In this Kung Pao Chicken recipe, the dark, rich sauce clings to the chicken and veggies, with just an undertone of heat and aromatic flavor from the chiles and Sichuan peppercorns. I’m typically a white meat fan, but here we used boneless, skinless dark thigh meat which imparts more flavor. Use whatever suits your preference.
Have you been confused before on the difference between Kung Pao and General Tso’s chicken recipes? The main difference between the two is how the meat is cooked. General Tso is fried in a crispy coating, however Kung Pao Chicken is seared in the wok. Both are coated in a similar sauce, but Kung Pao typically always has veggies and peanuts mixed in.
Plus, Kung Pao Chicken is a healthy choice for most people, containing a range of vitamins and minerals, as well as complete protein. It is also low in saturated fat and calories. To up the ante in nutrition, fiber and color, I added a yellow bell pepper and some snow peas.
Because of these extra ingredients, I altered the directions to accommodate them. Instead of adding the veggies with the chicken still in the wok, we moved the poultry to a bowl while we stir-fried the peppers and snow peas, then added the chicken back to the wok before stirring in the broth mixture.
As with most stir-fries, this process goes very quickly so make sure to prep everything BEFORE you start cooking. Keep in mind, rice typically takes about 20 minutes total, so it’s best you start that process first. And don’t omit those roasted and ground Sichuan peppercorns. A half teaspoon may seem like a minor nuisance, but they add a necessary flavor component. Serve with steamed rice, preferably cooked in homemade chicken stock.
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thigh or breast, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
2 Tbsp. minced ginger
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
2-1/2 tsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. plus 1 Tbsp. Shao Hsing rice wine or dry sherry
2 tsp. sugar
3/4 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. chicken broth
1 Tbsp. Chinkiang or balsamic vinegar
1 tsp. dark soy sauce
1 tsp. sesame oil
2 Tbsp. peanut oil or vegetable oil
4 to 8 dried red chili peppers, snipped on one end
1/2 tsp. roasted and ground Sichuan peppercorns
1 large red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch squares
1 large yellow bell pepper, cut into 1-inch squares
6 0z. snow peas, strings removed, cut in half on a diagonal if large
3/4 cup unsalted roasted peanuts
1/2 cup minced scallions
Steamed white or brown rice for serving
Before you begin prepping the stir-fry ingredients, start the rice according to package directions, preferably using homemade chicken stock as the liquid.
In a medium bowl combine the chicken, ginger, garlic, cornstarch, soy sauce, 1 teaspoon of the rice wine, 1 teaspoon of the sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and 1 teaspoon cold water. Stir to combine. In a small bowl combine the broth, vinegar, dark soy sauce, sesame oil, and the remaining 1 tablespoon rice wine.
Heat a 14-inch flat-bottomed wok or 12-inch skillet over high heat until a bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact. Swirl in 1 tablespoon of the peanut oil, add the chillies and ground Sichuan peppercorns, then, using a metal spatula, stir-fry 15 seconds or until the chillies just begin to smoke.
Push the chili mixture to the sides of the wok, carefully add the chicken, and spread it evenly in one layer in the wok. Cook undisturbed 1 minute, letting the chicken begin to sear. Then stir-fry 1 minute or until the chicken is lightly browned but not cooked through. Move to a bowl.
Swirl the remaining 1 tablespoon peanut oil into the wok. Add the bell peppers and snow peas then stir-fry 1-2 minutes or until the peppers begin to soften. Add the chicken back to the wok. Swirl the broth mixture into the wok and stir-fry 1 minute or until the chicken is just cooked through.
Add the peanuts and scallions, sprinkle on the remaining 1 teaspoon sugar and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and stir-fry 30 seconds or until the scallions are bright green.
Stir-frying is the name of the game when you want something quick and healthy. And making it yourself ensures you know exactly what’s in it, as compared to many Asian take-out places loaded with unwanted fat and calories. Cook’s Illustrated found that marinating pork tenderloin in a simple soy-sherry mixture and cooking it quickly (about two minutes) in batches over high heat kept the meat tender and beautifully seasoned. In place of the sherry, we substituted Shaoxing wine which is fermented from rice.
Because different vegetables cook at different rates, batch-cook the vegetables and add aromatics (like ginger and garlic) at the end so they are cooked long enough to develop their flavors but not long enough to burn. Chicken broth gives the sauce some backbone, and cornstarch slightly thickens it so that it lightly cloaks the meat and veggies.
We increased the amount of pork tenderloin from the original 12 ounces to one pound. And because of that, we doubled the soy sauce and sherry that gets mixed with the pork strips (which is all noted below). Keep in mind that pork tenderloin is easier to slice if it is partially frozen. *Freeze the tenderloin until firm but not frozen solid, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Then cut the tenderloin crosswise into 1/4-inch slices. Cut the slices into 1/4-inch strips.
Stir-frying isn’t rocket science, and that’s what’s so great about it. It doesn’t require lots of fancy equipment. Instructions indicate to cook in a skillet, however we feel most stir-fries benefit from being cooked in a flat-bottomed wok. It helps to have a stir-fry spatula which fits the contour of the wok and has a long handle (to keep distance from the intense heat).
Stir frying is advantageous over other methods of cooking as it requires very little oil, which is healthier than deep frying or pan frying, and it also retains the nutrients present in the food being stir fried. As the name indicates, the food is constantly stirred while you cook it. Make sure to use an oil with a high smoke point such as peanut, canola, safflower, soybean, etc.
Stir-Fried Pork, Green Beans and Red Bell Pepper with Gingery Oyster Sauce
2 inch piece fresh ginger, grated (about 2 tablespoons)
3 Tbsp. peanut oil or vegetable oil
12 oz. green beans, cut on bias into 2-inch lengths
1 large red bell pepper (about 8 ounces), cut into 3/4-inch squares
3 medium scallions, sliced thin on bias
Jasmine rice, cooked according to package directions (or brown rice if you prefer)
Combine pork, soy sauce, and 1 Tbsp. + 1 teaspoon sherry in small bowl. Whisk remaining 1 tablespoon sherry, chicken broth, oyster sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, white pepper, and cornstarch in measuring cup.
Combine garlic, ginger and 1 1/2 teaspoons peanut oil in small bowl.
Heat 1 1/2 teaspoons peanut oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over high heat until smoking; add half of pork to skillet and cook, stirring occasionally and breaking up clumps, until well-browned, about 2 minutes.
Transfer pork to medium bowl. Repeat with additional 1 1/2 teaspoons peanut oil and remaining pork.
Add 1 tablespoon peanut oil to now-empty skillet; add green beans and cook, stirring occasionally, until spotty brown and tender-crisp, about 5 minutes; transfer to bowl with pork.
Add remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons oil to skillet; add bell pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until spotty brown, about 2 minutes.
Clear center of skillet, then add garlic/ginger mixture to clearing; cook, mashing mixture with spoon, until fragrant, about 45 seconds, then stir mixture into peppers.
Add pork and green beans; toss to combine. Whisk sauce to recombine, then add to skillet; cook, stirring constantly, until sauce is thickened and evenly distributed, about 30 seconds.
Transfer to serving platter; sprinkle with scallions and serve over hot jasmine rice.