Spicy Kung Pao Chicken
This classic Chinese dish is an all time favorite of mine and a crowd pleaser. Tender pieces of diced chicken are stir-fried with aromatics, peanuts, and dried red chilies in a deliciously spicy, sweet, and savory sauce. Serve it over some steamed rice and a side of stir-fried veggies for a tasty Chinese dinner!
Kung Pao Chicken. My ALL TIME favorite dish.
Back in Taipei while growing up, this was the one dish that was a must order at any Chinese restaurant my family dined at. Not to mention, my sister and I regularly got this to-go from a few restaurants when we were kids. Once we reached home, we would wolf it down with some steamed white rice and the entire EXTRA LARGE size takeaway box would literally be gone (save from the dried red chilies) within minutes!
Even today my mouth waters at the thought of the juicy tender pieces of diced chicken in its spicy and slightly sweet and savory sauce. 🤤 The complex flavors of salty, sweet, and spicy plus the crunch of toasted peanuts in this dish just floors me every.single.time!
Right, you get the picture – I ❤️❤️❤️ KPC! I’m super excited to be sharing my recipe with you today and I hope you’ll love it as much as we do around here!
A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE INGREDIENTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM
In this dish, I use of ingredients from various Asian countries, which isn’t conventional since Kung Pao Chicken is a stir-fry dish that hails from the Sichuan region in China and typically incorporates all Chinese & Sichuan ingredients. However, I find my strategy of pulling out the best sauces, pastes, and ingredients from China, Korea, Thailand, and even Japan gives me magnificent results for not just this dish, but for several of my recipes.
Most of the sauces and pastes needed can be found at an Asian grocery store or at your local supermarket. The two ingredients that may potentially be tough to locate are Sichuan red peppercorns and Chinese dried red chilies. Try to find these at your local Asian grocery store or check out The Mala Market to purchase some online. I personally prefer using Thai Dried Red Chilies because it’s hotter and adds a whole new level of spiciness! Plus, you don’t need to use as many of them as you normally would in a Chinese or Sichuan dish because they are simply so beautifully HOT! 😍
You also won’t typically find fresh chopped chilies in this dish at most places, But I encourage you to add even just one or two as it’ll give it the extra oomph that you can’t get in a takeaway dish from your local Chinese restaurant. 😎
WHAT SHOULD I USE TO MAKE MY STIR-FRIES IN?
I use a slotted plastic spoon and a refined cast iron wok for most of my stir-fry dishes. The slotted spoon comes in handy when emptying things from the wok and putting them in the strainer. I also find that it’s easier to toss, turn, and flip ingredients in a wok with a round shaped spoon instead of a flat shaped spatula. Another bonus is that the lack of sharp edges prevents the seasoning of my wok from getting scratched. This is really a MEGA PLUS POINT for me because I worked really hard and cooked A LOT in my wok over a LONG period of time to get my wok’s seasoning level to where it’s at today! Now, just regularly cooking in it and seasoning it every now and then keeps it in shape.
Anyways, back to the round shaped plastic slotted spoon. That’s just my preference, and you can of course use a spatula and a non-stick wok! Just be sure to adjust for timing when cooking as things will brown a bit slower and it may take a few extra minutes to cook as a non-stick wok can’t get as hot as cast iron one.
NOT A CHICKEN PERSON?
I’ve done variations with diced tofu for vegetarian days as well as shrimp when a craving for seafood hits. I’m happy to say it comes out just as tasty with a few simple tweaks for the protein measurements (see Notes in the recipe below). Feel free to substitute with the protein of your choice and check out my Spicy Kung Pao Tofu recipe (recipe coming soon!) if you’re a vegetarian or simply just not much of a chicken person.
WHY I LIST INGREDIENTS MORE THAN ONCE
You’ll notice that I list some ingredients twice in the ingredients list because they are used in two parts of the preparation, which is common in Chinese recipes with marinades for the proteins and sauces for the overall dish. I find it easier to list the ingredients twice so that I can add them to the appropriate bowl during the preparation phase.
Right, enough talk. Let’s cook some mouthwatering Spicy Kung Pao Chicken!
HOW TO MAKE SPICY KUNG PAO CHICKEN
One of my favorite things about making Kung Pao Chicken (and any stir-fry dish for that matter) is that it comes together fairly quickly in spite of the complexity of the flavors involved. There are two key things here to remember:
- Do all your prep work beforehand.
- Stay organized by separating your ingredients in individual bowls and have them next to your stovetop so that you can grab them quickly and in the order you need to add the ingredients to the wok.
First, prepare all your ingredients and chop up some garlic, ginger, fresh red chilies, and spring onions. (Be sure to separate the whites from the greens as you’ll be cooking them first and the greens at the end.) Pick of the stems from the top of your dried red chilies (if any), and dice the chicken too.
Marinate the chicken by combining the diced pieces with corn starch, low sodium light soy sauce, Shao Xing rice wine, a splash of sesame oil in a large bowl and mixing to coat the pieces well.
Next, fry up your dried red chilies in some peanut oil to get them nice and crispy. Be careful not to burn them as they can turn black and bitter if they are cooked for too long!
Once they’re cool enough to handle, cut them up with scissors (if you want more heat in the overall dish – skip this part if you want to make this dish mild).
Then add a splash of sesame oil to the peanut oil already in the wok and cook the diced chicken for 2-3 minutes or until they are about three fourths of the way cooked. (They’ll get fully cooked when you’re stir-frying them with everything else later.)
Remove the chicken pieces to a strainer and let the oil below the strainer drain into the wok…
…and then transfer them to a large clean bowl.
Then, discard the oil in the wok and wipe it out.
Now, get ready to stir-fry everything together! This is the part I love because everything goes so fast and dinner will be ready in no time at all! 😋
Heat up peanut oil, chili oil (if using), peppercorn oil, and sesame oil over medium high heat. Once the oil is hot, add in the garlic, ginger, and spring onion whites. Give it a quick stir to prevent the garlic from burning.
Add in the roasted unsalted peanuts and dried red peppercorns. Let the peanuts brown in the wok for about 20 seconds before continuing to stir fry.
Next, throw in the fresh red chilies. Stir to incorporate with the other ingredients. Press them down with your spatula to release their oils. Then add the diced chicken and dried red chilies.
Stir everything together and combine properly.
Now it’s time for to add that magical spicy, sweet, and salty Kung Pao Sauce! Give the bowl of sauce a stir with a spoon (this helps to loosen up the corn starch at the bottom of the bowl) and pour in the sauce in a circular motion to cover as many of the chicken pieces in the wok.
Stir and toss continuously to coat all the chicken pieces with the sauce. Allow the chicken to simmer in the tasty sauce for 2-3 minutes while stirring occasionally.
At this point and if it starts to looks a bit too dry, you can add in a tablespoon of water if needed and continue stirring.
Once the sauce is nice and thick, throw in the spring onion greens…
…and stir for 30 seconds more.
Then turn off the heat and serve with some warm steamed white rice!
And there you have it. Spicy, salty, sweet, proper kick on your tongue, mouthwatering Kung Pao Chicken! 🤤
Go fly now my pretties and enjoy. Let me know if you try this recipe – I love to hear about and see your cooking so tag @thatspicychick on Instagram and hashtag it #thatspicychick! 🤗
PS: If you’re looking for more easy Chinese stir-fry recipes, check out my Chili Garlic Shrimp, Stir-fried Pork Sukiyaki in Black Pepper Sauce, or Quick & Easy Chicken, Bacon, and Cabbage Stir-Fry recipes!
Spicy Kung Pao Chicken
Tender pieces of diced chicken stir-fried with aromatics, peanuts, and dried red chilies in a deliciously spicy, sweet, and savory sauce. Serve it over warm steamed rice and a side of stir fried veggies for a tasty Chinese dinner!
- Prep Time: 35
- Cook Time: 30
- Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
- Yield: 4 1x
- Category: Dinner
- Method: Stir fry
- Cuisine: Sichuan/Chinese
- 7 cloves Garlic – minced
- 2 TBLS Ginger (about 1.5″ chunk) – minced
- 5–8 Fresh Red Chilies (Thai/Bird’s Eye Chili preferred, and to taste depending on your heat level preference) – chopped into small pieces
- 3 Spring Onions (Scallions) – chopped into 1-inch pieces, separate the whites & greens
- 2 Chicken Breasts (about 400g), boneless, skinless – diced into bite sized cubes
- 5 TSP Corn Starch
- 2 TSP White Sugar
- 3 TSP Low Sodium Light Soy Sauce
- 2 TSP Shao Xing Rice Wine
- ¼ TSP Sesame Oil (I use Kadoya’s)
- 1 TSP Corn Starch
- 4 TSP Low Sodium Light Soy Sauce (see notes)
- 1 TSP Light Soy Sauce (see notes)
- 4 TSP Shao Xing Rice Wine
- 2 TBLS Black Rice Vinegar Sauce
- 1 TBLS Sichuan Hot & Spicy Sauce (I use Lee Kum Kee’s, substitute with any Sichuan or chili fermented bean paste if unavailable)
- 1 TBLS Gochujang Hot Pepper Paste (I use Chung Jung One’s Sunchang Gochujang)
- 3 TBLS Water
- Chopping: Prepare and chop all the “CHOPPING” ingredients. Add the garlic, ginger, and spring onion whites to a small bowl. Add your fresh red chilies and spring onion greens into two separate small bowls.
- Sauce Bowl: In a medium bowl, add the corn starch, white sugar, low sodium light soy sauce, shao xing rice wine, black rice vinegar, Sichuan Hot & Spicy Sauce, and gochujang. Mix thoroughly and set aside.
- Chicken Marinade: Mix together the corn starch, low sodium light soy sauce, shao xing rice wine, a dash of sesame oil in a large bowl. Add the diced chicken and mix to coat them well with the marinade. Set aside to marinate while you prepare the other ingredients.
- Prep for Dried Red Chilies: Heat the wok on the stove – about 20-30 seconds. Add about 3 tablespoons of peanut oil to the wok (you will use this same oil later to semi-fry the chicken). Lift the wok and swirl it in a circular motion so that the oil spreads around the perimeter and then place it back on the stove to let it heat up. Add the dried red chilies and gently stir them around the wok until they get crispy – about 20 seconds. Be careful not to burn them! Remove them to a strainer and hold the strainer above the wok to let any oil drain back into it. Empty the chilies into a small bowl. Once they are not too hot to handle, cut each dried red chili up into two or three pieces with cooking scissors (cut the longer ones into three pieces and the shorter ones into two).
- Prep For the Marinated Chicken: Turn on stove again and add a dash of sesame oil to the peanut oil already in the wok. Lift the wok again and rotate it in a circular motion so that the oil spreads around and then place it back on the stove to let it heat up. Once heated, add the chicken and spread evenly in the wok. Let the chicken cook and brown for about 1 minute before starting to toss and flip the pieces. Once they are about three fourths of the way cooked, remove the chicken pieces to the fine mesh strainer and hold above the wok to let the oil drain. (You can gently shake the strainer to speed up the draining process, but be careful not to shake with too violently as that’ll cause some of the cornstarch to come off and make the chicken a bit mushy.) Remove the chicken into another clean large bowl and set aside. Discard the oil in the wok and wipe with paper towels. Set back on stove.
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.
- Add in the roasted unsalted peanuts and dried red peppercorns. Let the peanuts brown in the wok for about 20 seconds before tossing again.
- Add in the fresh red chilies and press them down with your spatula to release their oils. Continue stir-frying to incorporate them with the other ingredients.
- Add the diced chicken and dried red chilies and toss everything together to combine.
- Give the bowl of sauce a stir (to loosen up the corn starch) with a spoon and pour in the sauce in a circular motion to cover as many of the chicken pieces. Stir-fry and toss continuously to coat all the chicken pieces with the sauce.
- At this point and if it looks too dry, stir in a tablespoon of water.
- Add the spring onion greens and toss for 30 seconds more to combine.
- Turn off the heat and remove to dish. Serve with steamed white rice.
- I use both Kikkoman brand (a Japanese brand) light soy sauces – one with less sodium and one with the regular level of sodium. I use them both because I find the regular one a bit too salty for my liking to use only it. Feel free to adjust the levels for both to your preference. Another option is to use a teaspoon of Thai Dark Soy Sauce (which is thicker, sweeter, and darker) if you prefer a sweeter and milder flavor. You can also use Chinese Dark Soy Sauce, which is darker and slightly less salty than your typical Chinese Light Soy Sauce. It’s generally used to add a darker color to dishes and often used in various stir fried dishes such as stir-fried noodle dishes like my Spicy E-Fu Noodles with Shrimp (recipe coming soon!). Use whatever you feel comfortable with and feel free to experiment with this recipe to find the best combination for your taste buds and future stir-fries because either option can work!
- Some people don’t prefer the pungent taste of Sichuan red peppercorns and find them too strong on the tongue. Go easy on them and don’t use more than ½ teaspoon of them if it’s your first time trying them! If you’re a fan of Mala food (like me! 🙋♀️) go ahead and add your desired amount.
- You can serve Spicy Kung Pao Chicken with quinoa, brown rice, or cauliflower rice. It is traditionally eaten with white rice as are most dishes in China, but feel free to have it with either one of the healthier grains mentioned if you like.
- For Spicy Kung Pao Shrimp, prepare the dish with the same ingredients and method but you will need about 500g of tail-on large shrimp. Remove tails & skin, devein if your prefer (optional as it’s not harmful to not, but just alters the taste slightly if you don’t), and clean & wash properly before preparing as above.
- Serving Size: 1/4 Dish
- Calories: 448
- Sugar: 14.4g
- Sodium: 595.1mg
- Fat: 25g
- Saturated Fat: 4g
- Unsaturated Fat: 18.7g
- Trans Fat: 0g
- Carbohydrates: 28.4g
- Fiber: 4.2g
- Protein: 29.6g
- Cholesterol: 73mg
The nutritional information provided is approximate and can vary based on several factors. It should only be used as a general guideline. For more information, please see our Disclosure.
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