Chef, food writer and culinary instructor Kian Lam Kho can and will teach you how to make delicious, authentic Chinese food that will have you tossing out your takeout menus. If you can’t make it to one of his cooking classes, pick up a copy of his new book, Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees. Kho’s detailed technique instructions flow seamlessly into intuitive recipes that any home cook can pull off with ease. You know how to order kung pao chicken, but can you make a flawless version in your own kitchen?
Kung pao chicken is one of those takeout dishes that is usually covered by a landslide of sickeningly sweet brown sauce. It would not be recognized by anyone arriving in the United States from China. Kung pao chicken is in fact a dry stir-fry dish. The spicy sauce should only lightly coat the chicken pieces, giving them enough flavor to delight the palate and provide subtle contrast to the crunchy peanuts.
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1/2 teaspoon tapioca starch
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
- 3 tablespoons Shaoxing cooking wine
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon tapioca starch
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorn powder
- 1 cup dried whole red chilies
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 4 very thin slices fresh ginger
- 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup unsalted dry-roasted peanuts
- 3 scallions, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
For the chicken
Combine all the marinade ingredients in a bowl and mix well. Add the chicken and toss thoroughly. Set aside for about 20 minutes.
Combine all the ingredients for the sauce in another bowl.
Cut the chilies with kitchen shears into 1-inch-long pieces and remove the seeds.
Heat the vegetable oil in a wok over high heat until the surface begins to shimmer, about 350°F.
Add the chicken to the wok and quickly stir-fry for about 1 minute or until the chicken is about three-quarters done. Remove the chicken from the wok and place it in a skimmer set over a bowl to drain off the excess oil. Pour the oil out of the wok, reserving 2 tablespoons, and quickly rinse the bottom of the wok with water, scraping off any residue that’s stuck there.
Dry the wok and return it to the heat. Return the reserved 2 tablespoons vegetable oil to the wok. Add the ginger and garlic and stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the dried chilies and stir-fry for another minute. (The chilies will create a stinging steam as they fry, so make sure your kitchen is well ventilated.)
Add the chicken to the wok and stir-fry for about 3 minutes, until cooked through. Be sure to keep stirring so the chicken will be cooked evenly. Pour the sauce into the wok. Continue cooking until the sauce coats the chicken, about 30 seconds. Add the peanuts and scallions and stir-fry for another 30 seconds.