Tuesday, January 28, 2014

kung pao chicken (宫保鸡丁)

The LAM likes Kung Pao Chicken (宫保鸡丁) a lot. In fact, I only knew this dish existed because of him. I had never ordered it before in restaurants before I met him.

For many years, I would buy tubs of kung pao sauce from a certain brand. I really liked the taste. Then one day, this was no longer sold in the supermarkets. I don't know what that happened, but I was really annoyed. Without much of a choice, I bought kung pao sauce from various other brands but I didn't like any of them.

For some bizarre reason, it never occurred to me to make my own kung pao sauce. In my mind, it had to be some complicated recipe because kung pao sauce has quite a complex taste. Finally, out of sheer desperation, I thought I would google the recipe for the sauce. What I didn't expect to see was how easy it was to put together, and the best part of the whole thing was that I have all the ingredients for the sauce in my pantry.


There are many variations of this dish, largely due to its popularity. In the original version, Szechuan peppercorns were used. Since many cannot take the heat from these peppercorns, many cooks simply omit them. Some times I would add cashew nuts when I cook this, but since I did not have any, I left them out. You can also add peanuts if you wish.

To make the dish, I started by cutting the chicken thighs into small pieces. Traditionally, the chicken (usually breast) is diced, but I prefer little strips of chicken thigh. I seasoned the chicken with a little ginger juice, Shaoxing wine, light soy, sesame oil, white pepper and corn starch. This was set aside.

I also soaked some dried chilli in boiling water for about 10 to 15 minutes before draining them. I would normally use more chilli, but I was a little worried that the kids may not be able to take the heat, so I halved the quantity of chilli used. The chilli was also set aside.

To make the sauce, I simply mixed together light soy, dark soy, sugar, black vinegar, water and corn starch. This, too, was set aside.

In a heated wok, I stir-fried the garlic in hot vegetable oil for about 20 seconds. In went the chilli. The chilli was stir-fried until it was aromatic.

The chicken was added, and stir-fried until almost cooked through. Since I had cut the chicken into thin strips, this did not take very long. If you are adding nuts, this would be a good time to add them as well.

The sauce was added, and because corn starch had been added, the sauce would thicken.

When that happened, the dish was done.

Yes, it really takes very little time to cook kung pao chicken.

Naturally, I would never buy ready-made kung pao sauce ever again.

Kung Pao Chicken (Serves 4)
Lightly adapted from RasaMalaysia

2 skinless thighs, cut into strips (or diced)
1/4 cup cashew nuts or peanuts, if desired
12  pieces dried chilli - I used half of this amount
1 tablespoon garlic, minced

For the Marinate:
1 tablespoon corn starch
2 teaspoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon ginger juice
A dash of white pepper

For the sauce:
1 1/2 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon black vinegar
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon corn starch

1. Soak chilli in boiling water for 10-15 minutes. Drain and set aside.
2. Combine ingredients in a bowl to make sauce. Set aside.
3. Stir-fry garlic in hot oil for about 20 seconds. Add chilli and fry until aromatic. Add chicken.
4. Stir-fry chicken until almost cooked through. Add nuts and sauce.
5. The dish is ready when the sauce has thickened and the chicken is coated with the sauce.
6. Serve immediately, with rice.