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Kung pao chicken recipe


Remember the poolside graduation party scene in The Graduate, when Dustin Hoffman gets a word of career advice from his parents' friend? Plastics. One word, such a famous movie line. Today, I have one word of advice for you about how to create your favorite Chinese restaurant dishes at home. Condiments, my friends. Condiments. If ever you need a reason to visit an Asian market, this recipe for kung pao chicken justifies any distance you have to travel, because authentic condiments make all the difference in this dish (and in all Asian dishes). The ingredient list looks long, but it's mostly condiments, and the method is simple. Marinate the meat, make a sauce, stir-fry the meat, add a little this and that, pour in the sauce, and you're done. You'll never order takeout again.

Kung pao chicken, a restaurant take-out favorite that's easy to make at home.

Kung pao chicken

From the pantry, you'll need: peanut oil, Szechuan peppercorns, dried chile peppers, frozen chicken breast, shao hsing wine, ginger root, garlic, roasted unsalted peanuts, sugar, dark soy sauce, cornstarch, distilled white vinegar, chicken stock.

Slightly adapted from Chinese Cooking for Everyone, an out-of-print cookbook, this recipe serves 4-6, with steamed rice, as part of a multi-course meal.


1-1/4 lb chicken breast, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (defrost if frozen)
3 Tbsp peanut oil
1 tsp Szechuan peppercorns
1 tsp dried red chile pepper, cut into rings
1 tsp shao hsing wine
3 slices ginger root
1 tsp chopped garlic
2 tsp chopped scallion
4 oz roasted unsalted peanuts

For the marinade:
1 tsp sugar
1 Tbsp dark soy sauce
1 Tbsp cornstarch

For the sauce:
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp distilled white vinegar
1 Tbsp dark soy sauce
3 Tbsp chicken stock
2 tsp cornstarch


In a small bowl, mix the chicken with the marinade ingredients, and set aside.

In a separate bowl, mix all of the sauce ingredients, and set aside.

Heat the oil in a wok over high heat, and when the oil is hot, add the peppercorns and chile peppers. When the peppers darken, pour the oil through a strainer into a bowl. Discard the peppercorns, and return the oil and chile peppers to the wok.

Add the chicken, and stir-fry for 1 minute. Then, add the shao hsing wine, ginger, garlic and scallions. Continue to stir, and pour in the sauce (it will be quite thick). Stir for 15 seconds, and add the peanuts. Stir to combine, and serve hot, over rice.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More Asian chicken recipes:
Chicken or turkey fried rice
Chicken lo mein
Slow cooker soy-braised chicken
Super easy Sriracha-peach chicken wings, from What We're Eating
Soy sauce chicken, from Rasa Malaysia
Chinese chicken lettuce wraps, from Andrea Meyers
Grace Young's vinegar-glazed chicken, from The Amateur Gourmet
Spicy Szechuan peppercorn chicken, from My Kitchen Snippets

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


Oh how I love Kung pao chicken. Delicious recipe, Lydia!

Great recipe. Could you recommend a shopping list of products to purchase from Asian grocers. We only pass by one every 5 or 6 months. We're in a rural area & the supermarkets d'not carry much in the way of 'ethnic/international' items. When we do stop we purchase everything we can remember but usually forget at least 3 or 4 items. Thanks

Kristen, one of my favorites, too. A reader reminded me that I hadn't posted my kung pao recipe; I should have shared it years ago.

Kitty, that's a tough question, because of course it depends on what you like to eat (and cook). The absolute basics for me (which might not be the basics for you) would be low-sodium soy sauce, dark soy, oyster sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar (not seasoned), chili paste with garlic, dry rice noodles (like Pad Thai noodles), fish sauce, Thai red curry paste. If you search this site for each of those ingredients, you'll see the brands I prefer and recommend. Now, what would you add to this list?

So, what is shao hsing wine, and how does it compare with other wines I might have in my pantry?

The other lessons I learned about making Chinese food from a class I took this summer:

1) Make sure all your pieces are cut to the same size so they cook at the same rate

2) Make sure you use a wok that is big enough that all of your food can touch it.

Elizabeth, if you follow the links under the recipe title (From the pantry, you'll need...), you can learn more about each of the ingredients listed there. And thanks for sharing your stir-fry advice; it really does make all the difference to the success of a dish.

Hi Lydia, I tried another recipe of yours--broccoli with spicy sesame peanut dipping sauce which also called for shao hsing wine. I've never heard of that and didn't have it on hand so I just subsituted water for it (it was only 1 tsp) but I would like to know what other flavoring I could subsitute for it in case I can't find it over here. thanks!

Judith, water is a good substitute for many things, but one of the aspects wine adds is sweetness. How about some dry sherry? You might even try something like mirin, which is sweetened with sugar.

I haven't found a version of this that really worked for me, so I am excited to try this. AND..I always have plenty of condiments!

Gorgeous, Lydia! I truly love Asian food. Your recipe is easy to make gluten free, too. Can't do dark soy sauce, but gluten-free soy sauce will be just fine. ;-)


Pam, I hope this will be the version you like. I really think it's all in the condiments, and when you find condiments that replicate the taste you like in a restaurant, your dishes will taste the way you want them to.

Shirley, I'm always glad to know that my recipes can be made gluten-free easily. Thanks.

Thanks for the disclaimer and break down of the steps because that list does look a bit intimidating! But it looks DELICIOUS!

I always go straight for the Kung Pao chicken when I go to a Chinese buffet. I'll definitely be making this one!

I haven't had Kung pao chicken in years but it always was a favorite. I happen to have nearly all of these ingredients in my pantry so I will look forward to giving it a try soon.

Carol, I know that Chinese recipes can look daunting, but it's really marinade, fry, sauce, and that's it.

Curt, I do, too. One of my all-time favorites, and for me, the spicier, the better.

Kathy, it's all about the pantry, isn't it? The hardest part of this recipe is stocking the pantry. After that, it's easy.

Lydia, I am so excited that you posted this recipe! I have tried other versions that I wasn't thrilled with. I ordered a number of your suggested condiments online, so I'm ready to go!

Judy, it was your email that reminded me I hadn't ever posted kung pao chicken, and I've been using this recipe for years. Like you, I kissed a lot of frogs (i.e., tasted a lot of bad chicken) before I found this prince of a recipe. I think the condiments make all the difference, and I hope you love this chicken as much as I do.

This is my favorite Asian dish! I've always wanted a manageable recipe for it that I could cook at home.

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