This kung pao chicken is just like what you get at your favorite Chinese takeout restaurant. Tender bits of chicken, crunchy peanuts, a salty-sweet sauce, and a hit of spice all come together to make one delicious dish.
Kung Pao chicken comes from the region of Sichuan, which is known for its spicy cuisine. Sichuan recipes are often spiked with chile peppers and laced with mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns.
This spicy stir fried chicken starts with peanuts and chiles that are seared or roasted in a hot skillet. Tender chunks of chicken, aromatics including garlic, ginger, and scallions, and Sichuan pepper are added along with a salty-tangy soy sauce-based cooking sauce.
Kung Pao Chicken is one of my favorite Chinese dishes to cook at home because it is quick to make, doesn’t require a laundry list of ingredients, and my whole family loves it.
What makes kung pao chicken so delicious?
Kung Pao Chicken gets a bit of spice from chiles that are stir fried quickly with peanuts before the other ingredients are added to the pan. This releases the spicy oils from the chiles and flavors the rest of the dish.
Roasted peanuts are also stir-fried with the chiles, giving the dish a nutty flavor.
Most of the flavor in the dish comes from the cooking sauce, which contains soy sauce, rice vinegar, rice wine, and sugar. A bit of cornstarch thickens it up.
If you love spicy Chinese food and you've never tried Kung Pao Chicken, you're in for a treat.
Is it very spicy?
Stir frying the chiles releases their flavorful and spicy oils, which then flavor the dish. But the effect is subtle.
If you want it spicy, go ahead and eat the chiles. If you don’t want it too spicy, you can just push them aside as you eat.
I like my dishes extra spicy, so I usually add homemade chili oil to my portion.
What are the ingredients of Kung Pao Chicken?
- Boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- Hot dried red chiles
- Roasted, salted peanuts
- Rice wine (you can use Shaoxing rice wine or substitute dry sherry or dry white wine)
- Rice vinegar
- Soy sauce
Can you make it with chicken breast instead of chicken thigh?
Yes. I like to use boneless, skinless chicken thighs because they have more fat. This makes them both more flavorful and less likely to dry out during cooking.
If you prefer to use leaner white meat, you definitely can, and it will still be great. You can prepare and cook it exactly the same way as you would thighs.
How do you make it?
- Marinate the chicken for just a few minutes in a mixture of cornstarch and rice wine.
- Mix the cooking sauce—combine soy sauce, rice vinegar rice wine, water, sugar, and cornstarch in a small bowl.
- Stir fry hot dried red chiles and roasted and salted peanuts in oil in a wok or large skillet. Remove the peanuts and peppers from the pan and reserve them. They will be added back to the dish later.
- Add ginger and garlic to the skillet and then add the marinated chicken. Cook, stirring, until the chicken is opaque.
- Add the cooking sauce mixture along with the scallions and the reserved peanuts and chiles. Cook, stirring, until the sauce bubbles, thickens, and coats the chicken pieces.
What to serve with kung pao chicken?
Steamed rice is the perfect thing to serve it with. The rice absorbs the flavorful sauce and it will also tame the spice if it is too much for you.
More Chinese recipes you'll love
- 1 ½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces
- 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch, divided
- 2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine, dry sherry, or dry white wine, divided
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons water
- 2 tablespoons lower-sodium soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- ½ teaspoon ground Sichuan pepper (optional)
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil, plus additional if needed
- 6 small dried hot red chilies
- ¾ cup dry-roasted and salted peanuts
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 4 scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces
- In a medium bowl, combine the chicken pieces with 2
tablespoons of the cornstarch, 1 tablespoon of the wine, and the salt and toss to coat well. Let stand for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a small bowl or glass measuring cup, mix
together the water, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, and the remaining tablespoon of wine and 2 teaspoons of cornstarch. Stir to mix.
- Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet over medium-high
heat. Add the chilies and peanuts and cook, stirring frequently, until the chilies begin to darken and the peanuts turn golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Be careful not to let the chilies burn or blacken. Remove the chilies and peanuts from the skillet, transferring them to a bowl.
- Return the skillet to medium-high heat, adding more cooking oil if needed. Add the ginger and garlic and cook, stirring, for 20 seconds. Add the chicken and cook, stirring frequently, until just cooked through, about 3 minutes.
- Add the sauce mixture to the pan, along with the browned chilies and peanuts, and the scallions. Cook, stirring, just until the sauce thickens, about 2 to 3 minutes more.
- Serve immediately.
Amount Per Serving Calories 331Total Fat 16gSaturated Fat 4gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 12gCholesterol 166mgSodium 951mgCarbohydrates 7gFiber 1gSugar 3gProtein 34g