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.)
Kung Pao Chicken With Peanuts
- Quick Glance
- 20 M
- 25 M
- Serves 2
- 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
- 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
- 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.