Kung pao chicken is the perfect quick weeknight dinner to warm up: spicy, tangy, just a hint of sweet, and therefore, so addicting.
What is kung pao chicken?
Kung pao chicken is a classic Chinese stir-fry dish with diced chicken, dried chili peppers and peanuts. It comes from the land of spicy and spicy Chinese cuisine, Sichuan. It’s also a very popular Americanized Chinese takeout. Everyone loves kung pao chicken with its tender chicken pieces and complex sauce with salty, sweet, tangy and spicy flavors.
This kung pao is not quite like it is made in Sichuan. In Sichuan, they dry fry it with just a touch of sauce. This kung pao is a sassy riff, more in the style of American Chinese kung pao to go. The sauce makes it perfect to eat with rice.
Does it taste like Kung Pao Panda Express chicken?
This isn’t an ingredient-for-ingredient copier recipe for Panda Express, but it’s pretty darn close!
How to make kung pao chicken
This stir-fry is prepared very quickly and easily after having prepared all the ingredients. If you want to do it faster than the take out will arrive at your doorstep, have everything ready before you start cooking.
- First, prepare some rice. Unless you’re smart and have some prepared rice in your fridge. In this case, skip this step because you are already winning in life.
- Cut your chicken into small pieces. Place them in a bowl with the marinade and set aside while you prepare the ingredients for the sauce.
- Prepare the ginger and garlic. Whisk all the ingredients for the sauce in a small bowl or liquid measuring cup. Use a garlic press for the garlic and a ginger grater for the ginger. Both are huge time savers.
- It’s time to cook! It will only take a few minutes: cook the chicken, add the sauce, reduce a bit and you are ready to eat.
Kung Pao Chicken Ingredients
Most of the ingredients for this kung pao chicken can be found in your regular grocery store. You need chicken thighs, soy sauce, rice vinegar, cornstarch, sugar, garlic, ginger, green onions and peanuts (or any nut of your choice). The other handful of ingredients can be found in your friendly Asian grocery store, online, or places like Whole Foods.
The hard to find
- Shaoxing wine: It is the secret ingredient that will make your Chinese food taste like restaurant style Chinese food. Shaoxing wine is a sweet, nutty, earthy Chinese rice wine. Find out more about it via our Ultimate Guide to Shaoxing Wine.
- Hoisin sauce: Hoisin is sold pretty much everywhere now, from Target to your basic grocery store. It is a thick, sweet brown sauce that is used in marinades and as a dip. It’s super tasty: sweet and salty, tangy and full of umami. Hoisin can taste different depending on the brand, and for us the best brand of hoisin is Lee Kum Kee. Bonus, it comes in a squeeze bottle!
- Sambal oelek: It’s not an authentic ingredient in Sichuan kung pao chicken, but it does contain a fresh chili-garlic punch.
- Whole Dried Peppers: These are completely optional, but if you want your kung pao to look authentic, you have to have some dried chili peppers! They sell whole Chinese dried chili peppers online and in Asian grocery stores. We use the dried paradise facing chilies, but you can also under the chile de árbol that you see in the Mexican aisle. Most people don’t eat dried peppers, but some do, especially if the peppers are of high quality, roasted, and tasty.
Peanuts are the classic nut of kung pao. The key is to fry them a bit to improve their nutty. I went for a peanut free kung pao with cashews. If you want, you can add any nut or leave them out completely. To fry your nuts: heat a little oil in a non-stick pan or wok. Sauté with constant motion for 2-3 minutes until they start to smell roasted and delicious. Remove from the pan and set aside. If you’re not going to fry your nuts, be sure to use toasted / roasted nuts.
Kung Pao Sauce
Kung pao sauce is a magical sauce that gives everything a great taste! It’s so delicious that they sell bottles of it at the store (there’s even Panda Express kung pao sauce) but it’s really easy to make at home and keep in the fridge. From there you can add it to randomly clean the fridge stir fry and boom, instant kung pao.
To make the kung pao sauce, mix 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon of cornstarch, 1/4 cup of hoisin sauce, 1/4 cup of sambal oelek, 2 tablespoons of rice vinegar, 2 tablespoons of tablespoon of sugar, 4 cloves of minced garlic and 1 tablespoon of grated ginger. Cook in a nonstick saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the sauce becomes thick and shiny. Let cool completely then pour into a clean container and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, tightly covered. Add to the stir-fries in the last step, once everything is cooked.
Chicken breast or chicken thighs?
Chicken thighs are superior in this stir-fry because they are very tasty and contain more fat than the breasts. You can also use breasts, just make sure you cook them for a shorter time.
You can also do this with:
- sliced steak
- sliced pork shoulder
- firm tofu
Tips and tricks
- Cut your chicken into even pieces. Take the time to chop the chicken into small, even pieces. It cooks faster and more evenly.
- Cream your meat. Marinating the chicken in Shaoxing wine, soy sauce and cornstarch is called velvety. It gives the flavor to the chicken and the cornstarch protects the chicken from too much heat, which makes it faster when cooked. This is what gives sautéed meats their silky texture.
- Toast the nuts. Toasting the nuts brings out the flavors, making them nutty and crunchier.
- Use a non-stick skillet. I like to use a nonstick skillet as cornstarch tends to stick to regular pots and with a nonstick skillet you have the option of not using as much oil. Some people think nonstick pans are unprofessional because they don’t give you the blender reaction (or wok hei, if you go that deep) you would get with a regular pot, but when you stir-fry, not steak, this is not a problem. Plus, the name of the game is ease and if you have an extremely difficult pot to wash off after dinner, it’s not easy. These pans are my favorite.
What to serve with kung pao chicken
Kung Pao Chicken Recipe
Very addicting and super easy to do at home.
- 1 kg chicken thighs cut into bite-size pieces
- 1 tablespoon soya sauce
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
Kung Pao sauce
- 2 teaspoon cornstarch
- 2 tablespoon hoisin
- 2 tablespoon sambal oelek
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 cloves Garlic crushed
- 2 teaspoon Ginger grated
- 1 tablespoon oil
- 8-10 dried red peppers if desired
- 1/4 Chopped off Roasted cashews or peanuts
- 2-3 Green onions cut into 2 “lengths
Marinate the chicken thighs in the soy sauce, shaoxing wine and 1 teaspoon of cornstarch. Reserve while preparing your sauce.
In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk together the remaining 2 teaspoons of cornstarch with 1/4 cup of water, hoisin, sambal oelek, rice vinegar, sugar, garlic and ginger.
Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and cooked through.
Reduce heat to medium, add peppers and sauce and toss to coat. Cook until the sauce thickens and turns shiny.
Add the green onions and cashews.
Kung Pao Chicken Recipe
Quantity per serving
Calories from Fat 147
% Daily Value *
Large 16.3 g25%
Saturated fat 3.6 g23%
Cholesterol 101 mg34%
Sodium 604 mg26%
Potassium 388 mg11%
Carbohydrates 13.6 g5%
Protein 35.2 g70%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.