With its salty, sweet, spicy flavor, kung pao chicken is one of the best-loved Chinese takeaway dishes out there. If you love kung pao chicken but want to make a healthier version, don't fret – this easy kung pao chicken recipe tastes just as good as anything you'll order from a takeaway but is far healthier.
Kung pao chicken is dry stir-fried, which means there isn't tons and tons of sauce, plus you control what goes into the dish. You can make crispy, yet perfectly juicy and tender kung pao chicken with a rich, thick sauce at home with ease. Here's how to do it.
Kung pao chicken originates from the Sichuan province. It's a spicy chicken dish made with Sichuan peppercorns and chili peppers, in addition to other aromatic, flavorful ingredients like leeks, dry peanuts, Shaoxing cooking wine, and black pepper.
The Americanized version of kung pao chicken is sweet, sour, and spicy, with no Sichuan peppers, and is made with sherry rather than Shaoxing.
While both kung pao chicken and Szechuan chicken come from the Sichuan province, there are a few notable differences between the two dishes.
Szechuan chicken has peppers, mushrooms, and is spicier than kung pao chicken. Kung pao chicken is nuttier, sweeter, and is stir-fried.
To make American-style kung pao chicken, you'll need a variety of ingredients, all of which are widely available at most supermarkets.
To marinate the chicken, you'll need cornstarch, soy sauce (either regular or low-sodium), and dry sherry. You can use Chinese cooking wine instead of dry sherry for a more authentic flavor.
To make the sauce, you'll need vinegar, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, sugar, water, and ginger, plus chili flakes for spice and cornstarch as a thickener.
Finally, to make the stir-fry, use bell peppers (any color will do), celery, garlic, and green onions.
Top the dish off with some peanuts, and you're all set!
Ready to start cooking? Here's how to make the best homemade kung pao chicken, step-by-step! First off, you'll need to marinate the chicken. Mix the soy sauce, sherry, and cornstarch in a bowl. Stir in the chicken and toss until it's well-coated. Allow the chicken to marinate for at least 15 minutes – the longer, you leave it, the more flavorful the chicken will be.
While the chicken is marinating, grab a second bowl and combine the vinegar, soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, hoisin sauce, sugar, cornstarch, red chili flakes, ginger, and water. Set it aside.
Now it's time to start cooking. Heat the oil in a wok. Season the bell pepper and celery with salt and cook the vegetables for 5 minutes or so over high heat. The vegetables should be turning soft and starting to brown. Scoop them out into a bowl. Add more oil to the skillet.
Working in batches, brown the chicken for 60 to 90 seconds on each side. Remove the chicken from the skillet and place it in the bowl with the vegetables. Repeat until all the chicken is browned. Cook the garlic and spring onions until fragrant, then add the chicken and vegetables back into the pan.
Pour the sauce over the chicken, then turn the heat down to low and cook until the sauce thickens. Mix in the peanuts, and serve immediately.
For a more authentic flavor, use Shaoxing cooking wine instead of dry sherry and add in Sichuan peppercorns.
Chicken breast or chicken breast fillets are the best cut for making kung pao chicken.
For a more intense flavor, let the chicken marinate longer.
Serve your kung pao chicken with a side of steamed rice or noodles.
Make gluten-free kung pao chicken by using gluten-free soy sauce and serving it with rice or rice noodles.
Keep leftover kung pao chicken in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days.
Combine soy sauce, dry sherry, and cornstarch in a bowl.
Put the chicken in the bowl and toss until well-coated. Allow the chicken to marinate for at least 15 minutes.
In a separate bowl, combine balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, hoisin sauce, sugar, cornstarch, red chili flakes, ginger, and water.
Heat oil in a skillet. Season the bell pepper and celery with salt and cook about 5 minutes over high heat, until the vegetables begin to turn soft and brown.
Place the vegetables in a bowl.
Add more oil to the skillet. Working in batches, brown the chicken for 60 to 90 seconds on each side.
Remove the chicken from the skillet and place it in the bowl with the vegetables. Repeat until all the chicken is cooked.
Heat oil in the skillet. Saute the garlic and spring onions for 30 seconds.
Return the chicken and vegetables to the pan. Add in the sauce.
Turn the heat down to low and cook until the sauce thickens. Mix in the peanuts, and serve.
Use low-sodium soy sauce if you're watching your salt intake.