How to make the perfect Kung Pao chicken?
How to make the perfect kung pao chicken – recipe | Felicity Cloake K ung pao, or gong bao chicken has an interesting, if political back story. In one account at least, it is named after a 19th-century governor-general of Sichuan Province, who suffered with such bad teeth that he could eat only small, boneless pieces of meat.
The dish was forcibly rechristened during the Cultural Revolution, when such imperial officials were very much out of fashion, as quick-fried chicken cubes, or chicken cubes with seared chillies – both accurate, if rather unromantic descriptions. Despite its somewhat fearsome, chilli-studded appearance, it’s a spicy but not particularly hot dish.
Instead, the main flavour is that of numbing Sichuan peppercorns and spring onions, all bound together with a subtly sweet-and-sour sauce. Like many stir-fried dishes, it’s easiest made in small quantities – perfect for solo dining, in fact. Most recipes call for chicken breast, a cut I have little time for in general.
- But, having tried thighs in and ‘s recipes, I have to admit, reluctantly, they’re not ideal for the amateur wok handler, because the darker meat takes longer to cook through.
- This means that, if you’re not operating at professional temperatures – hot enough to take your eyebrows off – it can leave the outsides dry.
Keep the cubes small for this reason. Harry Eastwood’s kung pao chicken – use plenty of spring onions or even some leeks. Thumbnail pics: Felicity Cloake. Interestingly, Chin and Choo’s Chinese Takeaway Bible, the book based on, starts with, This seeks to mimic the pre-cooked meat apparently used by many restaurants (though it seems it will never be quite as soft as the 60%-80% meat in the products available in catering quantities. Tony Tan’s kung pao sauce is thickened with water or stock. Fuchsia Dunlop’s masterwork,, informs me that the sauce in this dish is known as li zhi wei, or “lychee-flavoured”, a milder version of sweet-and-sour made with a mixture of sugar, soy sauces and rice vinegar, thickened with corn or potato flour and loosened with water (or chicken stock, as does in his book Hong Kong Food City).
In such small quantities, however, I don’t think there’s much point in using stock, unless you happen to have some to hand; the soy should give it enough savoury oomph on its own. The same goes for Tan’s dash of sesame oil, which to my mind clashes with the actual nuts. Feel free to add a splash, if you disagree.
Wong starts with a kung pao stock, flavoured with Sichuan peppercorns, dried chillies, ginger and garlic, as well as the usual sugar, vinegar and soy, which is then reduced, as opposed to thickened. While wonderfully fragrant and intense, outside a Michelin-starred kitchen, it’s hard to justify 25 minutes of work, when most of the other sauces can be whisked together in 25 seconds. Andrew Wong’s kung pao chicken starts with a kung pao stock, flavoured with Sichuan peppercorns, dried chillies, ginger and garlic. Another recipe designed for a professional kitchen is Chin and Choo’s, which starts with a that’s “very different from the traditional” version, in that it’s made with malt vinegar, vast amounts of white sugar and double-concentrated orange squash, boiled up with ginger, garlic, cinnamon, star anise, cloves, orange slices and tomato puree.
The results, which bring back many happy memories, are then mixed with spicy bean paste and dark soy sauce in the wok, and thickened with starch, as usual. It is indeed much sweeter than the others I try but, balanced by the green pepper and roasted nuts, not unpleasantly so. (Plus I now have a vat of sweet-and-sour sauce in the fridge for all my late-night needs.) This dish requires only two spices, and, since they are its defining characteristic, do not accept substitutions.
Dunlop explains that “sun-dried chillies are indispensable in Sichuan cooking several varieties can be found in the region’s markets”. Look for “red and lustrous, fragrant and not overpoweringly hot” examples – as she says, thanks to the increased popularity of Sichuan food overseas, many Chinese supermarkets now stock bagfuls of suitable chillies, either “small, pointy” ones or plump “heaven-facing” or “bullet” types. Chin and Choo’s effort – with bamboo shoots, green pepper, water chestnuts and pineapple. Sichuan peppercorns are more straightforward – use whole berries (try one first; if it’s not tingly and sharp, you’ll need to invest in a new packet) and, like Dunlop and Tan, use them to infuse the oil before you cook anything else.
If you find the whole fruits too intense, then you could grind them to distribute the flavour more evenly, as Eastwood reports a “very patient Chinese friend” doing in Beijing. Eastwood’s book Carnevale is also helpful on the matter of vegetables: “The spring onions in Beijing were bigger than ours in Europe and they make up about half of the dish,” she reports.
“If you have tiddly little onions or you want to up the quantity of veg, then add in some finely sliced leeks.” Fuchsia Dunlop’s kung pao chicken – sun-dried chillies are indispensable. Though western versions are often quite meat-heavy, the onions should be no mere garnish, and the same goes for the nuts – whether you go for the traditional peanuts, or Dunlop and Chin and Choo’s cashews (personally, I prefer the more savoury flavour of the first), be generous.
Though I’m generally lazy and buy them ready-roasted so I can eat the rest of the packet the next day, for the best, crunchiest results, fry whatever you use from raw, as both Eastwood and Chin and Choo recommend. If you want to up the vegetable quota further, then note that Wong adds celery and Chin and Choo bamboo shoots, green pepper, water chestnuts and pineapple in addition to the mandatory garlic and ginger.
All give the dish textural interest, if not the stamp of authenticity from the Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine in Chengdu, where Dunlop trained. Eastwood garnishes her dish with coriander, while Wong shows off his skills with air-dried chicken skin and a peanut foam made from satay sauce, milk and soy lecithin.
All are very nice (well, I imagine the chicken skin is very nice, but his note that, “for the home cook, preparing this really is a massive waste of time and I would recommend you spend your time doing something a little more fun than drying out chicken skin”, rather puts me off confirming it), but entirely optional.
Serve hot from the wok with steamed rice, and perhaps some vegetables on the side. Felicity’s hybrid is the perfect kung pao chicken.
Prep 10 min Cook 5 min Serves 1 1 skinless, boneless chicken breast (about 150g) 1 tsp cornflour or potato starch 1 tsp cold water ½ tsp light soy sauce ½ tsp Shaoxing rice wine, or dry sherry 6 whole dried chillies 3 spring onions 2 garlic cloves 2cm piece fresh ginger 1½ tbsp neutral oil 1 tsp whole Sichuan peppercorns 30g roasted peanuts or cashews For the sauce 1 tbsp sugar
½ tsp dark soy sauce ¾ tsp light soy sauce 1 tbsp Chiangking vinegar ½ tsp cornflour or potato starch mixed with 1 tbsp cold water Cut the chicken into roughly 1cm dice. In a bowl, mix the teaspoon of cornflour with the teaspoon of water, to make a rough paste, then stir in the light soy sauce and rice wine. Add the chicken and toss to coat. Dice the chicken, and marinate in a 1:1 paste of cornflour and water mixed with a half-teaspoon of light soy sauce. Cut the chillies in half lengthways, then shake out and discard the seeds (if they are very hot, you may wish to reduce the number of chillies.) Slice the spring onions into roughly 1cm chunks, and separate the white and green parts. Peel and thinly slice the garlic and ginger. Assemble your sliced veg and spices, ready your sauce, and begin by frying the chilli and peppercorns. Mix all the ingredients for the sauce in a bowl, and set this near the stove, along with the chillies and peppercorns, the chicken, garlic, ginger, the whites of the spring onions, and the peanuts and spring onion greens. Add the chicken, then the garlic, ginger and spring onion whites. Stir-fry until the chicken is just cooked through. Give the sauce a whisk, then pour it into the wok and leave it to bubble away until it’s thickened sufficiently to coat the chicken. Add the nuts and spring onion greens, toss everything together and eat immediately. Tip in the sauce, reduce so it coats the chicken, then finish by adding the nuts and spring onion greens. K ung pao or gong bao: is this chicken dish a favourite, and do you prefer it tingly and warm or fiery and feisty, as it tends to be cooked outside China? Have you tried it with tofu or fish, and what do you like to serve alongside? : How to make the perfect kung pao chicken – recipe | Felicity Cloake
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What does Kung Pao chicken taste like?
What Does Kung Pao Chicken Taste Like? Americanized kung pao chicken is savory and sweet with a mild spicy kick. The peanuts really bring together the dish and give it a rounded, nutty flavor. What is typically in Kung Pao Chicken? Traditional Kung Pao Chicken contains chicken, peanuts, and green onions.
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How to make spicy Kung Pao chicken?
Spicy Kung Pao Chicken : Turn on the stove and set to medium high heat. Add the remaining 1 & TBLS peanut oil, chili oil (if using), peppercorn oil, and sesame oil. Once the oil is hot (not smoking hot), add in the garlic, ginger, and spring onion whites. Give it a quick stir to prevent the garlic from burning.
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Why do they call it Kung Pao chicken?
The main reason is that Kung Pao is an authentic Chinese dish, while General Tso chicken belongs to the Chinese-American cuisine. General Tso chicken and Kung Pao chicken are pretty different in a lot of other aspects as well, but we’re about to get into that soon.
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