Kung Pao Chicken: An Authentic Chinese Recipe - The Woks of Life (2023)

Kung pao chicken exists both in the traditional Chinese repertoire and Americanized takeout menus alike. When we lived in Beijing, I was actually surprised to see how popular Kung Pao Chicken was among restaurant goers.

At certain restaurants that featured family-style cooking, I’d often see kung pao chicken on one out of every three tables. Chopsticks would work hard to grab at the small bite-sized pieces of chicken. And trust me, when the dish was “hot-off-the-wok” good, those chopsticks were moving faster.

Note: While this recipe was originally published in February 2015, we’ve re-tested it and updated it with new photos and clearer instructions. We’ve also included a recipe video! Happy to report the recipe itself is the same, and still as good as ever.

(Also, if you’d like to try a vegan version of kung pao, here are our recipes for kung pao tofu and kung pao mushrooms.)

What is Kung Pao Chicken?

Kung Pao Chicken is a dish featuring small pieces of diced chicken, peanuts, and chilies. While the dish originated in Sichuan province, its fame brought it to other provinces as well, each with their own regional variation.

The dish has also made its way out of China, and remains a common sight on Chinese takeout menus in countries around the world.

There are good reasons why everyone loves kung pao chicken. It’s got so many flavors going on: tangy, sweet, and salty with a hint of heat. The art is putting in the right amount of each ingredient to come up with that winning flavor combination.

It’s actually a relatively easy dish to make at home, and my goal was to make a restaurant-quality kung pao chicken recipe. Try it for yourself to see if I’ve succeeded!

Kung Pao Chicken Recipe: Instructions

1. Start by roasting the peanuts:

Kung Pao Chicken: An Authentic Chinese Recipe - The Woks of Life (1)

Heat a teaspoon of oil in a wok over medium heat and add a cup of raw shelled peanuts. Stir constantly (or they’ll burn) for 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir for another minute using the residual heat in the wok.

Kung Pao Chicken: An Authentic Chinese Recipe - The Woks of Life (2)

Set aside to cool. They will turn crunchy once they’re cooled completely.

Alternatively, you could skip this step and simply use shelled roasted peanuts!

2. Marinate the chicken:

Combine the chicken with 1 teaspoon each of oil, cornstarch, and Shaoxing wine, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of white pepper. Set aside to marinate for 20 minutes. For more information and preparing chicken for stir fries, see Bill’s post on Chicken velveting 101.

Kung Pao Chicken: An Authentic Chinese Recipe - The Woks of Life (3)

3. Prepare the sauce:

Mix together light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sugar, water, and cornstarch,and set aside.

(Video) Kung Pao Chicken

4. Grab the rest of your ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, smashed and sliced
  • 2 thin slices ginger, minced
  • 2 dried red chilies, deseeded and chopped (these can be quite spicy, so adjust according to your own tastes)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorn powder
  • 6 scallions, white portions only, cut into 3/4” pieces

5. And you’re ready to cook kung pao chicken:

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a wok over high heat. Sear the chicken, remove from the wok to a bowl, and set aside.

Kung Pao Chicken: An Authentic Chinese Recipe - The Woks of Life (4)

Turn the heat to low and add another tablespoon oil. Add the garlic, ginger, chilies, Sichuan peppercorn powder, and scallions. Cook for a minute or two until fragrant.

Add the chicken back to the wok. Turn up the heat to high and stir-fry for a minute.

Then stir up your prepared sauce (the cornstarch will have settled to the bottom, so make sure it’s well incorporated).

Add the sauce to the wok and stir-fry for another minute. The sauce should thicken very quickly.

Kung Pao Chicken: An Authentic Chinese Recipe - The Woks of Life (6)

Finally, add the peanuts.

Kung Pao Chicken: An Authentic Chinese Recipe - The Woks of Life (7)

Give everything a final stir and serve.

Kung Pao Chicken: An Authentic Chinese Recipe - The Woks of Life (8)
Kung Pao Chicken: An Authentic Chinese Recipe - The Woks of Life (9)

Watch video!

For a twist on this Kung Pao Chicken recipe, try our oven fried Kung Pao wings, or vegan/vegetarian versions: kung pao tofu and kung pao mushrooms.

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4.97 from 52 votes

Kung Pao Chicken Recipe – Chinese Restaurant Quality

Kung Pao Chicken exists both in traditional Chinese cuisine and on takeout menus. This easy, authentic Sichuan kung pao chicken recipe is the real thing.

Kung Pao Chicken: An Authentic Chinese Recipe - The Woks of Life (10)

serves: 4

Prep: 30 minutes

Cook: 10 minutes

Total: 40 minutes

(Video) Kung Pao Beef | A Tasty and Worthwhile update to Classic Kung Pao Chicken | The Woks of Life

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Ingredients

To roast the peanuts:

  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 1 cup raw peanuts (shelled, with or without the skin)
  • Can also substitute roasted shelled peanuts and skip this step!

To marinate the chicken:

  • 12 oz. 340g chicken breast, cut into 3/4” cubes
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon shaoxing wine
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • a pinch of ground white pepper

To prepare the sauce:

  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon dark soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch

The rest of your ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons oil
  • 3 cloves garlic , smashed and sliced
  • 2 thin slices ginger , minced
  • 2 dried red chilies , deseeded and chopped (these can be quite spicy, so adjust according to your own tastes)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorn powder
  • 6 scallions , white portions only, cut into 3/4” pieces

Instructions

  • Heat a teaspoon of oil in a wok over medium heat and add a cup of raw shelled peanuts. Stir constantly (or they’ll burn) for 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir for another minute using the residual heat in the wok. Set aside to cool. They will turn crunchy once they’re cooled completely. You can also skip this step and use already roasted shelled peanuts.

    (Video) Deliciously Spicy Chinese Kung Pao Chicken Recipe

  • Marinate the chicken. Mix together the chicken with all the marinade ingredients in a bowl and set aside for 20 minutes.

  • Prepare the sauce. Mix together all the sauce ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside.

  • Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a wok over high heat. Sear the chicken, remove from the wok to a bowl, and set aside.

  • Turn the heat to low and add another tablespoon oil. Add the garlic, ginger, chilies, Sichuan peppercorn powder, and scallions. Cook for a minute or two until fragrant.

  • Add the chicken back to the pan and turn up the heat to high. Stir-fry for a minute and then use your finger to stir up your prepared sauce (the cornstarch will have settled to the bottom, so make sure it’s well incorporated). Add the sauce to the wok and stir-fry for another minute. The sauce should thicken very quickly.

  • Finally, add the peanuts. Give everything a final stir and serve.

nutrition facts

Calories: 440kcal (22%) Carbohydrates: 11g (4%) Protein: 29g (58%) Fat: 33g (51%) Saturated Fat: 6g (30%) Cholesterol: 54mg (18%) Sodium: 477mg (20%) Potassium: 654mg (19%) Fiber: 4g (16%) Sugar: 2g (2%) Vitamin A: 270IU (5%) Vitamin C: 5.1mg (6%) Calcium: 60mg (6%) Iron: 2.1mg (12%)

nutritional info disclaimer

TheWoksofLife.com is written and produced for informational purposes only. While we do our best to provide nutritional information as a general guideline to our readers, we are not certified nutritionists, and the values provided should be considered estimates. Factors such as brands purchased, natural variations in fresh ingredients, etc. will change the nutritional information in any recipe. Various online calculators also provide different results, depending on their sources. To obtain accurate nutritional information for a recipe, use your preferred nutrition calculator to determine nutritional information with the actual ingredients and quantities used.

(Video) Kung Pao Chicken | A Basic Chinese Dish X The Woks of Life

FAQs

Is Kung Pao Chicken authentic Chinese food? ›

One of the popular dishes available at any Chinese restaurant is Kung Pao Chicken. While generally associated with Westerners and the “westernized” Chinese cuisine, story of its origin can still be traced back to China. The story begins in the Guizhou province in southern China.

What is kung pao sauce made of? ›

Kung Pao Sauce is an authentic Szechuan style stir-fry sauce filled with sweet, spicy, and complex flavors. It is usually made with fresh aromatics, basic sauces, Szechuan peppercorns, and sesame oil.

Is Kung Pao Chicken healthy? ›

Kung Pao Chicken is a healthy meal idea made with lean protein, tons of veggies, and an easy kung pao sauce. This recipe is: Gluten Free: Our kung pao chicken recipe is made better for you and with more accessible ingredients!

Which is healthier kung pao or General Tso? ›

Kung Pao Chicken vs. General Tso's Chicken

The choice here depends on the restaurant, but in most cases Kung Pao chicken is the winner. It packs in extra veggies and is topped with peanuts, a source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Plus, the chicken isn't fried, which is always a plus.

What is the difference between General Tso and Kung Pao chicken? ›

Kung pao chicken and General Tso's chicken are similar in that they are both chicken-based dishes with a hint of chili, but the primary difference is that latter is deep-fried and coated with a syrupy sweet and sour sauce, and the former is coated with a gentle, more balanced sauce.

How do Chinese make their chicken so tender? ›

There are actually a few different ways to tenderise chicken the Chinese restaurant way: marinating in a cornstarch/cornflour sludge then deep frying or blanching in water before proceeding to cook in the stir fry. egg whites – sometimes the above method is also done using egg whites. chemical tenderiser.

What is the difference between Szechuan chicken and Kung Pao chicken? ›

Kung pao chicken vs szechuan chicken

Kung pao chicken is mildly spicy, sweet and nutty. Meanwhile, Szechuan chicken is spicier and is not sweet or nutty. These two dishes are pretty similar. Therefore, many people confuse between the two dishes.

Why is it called kung pao? ›

The dish is believed to be named after Ding Baozhen (1820–1886), a late Qing Dynasty official and governor of Sichuan Province. His title was Taizi Shaobao, which is one of Gongbao (Chinese: 宫保; pinyin: Gōngbǎo; Wade–Giles: Kung1-pao3; lit. 'Palace Guardian').

What does Kung Po mean in English? ›

: being stir-fried or sometimes deep-fried and served in a spicy hot sauce usually with peanuts.

Why is Kung Pao chicken so spicy? ›

Kung pao chicken has the signature ma (麻 – numbing) la (辣 – spicy) flavors that is commonly found in Sichuan dishes. The Sichuan red peppercorns give the dish a citrusy numbing (tongue tingling) spice flavor, while the hot dried red chilies give it the spicy heat factor.

What flavour is kung pao? ›

What does Kung Pao Sauce taste like? Kung Pao sauce has a strong flavour that is sweet, sour, savoury and with the signature tingle of heat from Sichuan pepper.

What Chinese dish is the healthiest? ›

Healthier choices include steamed brown rice, sautéed or steamed vegetables, spring rolls, or soups like egg drop soup or hot and sour soup. Veggie-based items like edamame, lettuce wraps, braised bamboo shoots, or cucumber salad are a few other great options you can try.

What is the healthiest Chinese take out food? ›

The 17 Healthiest Chinese Food Takeout Options, According to Registered Dietitians
  1. Shrimp and Vegetables With Black Bean Sauce. ...
  2. Beef and Broccoli. ...
  3. Mixed Vegetables. ...
  4. Extra Vegetables. ...
  5. Moo Shu Vegetables. ...
  6. Moo Shu Chicken. ...
  7. Steamed Anything. ...
  8. A Small Soup.
7 Jan 2018

Why is Kung Pao Chicken so popular? ›

As the most ardent fan of Kung Pao chicken, the dish was named after him. Ding Baozhen loved to cook and especially liked chicken, peanuts, and spicy peppers. Using those ingredients, he created Kung Pao chicken. Originally a home dish of the Ding family, guests loved it so much that the popularity spread.

Which is healthier Chinese or Thai food? ›

Thai food is often healthier than Chinese food. Thai food puts a focus on balance and variety. They are often light and the aromas are just as important as the taste of the food. Thai food uses less heavy sauces and oils than Chinese food uses that are healthier for you, if any oil at all.

Is Chinese or Vietnamese food healthier? ›

Vietnamese food is generally considered much healthier than Chinese food due to its use of fresher ingredients, less oil and frying of vegetables, as well as use of lighter sauces. What is this? Chinese food has high levels of sodium, which can generally be tracked to it's heavy use of soy sauce in its cuisines.

Is Kung Pao always spicy? ›

Kung pao chicken is savory, slightly sweet, and usually mildly spicy. It's a popular chinese takeout dish loaded with small pieces of diced chicken, diced vegetables like bell peppers, onions, bamboo shoots, and sometimes celery and carrots.

What is the most popular Chinese chicken dish? ›

General Tso's Chicken, America's Most Popular Chinese Takeout Dish. General Tso's Chicken, with its battered chicken in a sweet and sour sauce, laced with chilli, is apparently, America's favourite Chinese takeout dish.

Which is hotter Kung Pao or General Tso? ›

Kung Pao is hot and spicy, whereas General Tso is sweet and spicy. There are no peanuts in General Tso, whereas peanuts are integral to Kung Pao. Kung Pao is a much older dish than General Tso.

Why is Chinese takeaway chicken so soft? ›

Have you ever wondered how Chinese restaurants get their chicken to be so tender and moist-looking? Velveting is the secret! It gives the chicken that silky texture, with retained moisture and flavor from the marinade. It also protects the chicken from the hot wok, yielding juicy chicken.

How do Chinese restaurants make their meat soft? ›

Velveting meat is a Chinese cooking technique used in Chinese restaurants. The process of velveting is one where you marinate raw meat in cornstarch and egg white or bicarbonate of soda to give it a soft, slippery, velvety texture.

What is the secret to tender chicken? ›

To start, brine your chicken in a mixture of water and a few tablespoons of salt for about 20 to 30 minutes. This will boost the natural flavor and moisture of the chicken breasts and will leave you with a super tender piece of meat. This is the one step that will really ensure your chicken won't be dry or tough.

What kind of peppers are in Kung Pao? ›

The Chilies for Kung Pao Chicken

The chili peppers most commonly used for Chinese cooking are Tien Tsin chilies, named for their province of origin. They're quite hot and possess an earthy pungency. If you can't find this exact variety, you can substitute any dried red chiles.

Is Szechuan chicken healthier than General Tso? ›

General Tso's chicken is about the most dangerous Chinese dish on the menu—dark meat battered and deep-fried, then cooked with vegetables in a sweet, spicy sauce. Szechuan chicken, made with leaner, white meat and sautéed with vegetables, is a far better choice.

What's the difference between Hunan chicken and Kung Pao Chicken? ›

Hunan Chicken originates from the Hunan Province in Western China and usually incorporates more vegetables and fresh peppers. Szechuan Chicken originates from the Sichuan Province and incorporates more pepper pastes (processed). Kung Pao Chicken is a Szechuan cuisine dish.

What is double kung pao? ›

Diced chicken and roast pork with celery ,carrot, bamboo shoots, baby corn and water chestnuts in spicy sauce with peanuts.

Is Kung Po the same as sweet and sour? ›

The Americanized version of kung pao chicken is sweet, sour, and spicy, with no Sichuan peppers, and is made with sherry rather than Shaoxing.

What is the difference between kung pao sauce and Szechuan sauce? ›

Ingredients Used

Kung Pao: Kung Pao is made with chicken, vegetables, nuts, and Szechuan peppers. Szechuan: Szechuan cuisine typically uses Szechuan peppers, vegetables, mushrooms, herbs, pork, beef, rabbit, and yogurt.

What's Szechuan sauce made of? ›

What exactly is Szechuan sauce? It's recipe includes soy, ginger, vinegar, and garlic. The fan favorite sauce made its debut in 1998 and made two brief appearances since then. Customers can get the sauce with their order of McNuggets or buy up to five containers on the side.

What's the difference between kung pao beef and Szechuan beef? ›

Other differences include other vegetables you might encounter with each dish: Szechuan beef often has water chestnuts and broccoli while kung pao beef tends to have green peppers and not a lot else.

Do you eat the dried chilis in kung pao chicken? ›

Once both batches of chicken are cooked, put all the chicken back in the wok and pour on the cooking sauce. Simmer until the sauce is thickened, then add the peanuts, dried chiles and green onions. It's important to note that the whole chiles add flavor to the dish, but you shouldn't try to eat them.

What is the most spicy Chinese food? ›

Gan guo, Hunan

Hunan food is less oily than Sichuan food and the abundance of fresh red and green chili peppers, scallions, ginger and garlic make Hunan food arguably the spiciest cuisine in China.

Is Kung Pao chicken a Szechuan dish? ›

One of the most famous Sichuan dish–kung pao chicken, made with chicken breast.

How hot is Kung Pao? ›

Kung Pao peppers have a medium heat level as they average about 7,000 to 12,000 Scoville Heat Units. The pepper's flavor is described as earthy and slightly smoky, and its heat level adds a fiery but not overbearing kick.

Is Kung Pao chicken white or dark meat? ›

Traditional ingredients include dark meat chicken, vinegar and spice, a variety of veggies and roasted peanuts.

Is Kung Po Chinese spicy? ›

Kung Pao Chicken is highly addictive stir-fried chicken with the perfect combination of salty, sweet and spicy flavour!

Is Chinese food healthier than American food? ›

Indeed, the traditional Chinese diet is far healthier than the traditional American diet, which often features meat as the focus of the meal, says T. Colin Campbell, PhD, professor of nutritional biochemistry at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. But you don't have to travel to rural parts of China to eat healthy.

What is the unhealthy ingredient in Chinese food? ›

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a flavor enhancer often added to restaurant foods, canned vegetables, soups, deli meats and other foods.

Is shrimp and broccoli healthy from a Chinese? ›

Is Chinese shrimp and broccoli healthy? This Chinese shrimp and broccoli recipe is certainly healthy because it is low in sodium and carbs, gluten-free, refined sugar-free, and a great way to squeeze in some extra broccoli.

What Chinese food is best for diabetics? ›

Chinese: Steamed Chicken and Broccoli

“When ordering Chinese, focus on dishes packed full of lean proteins and vegetables with limited rice and noodles,” advises Palinski-Wade, who suggests ordering steamed chicken and broccoli with the sauce on the side.

What is healthy to eat at a Chinese buffet? ›

15 Healthiest Chinese Food Dishes, According to Registered...
  • Steamed fish or seafood with ginger, scallions and soy sauce. ...
  • Stuffed green peppers with shrimp. ...
  • Tofu and broccoli stir fry. ...
  • Chicken with green peppers. ...
  • Chicken with garlic sauce. ...
  • Moo goo gai pan. ...
  • Steamed buns or dumplings. ...
  • Miso soup.
31 Aug 2022

What fast food is the healthiest? ›

The 18 Healthiest Fast Foods You Can Eat
  • KFC: Grilled Chicken Breast With Green Beans and Mashed Potatoes. ...
  • Carl's Jr.: Charbroiled Chicken Club Sandwich With Lettuce Wrap and Side Salad. ...
  • Panda Express: Grilled Teriyaki Chicken with Mixed Vegetables. ...
  • Qdoba Mexican Eats: Tequila Lime Chicken Taco Salad Bowl.
3 May 2019

What is real traditional Chinese food? ›

Five best-known, traditional Chinese dishes are Peking duck, biang biang noodles, dim sum, xiaolongbao, and Sichuan hot pot.

What is real Chinese food called? ›

A number of different styles contribute to Chinese cuisine but perhaps the best known and most influential are Cantonese cuisine, Shandong cuisine, Jiangsu cuisine (specifically Huaiyang cuisine) and Sichuan cuisine.

What is the difference between Szechuan chicken and kung pao chicken? ›

Kung pao chicken vs szechuan chicken

Kung pao chicken is mildly spicy, sweet and nutty. Meanwhile, Szechuan chicken is spicier and is not sweet or nutty. These two dishes are pretty similar. Therefore, many people confuse between the two dishes.

What does kung pao mean in Chinese? ›

Etymology. borrowed from Chinese (Beijing) gōng bǎo "palace guardian" in the name of such dishes (as gōng bǎo jī dīng "kung pao diced chicken")

What are the four main Chinese dishes? ›

First up are those termed the Four Major Cuisines: Lu cuisine from Shandong province; Chuan cuisine from Sichuan; Yue cuisine from Guangdong; and Su cuisine from Jiangsu.

What is McDonald called in China? ›

That was when the M shaped golden symbol came into being as the fast-food chain's logo. Therefore, the decision to change McDonald's Chinese name to Jingongmen is fully justified.

What do they call KFC in China? ›

KFC (肯德基; pinyin: Kěndéjī) is a fast food restaurant chain founded by Colonel Harland Sanders in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1952.

Which is hotter General Tso or Kung Pao? ›

Kung Pao is hot and spicy, whereas General Tso is sweet and spicy. There are no peanuts in General Tso, whereas peanuts are integral to Kung Pao. Kung Pao is a much older dish than General Tso.

What is another name for Kung Pao Chicken? ›

Versions commonly found in the West, called Kung Pao chicken, Kung Po, or just chicken chili and garlic, consist of diced, marinated chicken, stir-fried with orange or orange juice, ginger, garlic, chicken broth, sugar, cooking oil, corn starch, and salt and pepper to taste.

Why is kung pao chicken so spicy? ›

Kung pao chicken has the signature ma (麻 – numbing) la (辣 – spicy) flavors that is commonly found in Sichuan dishes. The Sichuan red peppercorns give the dish a citrusy numbing (tongue tingling) spice flavor, while the hot dried red chilies give it the spicy heat factor.

Why is kung pao chicken so popular? ›

As the most ardent fan of Kung Pao chicken, the dish was named after him. Ding Baozhen loved to cook and especially liked chicken, peanuts, and spicy peppers. Using those ingredients, he created Kung Pao chicken. Originally a home dish of the Ding family, guests loved it so much that the popularity spread.

What does kung pao sauce taste like? ›

What does Kung Pao Sauce taste like? Kung Pao sauce has a strong flavour that is sweet, sour, savoury and with the signature tingle of heat from Sichuan pepper.

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