Kung Pao chicken, also transcribed as Gong Bao chicken is a spicy stir-fry dish made with chicken, peanuts, vegetables, and chilli peppers. The classic dish in Szechuan cuisine originated in the Sichuan Province of central-western China and includes Sichuan peppercorns. Although the dish is found throughout China, there are regional variations that are typically less spicy than the Sichuan serving. Kung Pao chicken is also a staple of westernised Chinese cuisine.
The dish is believed to be named after Ding Baozhen, a late Qing Dynasty official, a one-time governor of Sichuan. His title was Gong Bao (palatial guardian). The name “Kung Pao” chicken is derived from this title.
During the Cultural Revolution, the dish’s name became politically incorrect because of its association with Ding Baozhen. The dish was renamed “fast-fried chicken cubes” (hong bao ji ding) or “chicken cubes with seared chillies” (hu la ji ding) until its political rehabilitation in the 1980s.
Sichuan version of Kung Pao Chicken
The original Sichuan version uses chicken as its primary ingredient. In this original version, diced chicken is typically mixed with a prepared marinade. The wok is seasoned and then chilli peppers and Sichuan peppercorns are flash fried to add fragrance to the oil. Then the chicken is stir fried and vegetables, along with peanuts, are added. Shaoxing wine is used to enhance flavour in the marinade.
Kung Pao chicken starts off with fresh, moist, unroasted peanuts or cashew nuts. These are often used instead of their pre-roasted versions. The peanuts or cashew nuts are dropped into the hot oil on the bottom of the wok first, then deep fried until golden brown before the other ingredients are added.
In Sichuan, or when preparing authentic Kung Pao chicken, only Sichuan-style chilli peppers such as facing heaven pepper or seven stars pepper are used. Smaller, thinner Sichuanese varieties may also be used.
The most important component of the dish is handfuls of Sichuan peppercorns. It is these peppercorns that give authentic Kung Pao chicken its distinctive numbing flavour. Use of hot and numbing flavour is a typical element of Sichuan cooking.
- 1½ boneless & skinless chicken breast (or 3 boneless & skinless chicken drumsticks)
- 3 tablespoons roasted peanuts
- 8-12 dried red chillies (deseeded and cut into halves)
- 3 tablespoons cooking oil
- 5 slices peeled fresh ginger
- 2 gloves garlic (sliced diagonally)
- 1 spring onion (chopped)
- 1 tablespoon cornflour
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
- 1 teaspoon oil
- 1½ tablespoon light soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ¼ teaspoon black vinegar
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 teaspoon cornflour
- Cut the chicken meat into small cubes, rinse in water, pat dry with water and marinate with the ingredients above for 30 minutes.
- Mix the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
- Heat up a wok with one tablespoon cooking oil and stir-fry the marinated chicken until they are 70% cooked. Remove and set aside.
- Clean the wok and add in the remaining 2 tablespoons of cooking oil until it smokes.
- Add in the ginger and garlic slices and do a quick stir before adding in the dried red chillies.
- Stir fry the dried red chilies until aromatic and they smell spicy, then add in the chicken meat.
- Do a quick stir before adding in the roasted peanuts and continue to stir a few times.
- Add in the sauce and stir continuously until the chicken meat is nicely coated with the sauce.
- Add in the spring onions and stir evenly.
- Dish out and serve hot with steamed white rice.