Now that we are back in Medford Oregon and can use our great cook-top with a wok burner, I was itching to make some Chinese food. We subscribe to a great magazine called Cook’s Illustrated. They always analyze recipes and explain exactly why they do things a certain way. Laura and I love hot and spicy food, so when I saw their recipe for Kung Pao Chicken I had to give it a try.
There are some unusual ingredients in this like the Chinese black vinegar and the Sichuan peppercorns. You can substitute sherry vinegar for the black vinegar, but there really is no substitute for the Sichuan peppercorns. We get ours at our local Asian market. You can buy them through Amazon here.
Kung pao chicken should be quite spicy. To adjust the heat level, use more or fewer chiles, depending on the size (we used 2-inch-long chiles) and your taste. Have your ingredients prepared and your equipment in place before you begin to cook. Use a spice grinder or mortar and pestle to coarsely grind the Sichuan peppercorns. Serve with white rice and a simple vegetable such as broccoli or bok choy. Do not eat the chiles!
Pro Tip from Cook’s Illustrated: The small bits of garlic and ginger in a typical stir-fry can clump up when you add them to the pan, preventing some bits from blooming in the oil and their flavors from distributing evenly throughout the dish. The easy work-around? Combine the aromatics with a tablespoon of oil and add this mixture to the pan.
Kung Pao Chicken
1 1/2 pounds, boneless skinless chicken thighs – trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup, soy sauce
1 tablespoon, cornstarch
1 tablespoon, Chinese rice wine – or dry sherry
1/2 teaspoon, white pepper
1 tablespoon, Chinese black vinegar – or sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon, dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons, toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon, garlic – minced
2 teaspoons, fresh ginger – grated
2 tablespoons, vegetable oil
1/2 cup, dry-roasted peanuts
15 dried arbol chiles – halved lengthwise and seeded
1 teaspoon, Sichuan peppercorns – ground coarse
2 celery ribs – cut into 1/2 inch pieces
5 scallions – cut into 1/2 inch pieces
- For the Chicken and Sauce: Combine chicken, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, cornstarch, rice wine, and white pepper in medium bowl and set aside. Stir vinegar, sugar, oil, and remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce together in small bowl and set aside.
- For the Stir-Fry: Stir garlic, ginger, and 1 tablespoon oil together in second small bowl. Combine peanuts and 1 teaspoon oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until peanuts just begin to darken, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer peanuts to plate and spread into even layer to cool. Return now-empty skillet to medium-low heat. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil, arbols, and peppercorns and cook, stirring constantly, until arbols begin to darken, 1 to 2 minutes. Add garlic mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until all clumps are broken up and mixture is fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Add chicken and spread into even layer. Cover skillet, increase heat to medium-high, and cook, without stirring, for 1 minute. Stir chicken and spread into even layer. Cover and cook, without stirring, for 1 minute. Add celery and cook uncovered, stirring frequently, until chicken is cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes. Add soy sauce mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until sauce is thickened and shiny and coats chicken, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in scallions and peanuts. Transfer to platter and serve.