Sweet, sour, salty and spicy, kung pao chicken is a dish that originates from the Sichuan Province of central-western China. The most important ingredient of kung pao chicken is the Sichuan peppercorn. Curious that by the time the dish became a hit in America, the recipe rarely included Sichuan peppercorns. Perhaps, it’s the unavailability. But if you have access to Sichuan peppercorns and you want to cook kung pao chicken at home, I really suggest that you not underestimate the wonderful flavors and aroma that only Sichuan peppercorns can impart to this dish.
Kung pao chicken is meant to cook within a few minutes and very high heat all throughout the cooking is essential.
- 8 chicken thigh fillets diced
- 6 cloves of garlic finely minced
- a thumb-sized piece of ginger grated
- 4 chilis sliced
- 1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns
- a handful of unroasted peanuts (roughly chopped, if you prefer)
- a carrot thinly sliced (optional)
- a bell pepper diced (optional)
- chopped greens (onion leaves or parsley), for garnish
- 1 cup cooking oil
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
- 4 tablespoons rice wine
- 4 tablespoons chicken broth (or water)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon corn or tapioca starch
Place the diced chicken in a bowl. Mix together all the ingredients for the marinade and pour into the bowl. Mix well. Allow to sit in the fridge for about 30 minutes.
Heat the cooking oil in a wok. When smoking, add the Sichuan peppercorns and chilis. Stir fry until fragrant.
Add the marinated chicken, moving the pieces around to separate them (depending on the size of your wok, you may have to do this in batches). Cook just until the chicken turns a light brown. Scoop everything out — chicken, chilis and peppercorns — and transfer to a strainer.
Pour off the oil, leaving only about three tablespoonfuls. Reheat until smoking.
Add the garlic and ginger; stir fry for a few seconds.
Add the peanuts (and carrot and bell pepper, if using) and stir fry until it smells roasted.
In a bowl, mix together the soy sauce, rice wine, chicken broth, sugar, rice vinegar and starch. Pour into the wok, stirring fast until thick and no longer cloudy.
Return the chicken, chilis and Sichuan peppercorns to the wok. Toss and stir to coat each piece of chicken with sauce. Turn off the heat. Transfer the cooked kung pao chicken to a platter, garnish with chopped greens and serve at once.