Gung Bao Chicken

I learned how to make this classic Chinese dish in Beijing. On a snowy winter’s morning I took a cab to a traditional Chinese home in the north of the city to do some cooking. The taxi driver dropped me off and I walked along the narrow streets, shivering, looking for the right house, which turned out to be a few tiny rooms around a courtyard. So in a freezing kitchen, my host, the cooking teacher Cheng Yi, and I made a superb lunch, including this fiery, warming chicken. A good meal in China is always followed by tea, so after we’d eaten we sipped on a lovely hot brew and watched the snow fall thickly in the stone courtyard outside, like a scene from the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.–John Gregory-Smith

LC Kung Pao or Gung Bao? Note

Okay, here’s how we understand the relationship between Gung Bao and Kung Pao chicken, aside from the fact that they rhyme. The former is an authentic Szechuan recipe, a classic stir-fry consisting of chicken, chiles, Szechuan peppercorns, and peanuts. The latter is the bastardized, er, Americanized rendition of the former containing less spice but more vegetables and beloved by “Chinese” takeout mavens across this country. This recipe is–you guessed it–the former.

Gung Bao Chicken Recipe

  • Quick Glance
  • 25 M
  • 35 M
  • Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup unsalted peanuts
  • 1 pound (or a little more) boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 4 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable or unroasted peanut oil
  • 1 teaspoon Szechuan peppercorns
  • 2 dried red chilies, roughly chopped or crushed
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and very thinly sliced
  • 1-inch knob ginger root, peeled and very thinly sliced
  • 4 scallions, trimmed and chopped

Directions

  • 1. Heat a wok over medium heat. Add the peanuts and gently toast the peanuts, shaking the pan occasionally, until they’re a beautiful golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the peanuts to a plate to cool.
  • 2. Meanwhile, place the chicken, cornstarch, and half the soy sauce in a large bowl and gently toss until all of the chicken is well coated. Cover and set aside for 10 minutes.
  • 3. Heat the wok over medium heat and add the oil. Once the oil is hot, remove the wok from the heat and throw in the Szechuan peppercorns and dried red chilies. Stir continuously 20 to 30 seconds, until the chilies start to turn light brown in color.
  • 4. Place the wok over medium-high heat then add the chicken. Fry 2 to 3 minutes, until it just starts to turn golden. Then add the garlic, ginger, scallions, and peanuts. Stir-fry constantly until the chicken is cooked through and tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Pour the remaining soy sauce over the chicken, toss well, and serve immediately.
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Testers Choice

Testers Choice
Testers Choice
Lila Ferrari

Jan 09, 2012

This recipe exceeded all my expectations. I have been disappointed in the past with making Chinese food at home, because it doesn’t measure up to what I have had in a restaurant. This recipe had it all: a few simple ingredients that were quickly put together and a very tasty result. I was concerned that the thinly sliced ginger would be overwhelming (I usually grate it) but in combination with the Szechuan peppercorns, chiles and garlic, the flavor was a little hot, a little spicy, but blended wonderfully, so that each ingredient contributed flavor but didn’t overwhelm. The crunchiness of the peanuts was a perfect foil for the softer chicken, and the scallions added just a touch of onion flavor. My testers loved it, and I will definitely make it again.

Testers Choice
Sue Epstein

Jan 09, 2012

I love Chinese food (used to teach it) and am always willing to try a new Chinese recipe. This dish was definitely a winner. I substituted boneless chicken thighs for the breasts ,simply because I already had them in my freezer. The dish was easy to put together, and my only regret is that I didn’t double it. Everyone I served it to would have liked more. I would have liked a little more sauce, and next time I’ll double the sauce ingredients. Also, I would highly recommend putting the Szechuan peppercorns through a pepper grinder, because it can be annoying to bite into them when eating the dish. I would also recommend sautéing both chili peppers but add only one to begin with. Then, when tasting the dish, you can add another if you want more heat. If you add both peppers and it’s too hot for your taste, there’s little you can do about it. By the way, I recommend doing this with any dish calling for hot peppers.

Testers Choice
Jo Ann Brown

Jan 09, 2012

I love how quick, easy and flavorful this dish is. It had just the right amount of heat and was on the table in a flash. One testing note: the recipe calls for one teaspoon of Szechuan peppercorns. I had to assume that the author want them added whole. I did. I recommend grinding the peppercorns to reduce the textural presence in the dish.

Testers Choice
Melissa Maedgen

Jan 09, 2012

This is a solid version of Gung Bao Chicken, which is particularly easy to make, because this recipe does not have you partially cooking the meat first and then removing it from the wok. Because the garlic and ginger are added near the end of cooking, they stay “hot” — the flavor is not mellowed by longer cooking. So there is a definite bite to it. I used Tien Tsin chiles for this, crumbled along with their seeds. I used one extra chile, which made the dish spicy, but not overly so. In the future, I would choose to make this with chicken thighs instead of breasts — just a matter of personal preference.

Testers Choice
Kim Graham

Jan 09, 2012

This stir-fry was a big hit in our house. Not only was it very quick and easy to make, it was also quite flavorful. Despite the chopped dried chiles and peppercorns, it was not very spicy. We served it with simple sides of steamed rice and steamed broccoli. I would definitely make this again, because it is so easy to make on a weeknight for dinner, and we usually have all the ingredients on hand.

Testers Choice
Linda B.

Jan 09, 2012

Delicious, easy and fast. Great for a quick weeknight supper, since I always have boneless chicken breasts on hand. Next time I might add a vegetable like zucchini, but it’s great as is. This is a keeper!

Testers Choice
Bette Fraser

Jan 09, 2012

This is a quick, easy and authentic Chinese recipe that everyone should have in their culinary repertoire. Oh, and I should mention that it is absolutely delicious too. With just a handful of ingredients that you may already have in your pantry, this may become a weeknight staple for your family.

Comments
Comments
  1. Rita says:

    This sounds delicious. I was thinking of adding a vegetable or two to the recipe but really don’t care to change the integrity of the dish.

    Does anyone have a suggestion for a vegetable side? Generally, we prefer a stir-fry to contain vegetables to make it a one-wok meal with steamed rice on the side. It seems clumsy to have to make a second stir-fry of vegetables whilst keeping the chicken dish hot in the oven. I suppose a separately-steamed vegetable with a light sauce that won’t compete with the flavor of the Gung Bao Chicken might work. Plain steamed vegetables aren’t popular in my family.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      Rita, I’d consider steaming some snow peas or thinly sliced carrots on the side and doubling the sauce recipe for the Gung Bao, reserving half of it to simply drizzle over the veggies at the end. Or sometimes I do a super quick stir-fry of vegetables in a skillet alongside the wok, with just a mild oil and then, towards the end, a splash of sake and a pinch of coarse salt.

      • Rita says:

        Renee, thank you for the good options. I made the Gung Bao with chicken thighs last night – it’s a winner! I did transfer it to a serving bowl and held it briefly in a warm oven while I did a quick romaine stir-fry in the empty wok. There was really no need for the oven. Next time I’ll leave the chicken in the wok to keep warm while using a skillet for the quick romaine stir-fry as you suggested.

        • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

          Lovely, Rita! And thanks for the reminder, I went through a romaine stir-fry phase a while ago and then forgot all about it…I see a relapse in my very near future…

  2. Jeanette says:

    This is the dish that made my husband fall in love with me. I made this more times than I can count when we first met. It’s still his favorite dish.

  3. Cristina says:

    Simply said, we loved it.

    My wife is a huge fan of my Chinese cooking and I am always on the lookout for a different take on an old favorite recipe, and this one filled the bill. Delicious!

    I served it with fresh spinach stir-fried in lard–an often-overlooked but traditional Chinese fat–with a barely stir-fried sliced garlic clove, the spinach stir-fried just until it was wilted.

    Thanks!

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      Terrific, terrific to hear. Appreciate you letting us know! And we’re tremendous proponents of lard, so thanks, too, for the reminder that it works its magic in so many cuisines…

  4. Jim Jinright says:

    I’ve always loved Kung Pao chicken but this seems really interesting! I’ll have to try it!

  5. An Nguyen says:

    OMG this was so good, and considering the work put in, very rewarding as well. The bf, one other roommate, and I ate the whole thing, accompanied by steamed white rice and shiitake and bok choy sautee in oyster sauce.

    • Renee Schettler Rossi, LC Editor-in-Chief says:

      We’re whooping it up over here at your comment, An! And a big shout out to John Gregory-Smith, author of the Mighty Spice Cookbook, and the kind folks at his publishing house who allowed us to share this recipe…

  6. Courtney says:

    One note about the szechuan peppers. Since they are a numbing spice (just try biting into one and you’ll see what I mean), but flavor the dish well, you can add them to the oil at the beginning of the process and scoop them out using a slotted spoon when they turn brown. Voila, flavor, but no risk of turning your tongue numb.

    • David Leite says:

      Courtney, great advice to heed. I’m not a chilehead, so I appreciate your suggestion. Take head, all you non-chileheads.

  7. Debora Gilson says:

    Considering that chilies and peanuts are from the Americas, the dish is already “Americanized”, though centuries old.

    • David Leite says:

      Yes, absolutely, Deborah. The peanut was introduced to China in the 17th century and the chile pepper in the 16th century. But with almost 500 years under its belt, gung bao chicken can safely be considered authentic Chinese, even if it has a we bit of the Americas in it.

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