Gong Bao Chicken With Peanuts

The sauce for this gong bao chicken dish is a light sweet-and-sour base pepped up with a deep chile spiciness and a trace of Sichuan pepper that will make your lips tingle pleasantly. The ingredients are all cut in harmony, the chicken in small cubes and the scallion in short pieces to complement the peanuts. The chicken should be just cooked and wonderfully succulent; the nuts are added at the very last minute so they retain their crispness. It’s also beautiful to look at with its glorious medley of chicken, golden peanuts, and bright red chiles.

This dish, also known as Kung Pao chicken, has the curious distinction of having been labeled as politically incorrect during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. It’s named after a late Qing Dynasty (late 19th century) governor of Sichuan, Ding Baozhen—Gong Bao was his official title—who is said to have particularly enjoyed eating it. No one can quite agree on the details of the dish’s origins: Some say it was a dish Ding Baozhen brought with him from his home province of Guizhou; others that he ate it in a modest restaurant when he went out in humble dress to observe the real lives of his subjects; still others, rather implausibly, that his chef invented the finely chopped chicken dish because Ding Baozhen had bad teeth. Whatever the truth of its origins, its association with an imperial bureaucrat was enough to provoke the wrath of the Cultural Revolution radicals, and it was renamed “fast-fried chicken cubes” (hong bao ji ding) or “chicken cubes with seared chiles” (hu la ji ding) until its political rehabilitation in the 1980s.–Fuchsia Dunlop

LC Say Again? Note

Curious how to properly pronounce that dish you’re about to make? We certainly were. In seeking the pronunciation, we came to find that the full name for Gong Bao Chicken is actually Gong Bao Ji Ding. Here’s its proper pronunciation. (Say again? We had to listen several times to nail it, so don’t feel bad if you don’t get it on the first try.)

Gong Bao Chicken With Peanuts Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 20 M
  • 25 M
  • Serves 2

Ingredients

  • For the marinade
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons potato flour or 2 1/4 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons light soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon Shaoxing rice wine or medium-dry sherry
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 2/3 pound boneless chicken breasts, skin-on or skinless, cut into 1/2-to-3/4-inch chunks
  • For the sauce
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon potato flour or 1 1/8 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Chinkiang or Chinese black vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon homemade chicken stock or canned chicken broth, or water
  • For the Gong Bao chicken
  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • Fresh ginger (enough to equal the amount of garlic), thinly sliced
  • 5 scallions, white parts only, cut into 1/2-inch lengths
  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil
  • A generous handful of dried red chiles (at least 10) preferably Sichuanese
  • 1 teaspoon whole Sichuan pepper
  • 2/3 cup roasted unsalted peanuts

Directions

  • Make the marinade
  • 1. Mix the potato flour or cornstarch and salt in a small bowl. Slowly add the soy sauce, rice wine, and water mixing constantly with a fork. (If using potato flour, the marinade can be more of a paste rather than a liquid marinade, but press on.)
  • 2. Add the chicken pieces and stir to coat the chicken evenly. Set aside at room temperature.
  • Make the sauce
  • 3. Combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside.
  • Make the Gong Bao chicken
  • 4. Snip the chiles in half or into three pieces if large. Wearing rubber gloves, discard as many chile seeds as possible.
  • 5. Add 2 tablespoons of the oil to the wok and heat it over high heat. When the oil is hot but not yet smoking, add the chiles and Sichuan pepper and stir-fry briefly until they’re crisp and the oil is spicy and fragrant. Whatever you do, be mindful not to burn the spices. You can remove the wok from the heat if necessary to prevent overheating.
  • 6. Raise the heat to high, plop in the chicken pieces, and fry them, stirring constantly. As soon as the chicken cubes have separated, add the sliced ginger, garlic, and scallions and continue to stir-fry for a few minutes, until everything is fragrant and the meat is cooked through. Check one of the larger pieces of chicken to make sure.
  • 7. Stir the sauce and then carefully swirl it into the wok, continuing to stir and toss. As soon as the sauce has become thick and shiny, add the peanuts, stir to combine, and serve immediately.
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David Says
David Says

Call it laziness. Call it culinary zenophobia. Call it downright knee-shaking fear. I’ve studiously avoided cooking Chinese dishes in my home ever since…well, forever. After all, I do live in New York City, even though I deign to stay there only a few days a month. And that means delivery. All I have to do is pick up the phone and in less time than it takes for someone else to get fanged on “True Blood,” I have all the Chinese food I could possible want.

But a curious thing happened on the way to MenuPages.com. I’ve either become a better cook or Chinese takeout has gotten worse on the Upper Westside. I think it’s probably the latter, as friends who don’t even cook think the food has tanked. And that has left a gaping hole in my cravings. I was waving 再见 (goodbye) to cold sesame noodles, pork buns, hot and sour soup, General Tso’s Chicken, beef and broccoli  egg foo young, Gong Bao (AKA Kung Pao) chicken. Out of sheer desperation, I manned up to the wok, placed a huge order with Amazon.com for ingredients, and went for it.

This Gong Bao chicken is the first dish I made from the formidable writer and Chinese culinary expert Fushia Dunlop. In fact, it’s the first Chinese recipe I’ve ever made. And it worked perfectly out of the (takeout) box, so to speak. It smacked of the flavors I so love, but without all that gloppiness and occasional MSG attendant with takeout Chinese.

Now, as you know, The One doesn’t like spicy foods (yes, yes, a problem), and I know this recipe has been described as being so hot it approaches the “hiccup threshold.” So I cut back on the peppers (I didn’t use Sichuan peppers, but piri-piri peppers) to great effect. It all came together in no time–even the prep work, which can be daunting in Chinese cooking–was a breeze. I had everything ready before The One came home to Connecticut. When he walked in, I just revved up the skillet and started. Ten minutes later we were seated at the dining room table. The only thing I’d do differently next time would be to use a nonstick pan. I don’t own a traditional wok (although I’m now eyeing them) and the sauce began sticking to the skillet due to the sugar. Beyond that, it was flawless.

Gong bao chicken has succeeded in toppling spaghetti alla carbonara as my top a go-to weeknight dish (sorry, Italy). We loved it so much, we’re serving it to guests this week. Now all I have to do is learn to speak Chinese and I’ll be set.

Comments
Comments
  1. Mo says:

    This Gong Bao recipe as posted is not complete. No veggies.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi says:

      Mo, compared to what, may I ask? Your understanding of the classic Gong Bao recipe? Or your preferred rendition?

    • David Leite says:

      Hi, Mo. This came directly from Fuchsia, who has spent part of each year in China for a long time. I know that I’ve seen Gong Bao at my local Chinese takeout place with, say, broccoli, but I think that may be a nod to American tastes. I can ask Fuchsia for you, if you wish.

  2. Made it. Ate it. Loved it!

    As I was not quite certain which peppers to use based on what I had on hand, I chose Tien Tsin, which I admit have been on the shelf for a little longer than intended. Perhaps that is why my peppers were not a beautiful, bright red, but rather a dull brown. I was careful not to burn them. The next time I am in Tulsa, I will seek a Chinese market for a different pepper.

    Though I followed the recipe (except for the peppers) the dish lacked a beautiful caramel color, though perhaps that is due to only having dark soy sauce, or maybe my camera is a bit off.

    Many thanks for sharing this recipe!

    • David Leite David Leite says:

      Karen, I use Tien Tien peppers, and it find it plenty hot. I buy them online at Penzy’s. Was your dish too dark?

      • David, I bought my peppers from Spice House. The dish was not what I would call dark, but bland colored, almost as though someone put a filter over my view. It wasn’t bright and caramel colored, but dull. It tasted wonderful, but lacked that photographic pizzazz like yours. Hmm. I’ll definitely make it again, though.

        • David Leite David Leite says:

          Well, Karen, I’d choose taste over looks any day!

          • Mike Utzinger says:

            Karen if you are in Illinois or Wisconsin, I assume Spice House is either Milwaukee or Evanston spice shops, a family branch of Penzy’s (the family split in the spice business). I used Tien Tsin peppers from Milwaukee’s Spice House when cooking Fushia Dunlop’s recipe for Gong Bao Chicken. Like David, I go for flavor over image. David, at least you credit Fushia Dunlop with the recipe, many websites rip off her recipe without credit (a key clue is “3 cloves garlic, an equal amount of ginger” from the New York Times web site giving her recipe). It is the best Gong Bao recipe I have made.

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