Thursday, 29 May 2008

Kung Pau chicken (宫保鸡丁)

Along with hot and sour soup, Kung Pao chicken or Gong Bao chicken (宫保鸡丁) is another famous Sichuan dish that has travelled widely. It is a lovely medley of succulent chicken, golden peanuts, and bright red chillies. The sauce has a light sweet-and-sour base that is veiled with heat and spiciness from the dried chillies and Sichuan peppercorns, which gives that tingly and numbing sensation to the tongue and lips. Although some restaurants choose to omit the Sichuan pepper, perhaps to cater to non-Chinese taste and to cut down on the heat factor, this dish just does not taste the same without it. A cautious sniff of an open packet will give you a good idea of what to expect in the dish! Both dried chillies and Sichuan pepper can be found in most Oriental food shops in the dried goods and herbs section.

Szechuan peppercorn and dried chillies

I used chicken thighs, which is my preferred meat for stir frying. It is much more juicy and tender compared to breast meat that can dry out easily, although chicken breast is still fine if marinated and cooked properly. Other options are beef, pork , or prawns. some restaurants use cashew nuts instead of peanuts for a grander version of this dish, but peanuts are more traditional (and less expensive!). I have omitted peanuts from this dish as AP does not eat nuts.

Kung pao chicken

Ingredients (serves 4):
6 skinless and boneless chicken thighs or 4 chicken breasts, cut into cubes.
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
6 stalks of spring onions, cut into 1 inch sections
Oil of cooking
10-15 dried red chillies, cut in half and remove most of the seeds
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
50g roasted unsalted peanuts

For the marinade:
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
2 tsp cornflour
1 tbsp water

For the sauce:
4 tsp sugar
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp Chinese black vinegar (or use balsamic vinegar)
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp corn flour mixed with 1 tbsp water

1. Place the chicken cubes in a small bowl and mix in the marinade ingredients. Leave to marinate for 15 minutes to 2 hours.
2. Combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
3. Heat a wok or large heavy based pan and add 2 tbsp of oil. Over medium-high heat, stir fry the dried chillies and Sichuan peppercorns briefly until they are crisp and the oil is spicy and fragrant.
4. Add the chicken and stir fry until the cubes have separated but not cooked through. Add the ginger, garlic and spring onions and continue to stir fry for a few minutes until the meat is cooked through. (Test one of the larger pieces to make sure).
5. Add the sauce to the wok and mix well. When the sauce starts to thicken, add the peanuts. Dish out onto a serving plate, top with some chopped spring onions if desired, and serve.

Variations: You can adjust the amount of dried chillies and Sichuan peppercorns to your taste. I think the next time I make this I will have to increase the amounts of both because it wasn't hot enough for us and I had to add some chilli oil! If you really can't get hold of dried chillies or Sichuan peppercorn, try using 1 tsp dried chilli flakes or chilli powder, and/or 1 tsp chilli oil. The taste will be different but you will still get some heat and chilli flavour.

This (slightly adapted) recipe is from Fuschia Dunlop's "Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking". I am submitting this to the Bookmarked Recipes event run by Ruth's Kitchen Experiments. If you have some bookmarked recipes in your web browser, cookbooks or even something scribbled on the back of an envelope, there's still plenty of time before the round up on Monday.



Happy cook said...

Oh yes I am going to make this, looks so delicious.
I hace the scehuwan peper and i have hardly used it.

VeggieGirl said...

Spices make EVERYTHING taste better :0)

mycookinghut said...

I like the first photo.. lots of chilies!!! yum yum... is the cookbook good??

ShopLittleGifts said...

That looks good. I'm totally a chilli-holic, anything goes with chilli. Red peppercorns have a heat to them that no other chili has. Yum!

toontz said...

OH! Kung Pau Chicken is my FAVORITE! I am going to bookmark this recipe myself. It looks incredible!

Venus ~ Vi said...

I love exotic/ethnic food! This dish makes my mouth water. However, I might need to cook a mild version or a big glass of water!

noobcook said...

The photo of the dried chillies is so beautiful :)

I love 宫保鸡丁 and looking at your photo is making me salivate.

Marc @ NoRecipes said...

Oooo this looks sooooo much better than the rubbish they serve at chinese takeaway restaurants here.

Kevin said...

That looks so tasty!

tigerfish said...

I like hot and soup soup, mapo tofu and the way you make kung po, that's got to be the third in my likings of sichuan food. Yumm!

Heather said...

Ooh, I saw these peppercorns on Tastespotting a few minutes ago, and didn't even see that it was yours!

Beautiful photos, Nilmandra. And king pao chicken is one of my all-time comfort food favorites.

didally said...

I like meat cooked with dried chilli, very nice.

Your kung pai chicken photo is making me very hungry. I want some plain rice now.

Nilmandra said...

Happy Cook: Have fun cooking it!

Veggiegirl: Especially if one loves spices. I do know people who don't like them, strange folks ;)

My Cooking Hut: Thanks! And yes the cookbook is pretty good. Very authentic style and taste. She has another one called 'The Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook'.

Shop Little Gifts: Ah, a chilli-holic, just like my mum who can't eat a meal without some chillies :)

Toontz: Thanks! Hope you get to try this out soon.

Venus: You can adjust the amount of dried chillies to your taste. The amount of ginger would also affect the heat.

Noobcook: Thanks :) I love the dish too and had a really hard time finding ready made paste and sauce that tastes authentic. I guess nothing beats cooking it from scratch! And it was easier than I thought too.

Marc: You're telling me! I've had horrendous experience with the sad excuses of Kung Pao chicken in some restaurants. Some of them are just sweet and sour (and even looked orange like sweet and sour pork!) without hardly any chillies, or too starchy/saucy.

Thanks, Kevin!

Tigerfish: I think Kung Pao chicken is my favourite, followed by mapo tofu and then hot and sour soup.

Thanks, Heather! I need to 'up' the heat factor of this dish. I think this attempt was not hot enough for us!

Didally: Exactly, white rice is just the thing to go with this.

Lizzie said...

Sichuan cuisine is quickly becoming my favourite. I recently bought Dunlop's Sichuan Cookery and love it - my mission is to cook most of it by the end of the year!

Maya said...

This is my kinda food!

Ruth Elkin said...

Wow, this looks delicious. It looks so tasty and packed with flavour!!! Great entry for Bookmarked Recipes!

Chuck said...

This looks sooo good! Sichuan pepper is a must in this dish. I'm with you on dark meat chicken, it's the only way to go! I don't get white meat at all.

noble pig said...

Wowzer. Looks deliciously delicious!

Nilmandra said...

Lizzie: There's so much to try out, it'll be great fun!

Maya: Thanks, me too!

Ruth Elkin: Definitely a keeper, this one.

Chuck: I do like breast for certain things, and it is indeed convenient, but the texture and flavour is definitely much better with legs and thighs, yum.

Noble Pig: Thanks, it was a delicious dinner indeed!

Anna said...

(I found your post on Food Porn Daily, which is why I'm such a late commenter.)

This looks fantastic, but I was wondering if there's any non-alcoholic substitute for the rice wine/dry sherry? I'm 20- and in the US- so I can't buy my own rice wine while I'm out getting Sichuan peppercorns- which I'll be doing soon! (I don't want to ask my parents or brother to buy a whole bottle for me just to make one recipe.)

If the alcohol component is really necessary, are there any substitutes in that area? I've got access to some alcohol at my parents' house (off the top of my head, there's vodka, gin, whiskey, a bunch of non-useful sounding stuff for this like Kahlua and Drambuie, and red wine) but I don't know if that helps.

Nilmandra said...

Anna: I can't think of a substitute for the Chinese rice wine, but it is not a problem to omit it from the recipe. It does add a certain flavour to the dish but because the other ingredients are so strong it will not really be missed. Hope you get some Sichuan peppercorn soon!

I remember I was 20 the first time I visited the US and was dismayed that I could not enter the pubs and bars! (Legal age limit is 18 at home.)

Anna said...

Thanks! I'll hopefully be getting some tomorrow, unless the spice shop is randomly closed.

Anna said...

I just made this for dinner, after finally going out to buy the peppercorns. I modified the recipe a tad: I stir-fried broccoli with the chicken, so I doubled the sauce amount to cover both- and I upped the garlic to 8 cloves. (You said it hadn't been spicy enough for you, and my family loves garlic, so it seemed like a good idea- luckily, it was!) Since I didn't have rice wine, but needed another tablespoon of fluid to help the cornstarch dissolve, I used mostly water with bit of balsamic. That worked out pretty well.

My mom's report is that I should make this dish again sometime, but when I do, half the amount of Sichuan peppercorns, not because of heat or numbing effects but because it's a bit of a soapy flavor for her. She also thinks that adding a pinch of five-spice powder or star anise might help round out the flavor in the absence of rice wine, and I think I agree, but I'm not sure.

We also agreed that this would be good with mushrooms added, just for variety and textural interest- and it would be a good way to increase volume if my big brother was home for dinner!

My mom and I really enjoyed the recipe, and I know that if my dad manages to get home from work in time to actually eat dinner, he'll like it too!

Nilmandra said...

Anna: Yes, I think increasing the garlic and ginger will increase the heat. So glad to hear that you enjoyed the dish :)

Post a Comment