Kung Pao Chicken is a true Szechuanese classic. Szechuan is a province in the centre of China and is famed for its cuisine. There are many regional variations of this dish, however the most famous and highly regarded is the Szechuan original. Learning to cook this dish is a great introduction into understanding techniques and flavourings generally applied across Chinese cuisine.
Prep time: 20 minutes (Plus 1 hr to marinade)
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Spices Used: Chilli Flakes (Gunpowder Chest), Szechuan Peppercorns (Silk Road Chest).
For the Chicken:
Appox. 350G Chicken breast or thigh cubed, whichever you prefer
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp salt
1 tsp Shaoxing Rice Wine or Dry Sherry
2 tsp Light Soy Sauce
2 tsp Cornflour
For the sauce:
2 tsp Shaoxing Rice Wine or Dry Sherry
2 tsp Light Soy Sauce
2 tsp Cornflour
1 tsp honey
2 tbsp Balsamic vinegar (or Chinese black vinegar if you have it)
For the Stir Fry:
2 tbsp vegetable oil (or any other neutral oil)
4 garlic cloves thinely sliced
1-inch ginger peeled and grated
6 spring onions (only use the bottom white/very pale green half
2 tsp chilli flakes
1 red chilli, deseeded and chopped into 3-4 pieces
1 tsp Szechaun Peppercorns
150G Roasted Peanuts (if you are using dry roasted from a pack buy unsalted)
Start off by dicing your chicken into 3 cm cubes. Add the baking powder and 2 tsp of salt and mix well. This starts breaking down the muscle fibres in the chicken, making it more tender and giving a better mouth feel. Leave in this mix for 30 minutes (this is optional it just makes the meat more flavourful and tender!)
Rinse the baking powder and salt off the chicken then add the Shaoxing Rice Wine, light soy sauce and cornflour. Set aside for 40 minutes.
For the sauce mix the Shaoxing, soy sauce, cornflour, honey and balsamic. Wisk together with a fork until no corn-starch clumps remain.
Prepare your garlic, ginger, spring onions and chilli. In Chinese cuisine it’s critical to have everything prepared before you begin cooking as you cook ingredients very quickly over a very high heat.
Before you begin stir frying add a tsp of oil to the wok/pan you’re using and rub it around the surface of the wok with a kitchen roll. Heat the wok using the hottest hob you have at max heat until the oil is smoking. Add the remaining oil and immediately add the chilli flakes, chilli and Szechuan Peppercorns. Stir fry for 5 seconds or so until fragrant. Take extra care not to burn anything.
Immediately add the chicken and cook for a minute until there are no raw patches and the chicken is white. Add the garlic and ginger and fry for 10 seconds or so, constantly stirring to ensure nothing is burning. Add the peanuts and spring onions and fry for half a minute or so.
Add the sauce mixture and mix everything until it is evenly coated, cook for around a minute. If the sauce begins clumping add a tbsp of water at a time until everything is coated in a lovely velvety sauce, it should coat everything well.
Serve with white rice.
Szechuan Peppercorns are not actually Peppercorns and don’t serve the same function as black/white peppercorns in the heat they offer. Szechuan Peppercorns are actually just husks of seeds which grow on the prickly ash shrub in China. At first they may taste a little bitter, however you’ll find the flavour develops into a complex cirtusy flavour. More interestingly they contain the chemical compound hydroxy-alpha-sanshool! This chemical will make your lips and mouth lightly tingle and will actually numb them with enough exposure! In China they usually serve the purpose of numbing the mouth a little to counteract the heat of chilli’s!