I have selected this somewhat iconic dish for my first blog post as I often find it’s international popularity is only rivaled by its lack of authenticity. It is also somewhat controversial as many people (mainly chinese, in particular those who grew up or have visited china and eat away from the touristy restaurants) see this dish as a western obsession which often distracts them from the vast array of other dishes and styles of food China has to offer.
However, Kung Pao chicken (correctly pronounce ‘Gōng bǎo‘ chicken) is fundamentally a classic chinese dish from the Sichuan (Szechuan) region, although you can find it in most restaurants around Chine even if its not on the menu. In fact I think you might be hard pressed to find a restaurant in Beijing (you might say it’s a touristy town) or even xinjiang (how’s that for far and remote) where if you insisted, the chef couldn’t make some version of this dish for you. It’s chef school 101 in China (I imagine, or they’ve just grown up around it so much).
Anyway I’m digressing here. Sichuan cuisine or ‘chuan cai’ is a major food style in China (with 81 million people in Sichuan province that might not be surprising). It’s signature is often described as numbingly hot with plenty of chilli oil. Perhaps that’s why it’s likely the most popular food style in China, as people eat out they enjoy turning the heat up and getting a good sweat on (delicious imaginary for a food blog right?) which they might not do at home everyday. This could also be why perhaps Sichuan cuisine is on the decline as people opt for more refined/dignified dining. Also the popularisation of chilli sauces such as Lao Gan Ma has allowed people to enjoy that thrill of heat in the dignified confines of their own home. Just look how popular those sauces have become!
You might have gathered by now I’m a big fan (what’s bigger than big… huge, massive – gargantuan fan) of Sichuan cuisine, and so fortunately is my girlfriend when she’s not saving lives like right now whilst I’m sitting here writing this. That’s why I chose this iconic dish as my first recipe.
Introduction/rant over, here’s how to make a proper gong bao ji ding (there will no none of this orange nonsense so put them away) gluten free!
P.S. For a healthier version of this you can stir fry the chicken chunks and sprinkle the Sichuan peppercorn powder as you do so, instead of covering in the mix and deep frying.
400 g chicken thighs (or fillets)
4 spring onions, finely chopped
1 thumb-sized ginger, finely chopped
3 large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1½ tablespoons Sichuan peppercorn
6½ tablespoons cornflour
9 dried large red chillies (nothing too hot, more sweet for show)
1 large fresh stir fry chilli
60 g cashew nuts (peanuts can be a poorer alternative)
200 ml groundnut oil or vegetable oil
6 tablespoons all purpose Kikkoman gf soy sauce (or light soy sauce)
2 tablespoons Sanchi gf soy sauce (dark soy sauce)
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
3 heaped tablespoons runny honey
1 medium non stick pan
1 small non stick pan
pestle and mortar
1 large bowl
- Finely slice the spring onion and fresh chilli then peel and finely chop the ginger and garlic. Roughly cut the dry chillies into chunks (add more if desired, in Sichuan cuisine dry chillies are added liberally).
- Start by toasting the Sichuan peppercorn in a small frying pan, dry, until lightly golden. You should get a distinct aroma from the peppercorn. Transfer to a pestle and mortar, grind to a fine powder.
- Add the peppercorn powder to a large bowl and mix in 4 tablespoons of cornflour, stir together.
- Dice the chicken into bite-sized chunks (~2 cm cubes perhaps), then throw into the cornflour and mix it all together until the chicken is fully coated.
- Add the oil to a medium sized pan until ~2 cm of depth. Place over a medium heat then carefully add the chicken and fry for 7 minutes. Stir halfway through to ensure the meat is cooked thoroughly and evenly.
- Whilst cooking the chicken, add 8 tablespoons of water to 2 tablespoons of cornflour and mix. Add in 6 tablespoons of light soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of dark soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of rice wine vinegar and 3 tablespoons of honey then mix thoroughly into a sauce.
- When the chicken is golden, remove onto a double layer of kitchen towel to drain.
- Pour away most of the oil, leaving only enough to cover the base of the pan. Return the oil back onto a medium heat, then add the garlic, ginger and fresh chilli and fry for ~2 minutes until slightly golden.
- Add the spring onions and dry chillies and fry for 1 more minute.
- Pour the sauce to the pan and bring to boil then allow to simmer for a few minutes until it tightens.
- Finally add the cashew nuts and the chicken to the pan, then stir to ensure they are fully coated. Allow to warm through for a further minute and serve with a garnish of spring onion (optional).
- Bam it’s done! Enjoy!