Do you ever go through “food phases,” where all you want to eat is a certain type of food? Lately, all I’ve been craving is spicy Asian food, so I decided to make this easy homemade kung pao chicken.
This is an update of a recipe I’ve been making for many years, from a cookbook I’ve had so long its cover is ripped off and pages are falling out. It’s one of the first stir fry dishes I learned how to make, and it’s still a family favorite. It’s an Americanized version of the Szechwan classic, but that doesn’t make it any less tasty.
Kung pao chicken is a spicy, garlicky, salty and slightly sweet chicken stir fry with dried chiles and crunchy peanuts. Some recipes include vegetables like bell peppers, carrots and celery, but I prefer to just use green onions in the stir fry and serve other vegetables on the side.
All the ingredients for this recipe are easy to find, except possibly the dried Chinese chiles. I found a huge bag of “Japones” chiles for about $4 in my local supermarket. Japones are a medium hot chile. They’re grown in Mexico but often used in Asian cuisine. Chiles can vary in heat, so you might want to get brave and taste both the pods and the seeds before using them in a recipe. The ones I used were not terribly hot. If you can’t find Japones, Chiles de Arbol are a good substitute. You can also substitute about 1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes.
Start this stir fry by marinating chunks of boneless, skinless chicken breast. You can use chicken thighs if you prefer. While the chicken is marinating, prepare the cooking sauce and slice the green onions.
Like most stir fries, this one is done in stages. Begin by stir frying the peanuts and whole dried chiles until they are nice and toasty:
Remove the peanuts and chiles from the heat, and then stir fry the marinated chicken chunks in two batches. It’s important not to overcrowd the wok by cooking too much food at once. Too much food in the pan creates too much moisture. You want the food to be browned and caramelized rather than steamed.
Once both batches of chicken are cooked, put all the chicken back in the wok and pour on the cooking sauce. Simmer until the sauce is thickened, then add the peanuts, dried chiles and green onions. It’s important to note that the whole chiles add flavor to the dish, but you shouldn’t try to eat them. You can remove them if you want. I leave them in for visual effect.
Serve this yummy stir fry with steamed rice. Like a lot of Chinese dishes, this one is easy to make, yet balanced and complex in flavor and texture. Kung pao chicken is a restaurant favorite, but it can be a homemade favorite as well!
Easy Homemade Kung Pao Chicken
For the stir fry:
- 1 ½ pounds boneless skinless chicken breast trimmed and cut into ¾ inch chunks (can substitue chicken thighs)
- 1 teaspoon Chinese cooking wine Shaoxing wine, or dry sherry
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper can substitute black pepper
- 2 teaspoons crushed garlic
- 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 6-8 dried red Chinese chiles whole with stems removed (can substitute 1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes)
- ½ cup salted peanuts
- 4-5 green onions
- 2 tablespoons canola or peanut oil divided
For the cooking sauce:
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Chinese cooking wine Shaoxing wine, or dry sherry
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons chicken broth or water
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- Seeds from 2-3 dried red Chinese chiles about ½ teaspoon seeds, can substitute 1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
- In a medium sized bowl, sprinkle cornstarch, sherry, salt and pepper over chicken chunks. Add ginger, garlic and sesame oil. Stir to combine. Set aside.
- Clean 4-5 green onions and cut into 1-inch pieces. Set aside.
- Cut 2-3 dried chiles in half lengthwise, and remove seeds to add to the sauce.
- Prepare cooking sauce by combining all ingredients in a measuring cup or bowl. Stir to dissolve cornstarch and sugar; set aside.
- Heat 1 tablespoon canola oil in a wok over medium heat. When oil is hot, add peanuts and whole chiles and stir fry until lightly browned and toasted, about 1 minute. Remove peanuts and chiles from wok immediately into a small bowl, and set aside. Leave oil in wok.
- Turn heat up to medium high, and stir fry half the chicken chunks until browned on the outside and almost cooked through. Remove chicken from wok and set aside. Add 1 additional tablespoon of oil to the wok, and stir fry the rest of the chicken.
- Place all the chicken back in the wok. Stir the cooking sauce to re-dissolve cornstarch, and pour over chicken. Cook over medium high heat until sauce is thickened. If sauce seems too thick, add more water one tablespoon at a time to achieve desired consistency. Add peanuts, chiles and green onion pieces.
- Serve with cooked rice.
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