Kung pao chicken

A wok full of chicken and vegetable stir fryI love kung pao chicken. I make it regularly without consulting any recipes, so the following is a bit approximate. That’s OK. Kung pao chicken is a forgiving dish, the kind of dish where you get to unleash your creativity, improvise, maybe use up whatever’s in the fridge – and it’ll still come out tasty.

It might be argued that this isn’t a proper kung pao chicken at all, since it’s not spicy, or not necessarily. I have small children. If I make spicy food, they won’t eat it. Since I love hot food, I add the spice to my own plate. I don’t care what the purists may say – it’s still kung pao chicken to me. It has chicken. It has sweet peppers. It has nuts. It has kung pao chicken-y flavour. What more do you need?

Kung pao chicken

Serves 6-8. I purposely make twice as much as my family needs to create leftovers. This recipe freezes well if you omit the nuts, adding them only when you’re ready to serve.

  • 1 kg chicken, diced – I used a mixture of thighs and breasts. I find this gives the nicest result but if I had only one or the other I’d use thighs.
  • 2 large sweet peppers, cubed. I like to use one red and one either yellow or green but this time I had only red and orange, so that’s what I used.
  • 2-3 stalks celery, cut into 1-2 cm pieces
  • 1-2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
  • 3-4 stalks green onion, green part only, sliced into 1-2 cm pieces (If you don’t need to be low-FODMAP, you could use 2-3 whole stalks or use a larger quantity of green onion only, omitting the chives.)
  • Good handful of chives, sliced into 1-2 cm pieces (not that I measured, but might be 15 grams or so)
  • Approx. 1/4 cup gluten-free soy sauce/tamari (halve if you’re using double strength soy sauce – you can always add more later)
  • A good glug of sake (perhaps 1/8 cup or so)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar (maybe a little more, to taste)
  • A good glug of rice vinegar (perhaps 1/8 cup or so)
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons cornstarch (AKA cornflour)
  • Generous handful roasted peanuts (or cashews if you don’t need this to be low-FODMAP)
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • Crushed chilli peppers to taste (or you can use whole dried ones for a more authentic look)
  1. In a small bowl, combine soy sauce, sake, sugar, rice vinegar and 1 tablespoon of the cornstarch. Set aside.
  2. Slightly heat the sesame oil in a large wok, then stir-fry chicken over high heat until liquid evaporates and chicken just begins to sport browned bits.
  3. Add celery, stir-fry for about one minute, then add sweet peppers and stir-fry for another minute or so.
  4. Add ginger and the bowl of liquids from step 1. Add some salt and pepper, plus chilli peppers if you don’t have picky kids. Stir-fry briefly until sauce thickens.
  5. Taste it. This is an important step. Remember what I said about creativity? This is the part where you get to decide if you need more of anything. Sauce not saucy enough? Add another tablespoon (or more) of cornstarch, dissolved in a little cold water. Sauce too thick/sticky? Add water. Not salty enough? Add soy sauce and/or salt. Not sweet enough? Add sugar. Not tangy enough? Add vinegar and/or more ginger. You get the idea. You want a lovely balance of, in this order, salty, hot (assuming you don’t have picky kids and don’t have to wait until the end to add the chilli), sour/tangy, and sweet.
  6. Only once you’re happy with the taste of the sauce, add the green onion and chives. Stir just enough to coat the green onion/chives, not enough to really cook it. Remove from heat.
  7. Just before serving, top with peanuts. Serve with steamed rice. If you do have picky kids like me, add plenty of crushed chilli pepper at the table.

2 thoughts on “Kung pao chicken

  1. This is a totally brilliant recipe, and I am addicted! I make it almost every week. I made a couple of changes to suit my own taste. First, I love Cilantro (Coriander leaves), so I add a good handful of those. Second, I like to taste the sauce mixture before adding it to the meat, and I also like to make a huge batch and freeze the sauce. Somehow the reheated chicken is never quite as tender, so my goal is to have the sauce pre-made, then the rest of the cooking only takes about 15 mins maximum. So I use your recipe and proportions, but instead of cornstarch/cornflour, I use about 3 tablespoons of Clear Gel (Cornaby’s Ultragel is my favorite). The benefit of this is that it thickens in seconds at room temperature, so I can judge the taste and texture right away (before adding to the meat and veggies), but also it freezes beautifully. So just freeze it in Ziplock bags in about 1/4 cup quantities, then when I am cooking the veggies and chicken, I defrost the baggie in tepid water and add as described above. Heaven!! Thank you so much for this recipe.


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