Kung Pao chicken, and to a lesser extent the shrimp and pork variation, is a quintessential Sichuan dish. Kung Pao showcases the combination of “Heaven Facing” chilis and Sichuan peppercorns to give the “hot a numbing” flavour (“ma la“) associated with many dishes in the region. Kung Pao in Chinese restaurants in North America is rarely authentic, sometimes to the extent that the only thing “Kung Pao” about it is the chicken.
The reason for this I beleive isn’t due to the availability of the specialty peppercorns or these types of chilis, as they are readily available in most quality Asian supermarkets. This is more to do with the lack of familiarity (or just the sheer discomfort) of having your mouth experience this numbness. If you just want an accent of this effect, cut the amount by half or more.
As with most Chinese dishes, the key is to have everything chopped and prepped before you cook, so that you can run through the steps quickly, as you often don’t have a lot of time before the next ingredient needs to go in the wok.
Ingredients (serves four as a main, scale as needed)
- Chicken breasts (could also substitute thighs of equal weight, which I prefer), 4
- Garlic, 5 cloves
- Ginger, 1 tbsp.
- Scallions, 10 using only the white part
- Dried chilis, preferably heaven-facing, 1 handful
- Sichuan peppercorns, 2 tsp. (cut this by half or three quarters if too much is a turnoff)
- Peanut or vegetable oil, 4 tbsp
For the Marinade
- Salt, 1 tsp.
- Light soy sauce, 4 tsp.
- Sherry or rice wine, 2 tsp.
- Cornstarch, 4 tsp.
- Water, 2 tbsp.
For the Sauce
- Sugar, 2 tbsp.
- Cornstarch, 1 tbsp.
- Dark soy sauce, 1 tbsp.
- Light soy sauce, 1 tbsp.
- Chinkiang vinegar, 2 tbsp.
- Sesame Oil, 2 tsp.
- Water, 2 tbsp.
1. Cube the chicken breasts into 1/2 inch to 1 inch pieces. Easiest way is to cut breasts into strips, and then cut again into cubes. Mix in the marinate and reserve. 20 minutes is ideal, or whatever you have time for.
2. Cut the garlic and ginger into thin slices. Cut the scallions into roughly the same length that you made the chicken cubes. Break up the chilis and deseed as much as you can. Running the chilis through cold water will also reduce the heat.
3. Make the sauce and set aside.
4. On high heat, add the peanut oil. Once hot, add the sichuan peppercorns and the chilis. Cook until fragrant, but be careful not to burn. You can take off the heat source if you need to for a few seconds.
5. Add the chicken, and when the pieces have separated, add the scallions, garlic and ginger.
6. Once the chicken has cooked through, add the sauce. Cook until evenly coated, then add the peanuts, and serve immediately.