Kung Pao Chicken is one of my absolute favorite dishes whenever I eat Chinese food, even at the cheapy-Chinese steam table places. I think it’s the combination of texture and flavor: Hot, fried chiles, silky chicken, crunchy peanuts. What’s not to love?
I did a little research and learned that, along time ago, this dish was often made with wild Chinese pheasants — the bird is originally from China, not North America — so that gave me a good reason to learn this recipe.
I never found a recipe I really like until I read Fuchsia Dunlop’s Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking. Kung Pao Chicken is originally from Sichuan, and it is supposed to be loaded with chiles and that crazy spice, Sichuan peppercorns, which make your mouth a little numb.
My recipe is a little bolder than hers, a little saucier, too. I like a decent amount of sauce with my rice. When you make this recipe I strongly urge you to seek out the authentic ingredients: Chinese black vinegar, Shaoxing wine, potato starch, Sichuan peppercorns. If you can’t find them, it OK to substitute, but the recipe won’t be authentic.
This recipe was designed for pheasant, and you can buy pheasant breasts online from MacFarlane Pheasants. But it will work with any white meat bird: chicken, chukar and turkey are good alternatives. Come to think of it, this recipe would be fine with shrimp, venison, beef, and pork or wild boar. Let only your imagination limit you.
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar or rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon potato starch or 1 1/2 teaspoons corn starch
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 1/4 cup chicken stock
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
- 2 teaspoons potato starch or 2 1/2 teaspoons corn starch
- 1 tablespoon water
- Skinless breasts from 2 pheasants
- 5 garlic cloves, sliced thin
- A 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced (about 2 tablespoons)
- 5-6 green onions, chopped
- 10 dried hot chiles (Sichuan, cayenne, etc)
- 1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
- 2-3 tablespoons chicken fat, lard or peanut oil
- 3/4 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts
- Whisk all the ingredients for the sauce together and set aside.
- Whisk together all the ingredients for the marinade in a medium bowl.
- Cut the pheasant breasts into small chunks of about 1/2 inch across and mix in with the marinade ingredients. Set aside for 20-30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, slice the garlic cloves into slivers, mince the ginger as fine as you can and cut the green onions into 1/2-inch pieces. Break the dried chiles into 1/2-inch pieces and shake out as many seeds as you can.
- Set a wok over high heat for 1-2 minutes. Add the chicken fat and heat this for another minute. Add the Sichuan peppercorns and the dried chiles and stir-fry 30 seconds.
- Add the pheasant and stir-fry for 30 seconds, then add the garlic, ginger and green onions and stir fry another 15-20 seconds.
- Stir the sauce well and pour it into the wok. Add the peanuts and toss to combine. Bring to a rapid boil and stir fry for 30 seconds. Serve immediately over white rice with a beer.