I just got back from my first trip to China with my brother/videographer Danny Simmons, and I can’t wait to share some videos from the cooking classes I took, along with the story on regional Chinese cooking I’m writing for Quest Magazine.
While we put those how-to videos together, I thought I’d tide you over with a recipe for kung pao chicken.
I learned to make this traditional Sichuan dish at the Sichuan Higher Institute of Cuisine, along with another local staple, mapo tofu. The kung pao we made couldn’t have been more different than its sad takeout stepsister in the States. The bright, ginger-studded version we made was much less goopy, with a delightful crunch from fresh peanuts and fried chills.
Here’s a recipe for how it’s done.
2 boneless chicken breasts, with or without skin (about 2/3 pound total)
3 cloves of garlic and an equivalent amount of fresh ginger
5 scallions, white parts only
2 tablespoons peanut oil
a generous handful of dried red chiles (at least 10), preferably Sichuanese
1 teaspoon whole Sichuan pepper
2/3 cup roasted unsalted peanuts
For the marinade:
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
1 teaspoon Shaoxing rice wine or medium-dry sherry
1 1/2 teaspoons potato flour or 2 1/4 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon water
For the sauce:
3 teaspoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon potato flour or 1 1/8 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon light soy sauce
3 teaspoons Chinkiang or black Chinese vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon chicken stock or water
1. Cut the chicken as evenly as possible into 1/2-inch strips and then cut these into small cubes. Place in a small bowl and mix in the marinade ingredients.
2. Peel and thinly slice the garlic and ginger, and chop the scallions into chunks as long as their diameter (to match the chicken cubes). Snip the chiles in half or into 2-inch sections. Wearing rubber gloves, discard as many seeds as possible.
3. Combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl — if you dip your finger in, you can taste the sweet-sour base of the gong bao flavor.
4. Season the wok, then add 2 tablespoons of oil and heat over a high flame. When the oil is hot but not yet smoking, add the chiles and Sichuan pepper and stir-fry briefly until they are crisp and the oil is spicy and fragrant. Take care not to burn the spices (you can remove the wok from the heat if necessary to prevent overheating).
5. Quickly add the chicken and fry over a high flame, stirring constantly. As soon as the chicken cubes have separated, add the ginger, garlic, and scallions and continue to stir-fry for a few minutes until they are fragrant and the meat is cooked through (test one of the larger pieces to make sure).
6. Give the sauce a stir and add it to the wok, continuing to stir and toss. As soon as the sauce has become thick and shiny, add the peanuts, stir them in, and serve.