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
Hands-On Time: 25 minutes | Total Time: 35 minutes | Serves 4
- 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
- 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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Gung Bao Chicken Recipe © 2011 John Gregory-Smith. Photo © 2011 William Lingwood. All rights reserved.