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Kung Pao Chicken Recipe 宫保鸡丁

Monday, November 22, 2010 | Labels: , , , , |

Kung Pao Chicken or 宫保鸡丁is almost inarguably one of the most famous Chinese dishes, the fiery yet delicate flavours and the contrasting textures of the crunchy nuts mingling with the tender chicken cubes make the dish irresistible.  As with many Chinese dishes, there are so many versions floating around and after some research, I concluded that an authentic kung pao chicken is supposed to taste a little sweet, a little spicy and a little sour - hence the addition of a tiny bit of black vinegar. In addition, I have always been curious as to why this dish is named 宫保鸡丁, 鸡丁 just means tiny chicken cubes but what about 宫保 which really has nothing much to do with the food or the ingredients in this richly flavoured dish?


Legend has it that the dish was so named in deference to the inventor of the dish, a Chinese government official 丁宝桢, Deng Baozhen who lived during the Qing Dynasty. Deng was from Gweizhou and had always been very fond of spicy stir-fried chicken cubes and had requested his cook to prepare the now famous dish since his days in Gweizhou. However, the dish only started gaining fame when he moved to Sichuan as the new governor since he always served this spicy dish to guests at his residence. The original version was cooked with peanuts but I prefer to have cashew nuts in my kung pao chicken;which is the version I am featuring today.


Purists might be miffed though as I omitted Sichuan peppercorns (花椒) a traditional spice used in many Sichuan dishes which creates a unique 'tongue-numbing' (麻辣) sensation - this was because I knew that my guests are not fans of the 麻辣 style of cooking. However, do include the peppercorns if you get a chance for a taste of the original. All in all, I absolutely adore this dish - serve with steamed rice or Chinese steamed flower rolls.


Ingredients: (Serves 4-6)

15 dried red chilli peppers (use less if you want the dish less spicy) - rinsed
6 chicken thighs or breasts depending on your preference, cubed (about half an inch in length and width) *if using chicken breasts, please adjust oil and times accordingly
3 cloves garlic, minced
About 1 1/2 tbsps worth of minced ginger (preferable to do the mincing yourself)
3 green onions, sliced - use the white parts for cooking and save the green portions for garnish
1/2 cup of unroasted cashew nuts (this is what I prefer but the original recipe calls for peanuts)

For the marinade:

1 1/2 tbsps of Shaoxing Wine (Chinese Rice Wine)
1 tbsp light soy sauce
3/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cornstarch

For the sauce:

1 tsp light soy sauce
1 tsp dark soy sauce
1 1/2 tbsps sugar
1 tsp corn starch
2 tsps black vinegar
1 1/2 tbsps water
Tiny dash of sesame oil


Firstly, mix together the ingredients for the marinade above and marinade the chicken.  Set aside.

Next, heat about 1 tbsp of cooking oil in a wok.  Once hot, turn the heat to low and gently place the cashew nuts into the wok, stir-frying around briskly.  Once you see the cashew nuts began to brown, remove from oil and drain.  An easier alternative would probably be to roast the cashews in an oven or just buy roasted cashew nuts.  If you're using roasted cashew nuts, skip this step.

Now, mix the ingredients for the sauce together in a separate bowl.  As usual, do a taste test, add more sugar or soy sauce depending on your preferences.  I only used a tiny dash of sesame oil as I did not want my sauce to be overpowered by sesame oil.  Feel free to add more if that's what you like.

Heat about 2 tbsps of cooking oil in your wok again.  Once hot, turn heat to medium and add the dried chilli peppers and fry until aromatic.  You should be able to smell the spiciness in the air!  Next, add in the minced ginger, garlic and the white portions of the green onions.  Turn heat to medium-low and saute until fragrant as well. 

Add the marinated chicken cubes into the wok and turn heat to medium-high, stir-frying briskly to coat the chicken cubes in the aromatic oil.  Do this for about 3-5 minutes.  Add in the previously fried cashews.  Turn heat to high.  Stir to mix well.  Finally, add in the prepared sauce and stir-fry to coat the chicken cubes well.  Serve hot.


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TasteHongKong said...

As you did, I often like this recipe to go with cashew nuts than roasted peanuts. Yes, simply irresistible.

Little Inbox said...

This is my favorite dish but I have yet to cook it on my own. Just one dish to go with rice, and I'll be more than satisfy. :)

Christine@Christine's Recipes said...

The spicy chicken, chili and nuts in this dish are totally irresistible.

tigerfish said...

Definitely, I prefer cashew nuts too in my Kung Pao.

Pretty. Good. Food. said...

Looks great! Better than ordering out :)

Carolyn Jung said...

Way better than the takeout version. An old fave that never goes out of style.

Belly Good Cooking said...

Wow, your kung pao chicken looks very appetizing. Didn't know black vinegar can be added into the recipe. :P

Jen (Tastes of Home) said...

THK & TF - hehe yeah cashew nuts to me go better with the dish..

LI - this dish really makes me want to eat more rice lol

Christine - yes a lovely combo

PGF - thanks :)

Carolyn - you're right, its popularity has lasted for so long hehe

BGC - yes indeed I did not know either until recently, it really makes the dish!!

Dianna said...

If one wanted to add the Sichuan peppercorns, how much would you add? Should they be ground and toasted before adding?

Jen (Tastes of Home) said...

Dianna, the amount of peppercorns you want to add will also depend on the level of spiciness you want, I think about a tablespoon should be enough (average spiciness), just add it in (after rinsing quickly) together with the dried chilli peppers to saute. No need to grind. :)

pigpigscorner said...

I've never had this with peanuts before, always cashew nuts. I prefer cashew to peanuts anyway =)

Quay Po Cooks said...

There is no doubt this is an ever green dish!

Peggy said...

I love Kung Pao chicken and have never replaced the peanuts with cashews! I definitely will the next time to see how it compares!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jen (Tastes of Home) said...

PPC - yes cashews!

QPC - yeah its' popularity has lasted all the way frm the Qing Dynasty!

Peggy - hope you'll like the cashew version!

Paula said...

what a delicious blog! here is so many uncanny inspirations!

have a nice time,

rasamalaysia said...

I love the idea of serving it with steamed flower rolls, never thought of it! ;)

Jen (Tastes of Home) said...

Thanks Paula

Thanks RM! :)

The Bird Cage said...

This also came out delicious! I never expected this recipe to be so simple and tasty. Thank you very much sharing it :)

Tastes of Home (Jen) said...

You're welcome! I'm glad you liked it and thanks so much for the feedback!

Lee said...

Hi Jen, i just made your chicken and I had a couple questions. It says either 6 breasts or 6 thighs but 6 breasts come to about 1.2 kg of meat. I found there wasn't enough aromatic oil (essentially 2 tbsp) in the wok to even come close to covering all the chicken. I also found that it took quite a lot of time beyond the 3-5 minutes to cook down the chicken before adding the cashews. Is this how you intended it?

Smoky Wok (Tastes of Home) said...

Hi Lee, you used six chicken breasts? Sorry, I should have also added 'adjust oil accordingly and times if substituting with chicken breasts' since chicken breasts are much drier, the oil I used was adequate for the chicken thighs. As always, when cooking Chinese food, sometimes you have to 'cook on the fly' i.e. if you see /think the chicken breasts look too dry, go ahead and add a little bit more oil. But yes, I did not intend to fully cook the chicken before the cashews are added but about 3/4 cooked where 3-5 minutes were enough for chicken thigh cubes. Thanks for your feedback.

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