Gong Bao Chicken with Peanuts
Virtually every Chinese restaurant in New York City has an extensive banquet menu, fit to feed an army battalion. And Gong Bao chicken (Kung Pao) is one of those dishes you will be promised. Unfortunately, the Gong Bao chicken you find in these restaurants is not the real thing. It has been sweetened to death, deep-fried, then tossed in with a variety of non-Chinese vegetables. In my distress for good Chinese food, I decided to make it myself, and ventured out with Fuchsia Dunlop and her cookbook, Every Grain of Rice. The recipe is simple, quick, and sensationally delicious.
Gong Bao chicken originates from Chengdu, in the Sichuan province in China. Being the heat capital of China, the use of provincial ingredients like the mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorn and tongue-tingling chilies is prominent. Legend has it that the dish is named after a late Qing Dynasty governor of Sichuan, Ding Baozhen, who is said to have enjoyed eating it. For hundreds of years, chilies have been the bedrock in Sichuan cooking. No other cuisine in the world makes use of such enormous amounts of chilies. Despite their burning heat and the citric numbing sensation from the Sichuan peppercorns, Gong Bao chicken promises one thing: A cornucopia of flavors bouncing off the walls of your mouth. You will be satisfied with the ultimate comfort dinner.
Although the ingredients may not be readily available in your pantry, I strongly urge you to go out and track them down. They definitely add a lot to the table. Don’t be afraid of the amount of chilies required in the dish. You don’t have to eat them if you don’t wish to, but they add a ton of flavor.
Fuchsia Dunlop’s Gong Bao Chicken with Peanuts from her book Every Grain of Rice
2 boneless chicken breasts (about 300g or 3/4 pound in total)
3 cloves of garlic and an equivalent amount of ginger
5 spring onions, white parts only
2 tbsp groundnut oil
a handful of dried red chillies (at least 10)
1 tsp whole Sichuan pepper
75g (2/3 cup) roasted peanuts
For the marinade:
½ tsp salt
2 tsp light soy sauce
1 tsp Shaoxing wine
1½ tsp potato flour
1 tbsp water
For the sauce:
3 tsp sugar
¾ tsp potato flour
1 tsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp light soy sauce
3 tsp Chinkiang vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tbsp chicken stock or water
Serves 2 as a main dish with rice and one stir-fried vegetable dish, 4 with three other dishes
- Cut the chicken as evenly as possible into 1cm strips and then into small cubes. Mix with the marinade ingredients.
- Peel and thinly slice the garlic and ginger, and chop the spring onions into Icm (1/2 inch) chunks. Snip the chillies into 1.5cm (3/4 inch) sections, discarding seeds as far as possible. Combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl.
- Pour a little groundnut oil into the wok and heat until it smokes, swirling the oil around to cover the entire base of the wok. Pour off into a heatproof container. Add 3 tbsp fresh oil and heat over a high flame. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the chillies and Sichuan pepper and stir-fry for a few seconds until they are fragrant (take care not to burn them).
- Add the chicken and continue to stir-fry. When the chicken cubes have separated, add the ginger, garlic and spring onions and stir-fry until they are fragrant and the meat is just cooked.
- Give the sauce a stir and add to the wok, continuing to stir and toss. As soon as the sauce has become thick and lustrous, add the peanuts, mix them in, and serve immediately.
Sichuan peppercorns and chilies can be purchased at Kalustyans
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