Kung Pao chicken is a classic dish in Szechuan
cuisine, originating in the Sichuan Province of central-western China.
The dish exists in both traditional Sichuan and Westernized versions; the latter
is more popular in the United States and Canada.
Left: A traditional version
of the dish, as served at a Sichuan restaurant in Shanghai.
The original Sichuan version of Kung Pao chicken, uses chicken as its primary
ingredient. In this original version, diced chicken is typically mixed with a
prepared marinade. The wok is seasoned and then chili peppers and Sichuan
peppercorns are flash fried to add fragrance to the oil. Then the chicken is
stir fried and vegetables, along with peanuts, are added. Shaoxing wine is used
to enhance flavor in the marinade.
Kung Pao Chicken is considered an Asian delicacy for most. It starts off with
fresh, moist, unroasted peanuts or cashew nuts. These are often used instead
of their pre-roasted versions. The peanuts or cashew nuts are dropped into the
hot oil on the bottom of the wok first, then deep fried until golden brown
before the other ingredients are added.
The most important component of the dish is handfuls of Sichuan peppercorns. It
is these peppercorns that give the dish its distinctive
numbing flavor. Use of hot and numbing flavor is a
typical element of Sichuan cooking (see, for example,
Westernized versions, usually called "Kung Pao chicken," commonly consist
of diced marinated chicken stir-fried with skinless unsalted roasted peanuts,
chopped, sliced, or diced red bell peppers (as well as other vegetables such as
green bell peppers, celery, Chinese cabbage, water chestnuts, and carrots),
sherry or rice wine, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, and chili peppers.
Although chicken is traditionally used,
seafood items such as shrimp or scallops, or other meats such as beef or pork,
are sometimes used in place of the chicken (although typically only a single
meat or seafood is used). It can also be prepared with tofu instead of meat.
version of Kung Pao chicken, served in London.
In order to prepare Western-style Kung Pao chicken, bits of diced raw chicken
are marinated, then dusted with cornstarch, and then a Chinese wok is heated on
a high flame, without oil, until it is quite hot. A swish of the ladle spreads a
couple of teaspoons of peanut oil, then the chicken is flash fried in the hot
oil to bring out the flavor of very slightly charred or grilled meat, but not so
long that it loses its juices or tenderness. Next, grated garlic and the
vegetables are added, followed by Chinese rice wine, along with a sweet sauce. A
tiny drizzle of sesame oil provides the tang, peanuts are added, and the dish is
ready in about one and a half minutes, from the time the oil first hits the wok.
Whereas the original Chinese version of the dish includes Sichuan peppercorns as
an integral ingredient, the Western version does not.
Kung Pao chicken is a very popular staple of North American Sichuan-style
Chinese restaurants, and many recommend using it as a measure of the skills of a