A year ago today FOODragon saw the light of day for the first time. Usually people look back and review the highlights but I don’t want to do that. Instead I want to give you a little birthday present. You know how they say “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for life”? Well this gift is along that line, but it’s chicken and not fish.
Kung Pao Chicken Recipe
Kung Pao chicken is probably the most popular Chinese dish among westerners, both in and outside of China. And today you are going to learn how to make it, directly from the source. Before we start, there’s one thing you should know about Kung Pao Chicken and you should keep it in mind when you cook it:
It’s not the ingredients, but how you cook them that matter
True, this statement applies not only to Kong Pao Chicken but to cooking in general and can also serve as a nice metaphor for pretty much every aspect of life, but it’s extra valid for this particular dish. You know how jazz fans always say it’s the notes you don’t hear that matter? Well, Kong Pao Chicken is a bit like. It’s about what it doesn’t taste or look like – chicken. It doesn’t really matter if you didn’t chop the onion and garlic really well, or if the chicken cubes are not exactly cubes. It’s about the flavor as a whole.
There is more than one way to kungpao a chicken and every place makes it a bit different. For me gongbao is a kind of a benchmark dish because it can tell you a lot about the restaurant. If it costs over 20 kuai it means the place is on the pricey side, if the dish has more diced cucumber and carrot than chicken, it mean they are cheap (usually in both senses of the word), and if the peanuts are old and soft I tend not to come back at all.
The video you are about to watch is somewhat unorthodox when it comes to ingredients. They use baijiu and sesame oil but no ginger. I suspect that’s because they were aiming to be more gourmet and classy rather than simple and classic. But I chose it nonetheless because it demonstrates the cooking method well, and focuses on the gradual process of transforming diced chicken to the core of several layers of flavors.
First let’s watch the clip and then discuss quantities and adaptations.
To make Kung Pao chicken you need:
- 250-300 grams of boneless chicken meat – in the clip they use the thigh part of the leg but I recommend to use the breast because it’s easier to dice. The pieces should be slightly smaller than 2 cm .
- Half a cup of peanuts (about 100 grams) – the peanuts should be peeled and fried before you stir-fry them with the chicken. You can buy fresh peanuts and fry then yourself until they turn golden or buy cooked ones. If they are salted don’t forget to use less salt in the sauce.
- Scallion – it can be the thin green onion or the thicker leek. You can slice it or chop it, it’s up to you. About 10-15 cm of white stem should do the trick.
- Garlic – two three cloves. Chopped is best but sliced is fine too.
- Ginger – Not used in this clip but after all it is a part of the sanxiang and therefore it’s essential to the mix. Slice a piece of ginger the size of bottle cap to fingernail size slices.
- Two three dried red chili pepper
- Sichuan peppercorns – since they are not supposed to be eaten, many people remove them from the oil once their unique mala flavor has been extracted into the oil.
- Chili bean paste – between a spoon and a spoon and a half, depend on how spicy and red you want it to be.
- When you marinate the chicken:
- Chinese cooking wine – half a ladle
- Salt and pepper – 1 tea spoon each
- Sugar – half a tea spoon
- Oil – half a ladle
- Starch – a whole spoonful
- For the sauce mix in a bowl:
- Chinese cooking wine -1/2 a ladle
- Soy sauce – 1/3 a ladle
- Vinegar – 3/4 a ladle
- Sugar – 4 tea spoons
- Salt – not necessary because the chili bean paste is already salty. If you don’t use the paste or like your food salty then use 1 tea spoon.
- Black pepper – 1 tea spoon
- Starch – 2 spoonfuls or about half a ladle
- Water – a small cup
- Sesame oil and baijiu – not a must but about a spoon each.
- MSG – very common in China but not recommended anywhere else. Feel free to leave this one out.
As for the cooking, the video does a great job so there’s not much for me to add. Remember to pay attention to the flame and change it according to the step you are at. You have to be quick with the wok and chances are you won’t get it exactly right the first time, but the important thing is to keep trying and find what works for you. Another thing which is very helpful is to see other approaches. I urge you to google ‘kung pao chicken’ and ‘gong bao ji ding’ and view the top results, especially the videos.
If you live in China and need help with buying the ingredients, or if you wanna pay a little visit to Chinatown here’s your list of groceries: