This Kung Pao chicken recipe is a stir fried chicken with a perfect combination of salty, sweet and spicy flavors! Made with perfectly cooked chicken pieces, veggies, peanuts, and a delicious sauce that perfectly coats every piece.
This easy kung pao chicken is a better than takeout recipe and is on the table in 30 minutes, which makes it a perfect weeknight meal!
This post first appeared on Savory Experiments, where I am a contributor.
What is Kung Pao Chicken?
You have probably heard of this dish before because it’s so popular all around the world! Kung Pao Chicken originated in the Sichuan province of southwest China, known for its spicy cuisine. This stir fry is made with tender chicken pieces, vegetables, peanuts, and chili peppers. The flavorful sauce is sweet, tangy, salty, and spicy!
As the world fell in love with this dish, each place that began to recreate it put its own spin on it (as that happens as food travels around). The sauce has been changed many times to reflect ingredients available in different locations, and the vegetables included change a lot, too.
This version tries to be as mindful of authentic versions with the addition of sichuan peppercorns (for that numbing feeling) and dried red chiles for the spiciness, while also giving plenty of substitution choices to make the sauce and tips for varying heat levels.
Ingredients you need:
Here are the ingredients you need to have on hand to make this popular recipe at home:
It seems like the list is long, but its easy, I promise you! Many ingredients are duplicated in the marinade and the sauce, and the majority of them are things you are familiar with and probably have at home.
This marinade adds extra flavor to the chicken! Using a combination of baking soda and cornstarch is known as “velveting” and helps protect the chicken’s moisture from the high heat. The marinade also helps to add a protective coating to seal extra moisture into the chicken, and helps the chicken get a beautiful golden edge without overcooking.
- Chicken Breasts – use fresh, good quality boneless skinless breasts. Cut them into even 1-inch pieces of uniform size
- Shaoxing Wine – this is a Chinese rice wine with a dark amber color. You can also substitute it with a dry sherry if you can’t find it, but don’t substitute with a clear rice wine or rice wine vinegar – it is not the same thing.
- Soy Sauce – you can use tamari sauce, too!
- Baking Soda – helps to tenderize the chicken
- Cornstarch – helps to create a base for the sauce to stick to
Kung Pao Chicken Sauce
- Soy sauce (or tamari)
- Rice wine vinegar
- Shaoxing wine
- Brown sugar
- Hoisin sauce
In this version, I have included plenty of crisp and colorful vegetables, and traded out some of the spicy chiles for milder bell peppers. Adding flavorful aromatics of ginger, garlic, and onion help deepen the flavors and make a lovely sauce.
- Red and green bell peppers and celery
- Fresh minced Garlic and Ginger and green onions
- Szechuan peppercorns – These can bring the heat and add a fun mouth tingly effect that Kung Pao is known for! You can find it in both whole and ground forms. Start with using only 1 teaspoon, and then you can gradually increase to what your family’s palate enjoys (up to 1 Tablespoon ground).
- Roasted unsalted peanuts
How to make Kung Pao Chicken
Here is how you can recreate this classic Chinese dish at home on any weeknight:
Marinate the chicken
The chicken gets a quick marinade of cornstarch, baking soda, and Chinese wine. We add in soy sauce and sesame oil for extra flavor. Because the chicken is cut into small pieces, it only needs about 10 minutes to marinade.
Mix the sauce and Prep the veggies.
Getting the sauce ready before you start cooking is key. Stir frys go fast, so mix up your sauce now. Once it starts to cook it will turn into a beautiful silky sauce that perfectly coats each piece of chicken.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the broth, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, shaoxing wine, brown sugar, hoisin sauce and cornstarch.
Chop the bell peppers and celery into a medium dice, ensuring that the pieces are as even as possible.
Mince the garlic, and ginger, and chop the green onions into thin slices.
If you are using whole szechuan peppercorns, you will want to grind them into a powder with a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder.
You can use either a wok or a large pan heated over medium-high heat. You want to make sure the pan and the oil are both hot and ready before you add the chicken, that way they cook quickly and develop that perfect golden crust.
For this recipe we are using vegetable oil to stir-fry in, not olive oil. We need an oil with a high smoke point so it can get super nice and hot for cooking the chicken in. Olive oil won’t cut it here, so don’t use it.
Let the chicken sit for 2 minutes to crisp up before you stir the pieces. Allow the chicken to sit for another 2 minutes to cook on the other side.
Add in the veggies and saute until they begin to soften. You don’t want them to be super soft, you still want them to have some crunch on them.
Then add in the garlic, ginger, green onions, peanuts, and dried chiles and saute just a few seconds, until you start to smell them.
Pour in the sauce and let the chicken and sauce simmer together. The heat will help to thicken the sauce, and it should only take a minute to reduce the liquid to make a gorgeous sauce that sticks to the chicken.
Ladle each serving onto a plate! Serve with white or brown rice on the side.
Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for 3-4 days.
Reheat in the microwave or on the stovetop.
Using Whole Dried Red Chili Peppers
Using whole dried red chili peppers gives Kung Pao Chicken that signature heat and look. You can find them in any Asian or Latin speciality market or grocery. The trick to using these is how you prepare them!
- If you use them whole, they won’t add any additional heat to the sauce but add a nice smoky aroma to the dish.
- If you split them open and remove the seeds, it adds a mild heat level to the dish.
- If you split the chiles open and leave the seeds, it adds a serious kick!
If you are hesitant to use these with your kids, you can substitute them with some dried red pepper flakes, just sprinkle them on top of each dish that you want during serving.
Kung Pao Chicken
- 2 lb boneless skinless chicken breast cut into 1” cubes
- 1 Tablespoon Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
- 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 5 Tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 Tablespoons rice vinegar
- 2 Tablespoons Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
- 2 Tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 Tablespoon hoisin sauce
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 red bell pepper diced
- 1 green bell pepper diced
- 2 stalks celery diced
- 5 green onions sliced
- ½ cup roasted unsalted peanuts
- 10 dried chili peppers
- 4 garlic cloves minced
- 1 Tablespoon minced ginger
- 1 Tablespoon Szechuan peppercorns
Marinate the chicken
- Dice the chicken breasts into 1” cubes.
- Place the chicken in a large mixing bowl.
- Sprinkle the baking soda and cornstarch over the chicken and toss to combine.
- Add the shaoxing wine and soy sauce to the bowl and toss the chicken to coat.
- Allow to sit for 10 minutes while you prepare the vegetables and sauce.
Mix the sauce
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, rice vinegar, shaoxing wine, brown sugar, hoisin sauce, cornstarch and sesame oil.
- Set aside.
- Prep the veggies.
- Chop the bell peppers and celery into a medium dice, ensuring that the pieces are as even as possible.
- Mince the garlic, and ginger, and chop the green onions into thin slices.
- Measure the peanuts and dried chilies and set aside.
- If you are using whole szechuan peppercorns, you will want to grind them into a powder with a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder.
- Heat a wok or a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the vegetable oil and allow to heat. You want to make sure the pan and the oil are both hot and ready before you add the chicken, that way they cook quickly and develop that perfect golden crust.
- Add the chicken to the hot pan and let it sit for 2 minutes to crisp up before you stir the pieces.
- Allow the chicken to sit for another 2-3 minutes to cook on the other side.
- Remove the chicken to a bowl, cover with foil, and set aside for now.
- Add in the bell peppers and celery to the hot pan and saute until they begin to soften. You don’t want them to be super soft, you still want them to have some crunch on them. About 4-5 minutes.
- Add in the garlic, ginger, chopped green onions, roasted peanuts, and dried chiles and saute just a few seconds, until you start to smell them.
- Pour in the prepared sauce, and add the chicken back in. Stir to coat.
- Simmer for 3-4 minutes, until the sauce thickens and coats the chicken.
- Serve with white or brown rice.