Kung Pao chicken originated in China’s Sichuan province, and the original version bears little resemblance to the saucy, sugary version we find in so many Americanized Chinese restaurants. Like most families in the U.S., we grew up with the Chinese American classics of the 1980s and 1990s, but I never liked green bell peppers — an ubiquitous ingredient in the Americanized version of Kung Pao chicken. When I discovered that the original version was sans bell pepper and with a healthy dose of Sichuan peppercorns, I was hooked.
There is a time and place for Americanized Chinese cuisine. After all, it’s comfort food for so many. But when it comes to Kung Pao chicken, this is the spicy, flavorful, and peanut-flecked version that I crave.
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut in to 1/2 inch cubes
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
10 small dried red chiles
2 1/2 inch piece ginger, cut into thin strips
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 cup roasted peanuts
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar
1/2 teaspoon ground Sichuan peppercorns
1. Combine chicken with cornstarch and wine in a bowl. Cover, place in refrigerator, and leave to marinate for 1 hour.
2. Place 2 tablespoons oil and chiles in a wok and turn heat to low. Cook for about 3 minutes or until chiles begin to darken. Using a slotted spoon, remove chiles and drain on kitchen paper.
3. Leaving chili-infused oil in wok, turn heat up to high and stir-fry the chicken for about 6 minutes. Add ginger and reserved chiles and stir fry for 1 minute.
4. Add sugar and stir fry for 30 seconds. Add peanuts, soy sauce, and vinegar and stir fry for 1 minute. Add Sichuan pepper and remove from heat. Serve warm.