Kung Pao Chicken

Here’s my first attempt at the famous spicy chicken dish.  Note that I’ve never traveled to Sichuan province, so this dish is unrelated to any kind of “real” 宫保鸡丁 — no claims of authenticity will escape my lips.  In fact, I’ve never even looked at a recipe!

That said, Kung Pao chicken (or something like it) was a staple food at my old house.  My roommate swore by his tried and true recipe (which, again, I never looked at).  Though I did watch him make it a number of times, coughing and sputtering as the kitchen filled with capsaicin vapor.  Also, I’ve seen my Chinese professor cook it.  He’s not a professional chef by any means, but he’s competent enough that the local Confucius Institute is willing to pay him to teach a Chinese cooking class (about which I’ll divulge more in a later post…)

Anyway, after letting the experts have their turn at the wok, I’m confident enough to give it a try.

Ingredients include: chicken (shockingly), peanuts, garlic, ginger, dried chili peppers, fermented bean paste, Chinese cooking wine, soy sauce, and black vinegar.

I know you often wonder to yourself, “Gee, after all the hype has died down, precisely which brand of fermented bean paste is *really* the best?”  Well, wonder no further.  I can confidently say that the best brand of fermented bean paste is “Old Stepmother” brand, seen here:

I just love her stern facial expression. That’s how you know it’s good!

Mince the peeled ginger and garlic. Dice your green onions and cut up the chicken into vaguely peanut-sized chunks.  Mix these chicken chunks in a bowl with a dash of cooking wine, soy sauce, and a little corn starch.

Incidentally, the best brand of cooking wine appears to be Shao Xing cooking wine, i.e. I have seen and heard about this stuff so much that I thought “Shao Xing” simply *meant* cooking wine.  (In fact, it’s a city in China where the famous brand is produced.)

Allow the meat to marinate while you heat up a pan with peanut oil or the like. Into the hot oil, drop a few dried chili peppers.  The package of chili peppers may or may not look like this:

I really have a knack for photography, right?  That is such an awful picture…but I took it — and I went to the trouble of doing so while the oil was hot and the kitchen was bustling — so it would be a shame not to include it here.

Anyway, after the peppers have been in the hot oil for a few seconds, strir them around with the garlic, ginger, and diced green onions.  The idea for this step is to release the aroma of these ingredients, not to burn the hell out of them.  With this in mind, you really only need to stir fry these together for thirty seconds to a minute.  Next, add the chicken and stir fry vigorously on a high heat.   While the chicken is gaining its color, add  a good teaspoon of “Old Stepmother” spicy fermented bean paste, a dash of Black Vinegar (or you could use rice wine vinegar), and some light soy sauce.  Also add a generous handful of boiled peanuts, which can be found at your friendly neighborhood Asian market.  Now you’re on the home stretch!

PROVIDED that you took one thing into account. This is the *biggest* trick to Chinese cooking, the one crucial, crucial thing, the thing that will leave you up a shit tree without a tree-descending apparatus if you screw it up…what is it?

Remember to start making rice before you do anything else! 

I am thinking about getting “Remember the rice” tattooed on my forearm.  Seriously, it is very important to your overall happiness.

Assuming you thought about rice, here’s the final product:

Note that the chicken pieces are a little bigger than I advised above.  A screw up on my part…so do as I say, not as I do.  And enjoy that exhilarating Kung Pao spice!

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About Thomas

Thomas currently tutors Chinese, writes blog posts, and works in the non-profit sector.
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