Kung Pao Chicken
Kung Pao chicken, alternatively known as Gong Bao Chicken, is a sweet and sour stir-fried dish made with cubed chicken and peanuts. It has become a classic around the world and is certainly one of the most famous dishes from Sichuan province.
Unlike the popular Chinese takeout dish General Tso’s chicken, gong bao chicken has a real story connecting it to a historical figure. That man’s name was Ding Baozhen, and he was a governor of Sichuan province in the 19th century under the Qing dynasty. The name of the dish, gong bao, translates to “palace guardian,” which was his title.
It is said that he loved to eat stir-fried chicken dishes, and insisted on them at banquets, but it is hard to believe that liking a dish alone would be enough to have it named for him. To my mind, this guy must have either been a serious evangelist or stir-fried chicken, or he was one of those super picky eaters who lives their whole life eating just one thing, and this was just his version of the cheese pizza diet.
It is tough to say exactly how this dish got its name, as much of the history of Ding Baozhen and his family was lost during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. During that time, in fact, gong bao chicken had to be renamed because of its association with Imperial China.
This is somewhere between authentic and Americanized. The sauce and flavors are authentic, with a sweet and sour “lychee flavor” sauce, but I have added onion and green bell pepper pieces, which is definitely a takeout meal choice. Traditionally, the only vegetable in the dish would be leeks, but I wanted to add a bit more volume as well as some more vegetables, and I think it is pretty good. Leave them out if you want a more authentic meal.
Kung Pao (Gong Bao) Chicken
1 lb. chicken breast cut into 1.5” cubes
5 scallions, white part only, sliced thinly
1 green pepper, cut into 1” squares
½ white onion, slice to match the green pepper
~12 dried Chinese chilies (fewer if you are sensitive to heat)
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
2 tbsp garlic, minced
2 tbsp ginger, minced or grated
½ roasted peanuts
4 tbsp neutral oil
Cube the chicken breast and allow it to marinate for at least 15 minutes before cooking.
During this time, make the sauce in a small bowl by combining the soy sauce, sweet soy sauce, chinkiang vinegar, water, sugar, cornstarch, and sesame oil. Mix this together well and set it aside for later.
In a large skillet, heat 4 tablespoons of neutral oil over medium heat. When hot, add the dried chilies and sichuan peppercorns. Toast these until they are nicely fragrant and the chilies begin to darken.
Add the cubed chicken breast, onion, and green pepper. Stir this all together and cook until the chicken breast is just done (you can slice a piece if you are unsure).
Next add the ginger, garlic, scallions, and peanuts. Stir this together and cook until wonderfully fragrant.
Add the sauce to the pan and stir until it thickens. Remove from heat.
Serve over rice and garnished with thinly sliced scallion greens.