, green parts from the chopped green onion
  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil (or olive oil)

Heat a wok or a large cast iron skillet on medium high. Add the oil and let get very hot. (It should sizzle when water is flicked off your fingers into the oil.) Add the chilis and Sichuan peppers and let warm through, stirring often, until chilis begin to blister and turn dark, about 2 - 3 minutes. Add chicken pieces and stir fry 3 minutes, letting meat sear slightly before turning. (During this stage, the oil splatters so be cautious. A splatter guard would be useful.) Add Bowl #3 (garlic, ginger, green onion) and stir fry 2 minutes. Add Bowl #4 (sauce) and stir in to coat the chicken. When slightly thick, stir in Bowl #5 (peanuts) and cook for another 1 - 2 minutes. Transfer to plates and top with Bowl #6 (green onion).

NOTE: Diana's recipe uses specific soy sauces, rice wine and rice vinegar. Anyone with access to these ingredients will want to refer to her recipe for details.

NUTRITION ESTIMATE Per Serving: 327Cal; 30g Protein; 17g Tot Fat; 3g Sat Fat; 12g Carb; 2g Fiber; 743mg Sodium; 65mg Cholesterol; Weight Watchers 7 points

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Alanna Kellogg
Alanna Kellogg

A Veggie Venture is home of "veggie evangelist" Alanna Kellogg and the famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables.


  1. You made it! It's still on my list so I'm glad to see the recipe turned out well.

  2. I did make it! Twice! And it is so good that I know I'll be making it again.

  3. Anonymous8/13/2008

    This is a great excuse to visit the Chinese market not far away, I've never been in, didn't now what to buy. This will be a good excuse to explore.


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