Kung Pao Chicken was one of our favorite dishes as we traveled around China. I feel like most of the dishes that we enjoy in American Chinese Restaurants are much much better in their authentic form. While Kung Pao is good in American, its out of this world in China.
We ordered this dish several times on our trip and we discovered that every restaurant or chef has their own version. Each city we were in, Beijing, Kunming, and Dali, also varied in their expression of this dish. The ingredients that remained the same, no matter where we ate were: peanuts, diced chicken, diced carrots, diced celery or lettuce root, and chopped red chiles. Our very favorite Kung Pao Chicken was ordered from a small restaurant along the cobblestone old-town streets of Dali, called The Good Panda.
Many restaurants include Sichuan peppercorns in this dish, which might be hard to find around the US. Until 2005 it was actually illegal to import Sichuan peppercorns in to the US. But if you find them, use them! I will warn you of their mouth numbing nature though.
Authentic Kung Pao Chicken
An easy recipe to make Kung Pao Chicken at home.
- 2-3 chicken breasts, diced
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp cornstarch
- 1 dash soy sauce
- 1 carrot, diced
- 1 stalk Chinese lettuce root, diced (if you can't find this use celery)
- ½ cup peanuts
- ¼ cup cooking oil
- 3 tbsp Chinese oyster sauce
- 1 tbsp sugar
- ½ tsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp Sichuan hot pepper paste, optional
- In a small bowl, combine diced chicken, salt, cornstarch, and soy sauce. Mix thoroughly and let sit a few minutes.
- Meanwhile, dry-roast the peanuts. Heat wok or skillet to med high heat and add peanuts, tossing occasionally till peanuts begin to “pop.” Reduce heat to med/low, and continue to roast 3-4 more minutes. These peanuts can be crushed or added whole to the stir-fry (later).
- Heat cooking oil in wok or skillet over med/ high heat till oil begins to ripple or shimmer. Add chicken and stir-fry 2-3 minutes, then remove chicken only using slotted spoon so oil stays in wok.
- Add carrots and lettuce root (or celery) and stir-fry 1-2 minutes till just beginning to turn tender-crisp. Return chicken to pot and add peanuts (crushed or whole), oyster sauce, sugar, sesame oil, and hot pepper paste, if you want the dish to be spicy. Add a little water to thin sauce if desired. Stir to mix, then allow sauce to come to a boil.
- Serve over rice.