it wasn’t too long ago that I had my first real deal kung pao chicken. I always thought of it as an americanized-chinese-mall-food-court thing, often looking way too electric orange for comfort, and always mixed with an assortment of previously frozen vegetables (including the dreadful baby corn) note: fresh baby corn is actually amazing but really difficult to come by in north america
the real deal kung pao chicken is far superior and much closer to its original sichuan version. apart from being incredibly quick and simple to make, it’s sweet, salty, sour and spicy, with a distinctive ma-la / 麻辣 (numbing hot) sensation from the sichuan peppercorns. I’ve toned down the quantity of it in this version as I don’t like it to over power.
a few main components of the dish are shaoxing wine and chinese black vinegar, both usually containing wheat. we’ve manage to hunt down wheat free versions of both, but if you can’t find either, saké and rice or balsamic vinegar would be fine substitutes! feel free to adjust the spice level to your liking, but beware that dried bird’s eyes and arbols have some kick!
adapted from j.kenji lopez alt/serious eats
Makes 2 main portions
3 tbsps. neutral oil (I use avocado even though it’s unconventional, but it’s a healthy option and has a high smoke point)
4 small dried red chiles (bird’s eyes or arbol), snipped with scissors
1/2 tsp. sichuan peppercorns, crushed
4 cloves garlic, minced
1-inch knob ginger, minced
3 green onions, roots removed, whites cut into 1/2 inch pieces, greens chopped for garnish
1/4 cup roasted peanuts
Marinate chicken with ingredients from shaoxing wine to salt. Set aside.
Whisk together ingredients from sweetener to cornstarch and set aside.
In a large wok, preheat oil until just barely smoking. Toss in dried chiles and sichuan peppercorns and fry until aromatic, about 5-10 seconds. Add in garlic and ginger and sauté until aromatic, about 10-15 seconds. Add chicken and toss a couple times to brown. Add green onion whites and peanuts, and continue tossing. Pour the reserved sauce into the wok and cook for 2 minutes, tossing vigorously. If the pan is looking dry, add a tablespoon or two of water.
Garnish with herbs and serve with white rice.