Lately we’ve been eating all the spicy food! On the menu is always spicy red chili oil wontons and more often than not, this kung pao chicken.

Kung pao chicken is the perfect quick weeknight dinner for warming up: spicy, tangy, just a hint of sweet, and so, so addictive.

What is kung pao chicken?

Kung pao chicken is a classic Chinese stir fry dish with diced chicken, dried chilis, and peanuts. It comes from the land of fire-y spicy hot Chinese food, Sichuan. It’s also a really popular Americanized Chinese dish that is one of the most popular Chinese takeout dishes. Everyone loves kung pao chicken and it’s not hard to understand why, with its tender bits of chicken and complex sauce of salty, sweet, tangy, and spicy flavors.

This particular kung pao isn’t quite the way it’s made in Sichuan: instead of going the classic route dry-frying route with just a touch of sauce, it’s a saucy riff off of takeout style American Chinese kung pao, perfect for eating with rice.

kung pao chicken | www.iamafoodblog.com

Kung pao chicken ingredients

Most of the ingredients in this kung pao chicken can be found at your usual grocery store: chicken thighs (or breast if that’s your fancy), soy sauce, rice vinegar, cornstarch, sugar, garlic, ginger, scallions, and peanuts (or your nut of choice). The other handful of ingredients can be found at your friendly Asian grocery store, online, or in places like Whole Foods.

  • Shaoxing wine: This is the secret ingredient that all your Chinese food needs to taste like restaurant style Chinese food. Shaoxing wine is a sweet, nutty, earthy rice wine that will make your kung pao taste amazing. Read more about it via our ultimate guide to Shaoxing wine.
  • Hoisin sauce: Hoisin is pretty much sold everywhere now, from Target to your basic grocery store. It’s a thick, sweet brown sauce that’s used in marinades and as a dipping sauce. It’s super flavorful: sweet and savory, tangy, and full of umami. Hoisin can taste different based on brand, and for us, the best brand of hoisin is Lee Kum Kee. Bonus, it comes in a squeeze bottle!
  • Sambal oelek: This is not an authentic ingredient in kung pao chicken in Sichuan, but it packs a fresh chili-garlicky punch.
  • Whole dried chilis: These are completely optional, but if you want your kung pao to look authentic, you’ve got to have dried chilis! They sell whole Chinese dried chilis online and in Asian grocery stores (we use heaven facing chilis) but you can sub the chile de árbol you see in the Mexican aisle too. Most people don’t actually eat the dried peppers, but some do (only a couple!), especially if the peppers are high quality, toasty, and good.
  • Peanuts: Peanuts are the classic nut in kung pao and they key is to fry them a bit before using them as garnish. I went for a peanut-free kung pao with cashews and you can sub any nut (or leave the nuts out entirely.) To fry the peanuts: heat a bit of oil in a non-stick pan or wok. Stir fry, moving constantly for 2-3 minutes until they start to smell roasty and delicious. Remove from the pan and set aside. You can also sub roasted nuts and skip frying them.

kung pao chicken ingredients | www.iamafoodblog.com

How to make kung pao chicken

This stir fry comes together super quick and easy, but that’s only after you prep all of the ingredients. If you want do this faster than takeout will arrive at your door, just get everything in order before you even start cooking.

  1. First off, make some rice. Unless you’ve smart and have rice meal-prepped in your fridge. Then in that case, skip this step because you’re already winning at life.
  2. Cut up your chicken into bite sized pieces and place in a bowl with the marinade and set aside while your prep the sauce ingredients.
  3. Prep the aromatics and whisk up all the sauce ingredients in a small bowl or liquid measuring cup. This is the step that will probably take the most time if you’re not really a prep machine. Use a garlic press for the garlic and a ginger grater for the ginger. Both are huge time savers. This recipe has the green onions cut into sections, so that’s pretty fast.
  4. Time to cook! It’ll take just a few minutes: basically once the chicken is cooked through, about 5-6 minutes on medium high, you add the sauce, let it reduce a bit 2-3 minutes, and you’re ready to eat.

kung pao chicken | www.iamafoodblog.com

Once everything’s ready, it’s just a quick stir fry and it’s done.

I like to use a non-stick pan because cornstarch has the tendency to stick to regular pans and with a non-stick you have the option of not using as much oil. I know that some people think that non-stick pans are not professional, because they don’t give you the same kind of maillard reaction (or wok hei, if you’re going that deep) you’d get with a regular pan, but when you’re making stir fry, not steak, it’s not really an issue. Plus, the name of the game is ease and if you have an annoyingly difficult to wash pan after dinner is done, that’s not easy. These pans are my favorite.

Bonus Pro Tip

It’s really nice having two cutting boards that are dishwasher safe (and with feet, so they don’t slip). That way, you don’t have to cut up your vegetables first before cutting your meat. With two cutting boards, you can cut your chicken, pop that cutting board in the dishwasher, then move on to your second cutting board to prep the aromatics without worrying about cross contamination. (These are the ones we use). It’s one of the things I love having multiples of: cutting boards and dish towels.

What to serve with kung pao chicken

kung pao chicken | www.iamafoodblog.com

 

 

kung pao chicken recipe | www.iamafoodblog.com

Kung Pao Chicken Recipe

Highly addictive and super easy to make at home.
Serves 4
4.67 from 3 votes
Prep Time 12 mins
Cook Time 8 mins
Total Time 20 mins

Ingredients

Chicken

  • 1 lb chicken thighs cut into bite size pieces
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
  • 1 tsp cornstarch

Kung Pao Sauce

  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 2 tbsp hoisin
  • 2 tbsp sambal oelek
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 cloves garlic crushed
  • 2 tsp ginger grated

Stir Fry

  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 8-10 dried red chiles if desired
  • 1/4 cup roasted cashews or peanuts
  • 2-3 green onions cut into 2" lengths

Instructions

  • Marinate the chicken thighs in the soy sauce, shaoxing wine, and 1 teaspoon of cornstarch. Set aside while prepping your sauce.
    marinating chicken for kung pao chicken | www.iamafoodblog.com
  • In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk together the remaining 2 teaspoons of cornstarch with 1/4 cup water, hoisin, sambal oelek, rice vinegar, sugar, garlic, and ginger.
    kung pao chicken sauce | www.iamafoodblog.com
  • Heat up the oil in a large non-stick frying or sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the chicken and cook, stirring occasionally until golden and cooked through.
    stir frying chicken | www.iamafoodblog.com
  • Turn the heat to medium, add the peppers and the sauce and stir to coat. Cook, until the sauce starts to thicken and turn glossy. Add in the green onions and cashews. Enjoy hot with fluffy rice!
    kung pao chicken | www.iamafoodblog.com

Estimated Nutrition

Nutrition Facts
Kung Pao Chicken Recipe
Amount Per Serving
Calories 350 Calories from Fat 147
% Daily Value*
Fat 16.3g25%
Saturated Fat 3.6g23%
Cholesterol 101mg34%
Sodium 604mg26%
Potassium 388mg11%
Carbohydrates 13.6g5%
Fiber 0.9g4%
Sugar 8.1g9%
Protein 35.2g70%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

More chinese take out

2 Comments

  1. Sabrina says:

    5 stars
    thank you for breaking this down, I’ve never even tried to make it before, figured I needed a wok cooking at 900 at some ridiculously high temp, love all but the rice, it just gets in the way in my very humble opinion, so thank you!

  2. Alan Smithee says:

    Looks quite delicious.
    Hosin and rice vineagear are quite convenient ingredients as they are generally available in your usual supermarket and they will do just fine.
    However, for a more authentically sichuanese experience i’d do the sauce as follows :
    2tbsp light soy sauce
    2tbsp dark soy sauce
    2tbsp chicken stock
    3tbsp sugar
    1tbsp sesame oil
    6tbsp chinkiang vinegar

    Also, if you have some at hand, sichuan pepper corns are an essential addition to the dish. I fry them in oil with the chili to makje the oil fragrant. It will also give you this numbing feeling which is so characteristic to sichuan cuisine.

    Lately i’ve been also mixing some potato starch (just a bit) to the corn starch. It gets the sauce really sticking aroung the meat.

    Lastly, if you’re not intolerant, adding some MSG gives the sauce the last bit of umami it deserves, but you’d be fine without.

    Chinkiang vineagar, sichuan peppercorns and MSG are usually available in any good chinese grocery store, but you could get them online as well.

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