Kung Pao chicken is one of my favorite Asian dishes, so it will come as no surprise that it was the first dish I cooked out of my new and shiny Sichuan cookbook! I really like Sichuan dishes and every time I make it to Chinatown, I end up without fail in a Sichuan restaurant. It is true, some dishes can be quite spicy, but very flavorful so well worth it 🙂 Now, there are lots of slightly different versions of Kung Pao chicken served in restaurants, but I still don’t feel like I know what an authentic one tastes like. However, I like to think that the cookbook recipe comes very close! What I like about my new cookbook is that it comes with little stories about the dishes, either about the origins and/or how they are enjoyed in a traditional meal. For example, did you know that this dish was labeled politically incorrect during the Cultural Revolution because it was named after Ding Baozhen, governor of Sichuan (gong bao referred to his official title)? The name was changed to “fast-fried chicken cubes” or “chicken cubes with seared chiles” until 1980!
The cookbook is full of deliciously sounding dishes, but some (tea smoked duck?) might have to wait until I’ll have more time and ideally a larger and better equipped kitchen. Until then, I will focus on more weeknight friendly dishes that can be made with ingredients readily available at my neighborhood Asian grocery store. I followed the ingredients very closely, but if you are unable to find them, you can probably still make a delicious dish by using regular soy sauce instead of the light and dark ones and even skipping the Sichuan pepper.
Ingredients (serves 2):
- 2/3 – 1 lb chicken breast
- 3 gloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tb ginger, chopped
- 2 scallions + 2 shallots (or 5 scallions)
- 2 Tb vegetable oil (or peanut oil)
- dried red chiles (10-15) – I used Thai chiles
- 1 tsp Sichuan pepper
- 2/3 cup roasted unsalted peanuts
- marinade: 1/2 tsp salt, 2 tsp light soy sauce, 1 tsp sherry, 2 tsp cornstarch, 1 Tb water
- sauce: 3 tsp sugar, 1 tsp cornstarch, 1 tsp dark soy sauce, 1 tsp light soy sauce, 3 tsp black Chinese vinegar, 1 tsp sesame oil, 1 Tb water
Cut the chicken breast into 1/2 inch cubes. Mix with the marinate and let sit.
Chop the white parts of the scallions and shallot into cubes (I didn’t have enough scallions so I substituted some shallots). Reserve green parts. Using rubber gloves (or a plastic grocery bag in my case :-)), split the chiles in half and disregard the seeds. Make the sauce by whisking together all the ingredients.
Heat oil in a large skillet or wok over high heat. Add chiles and Sichuan pepper and cook until fragrant (a few minutes). Make sure they don’t burn; you can reduce the heat to medium-high. Add chicken and cook stirring often.
When the chicken is seared on the outside (3-5 min), add the garlic, ginger, scallions and shallots and cook until the chicken pieces are cooked through (a few min). Add sauce and cook until thickened (1-3 min). Add peanuts and stir until coated with sauce.
Stir in the sliced green ends of the scallions and serve hot with rice!
I really liked this dish and bitting into the Sichuan peppercorns reminded me of the restaurant dishes in Chinatown! This was very flavorful and quite fast to make. I actually finished it before my rice was done cooking! Next time, I will start my rice sooner 😉 and maybe complement it with a vegetable dish.