Ok, before we start I have to confess that I am not an expert on kung pao chicken. I know you must be shocked that the same girl who brought you the oh so deftly named Orange Almond “Asian” Salad could be anything less than an expert on the nuances of sichuan cuisine, but I felt I had to say it. Regardless of its authenticity, this easy kung pao chicken meets all of my recipe requirements-it’s quick, it’s easy, it’s made with real ingredients, and with a side of steamed vegetables it makes a great dinner.
The biggest problem I had when I first started trying to recreate some of my favorite stir-fry based recipes at home was that I didn’t have a wok. Consequently, my first stir-fries came out more like partially steamed vegetables, covered in oil, served over rice. Erhm, not exactly appetizing. And not the best way to get your family to eat more vegetables…unless they happen to be Macedonian, then this might actually be a good way to go. I distinctly remember sitting down to a beautiful curry prepared by my mother-in-law (who is more than adventurous in the kitchen) a few years ago. After the first bite, someone commented, “I don’t think this is done, these vegetables are still alive!” I digress…
Ok, right, no wok. Here’s what you need to do. First, use a flat, wide frying pan (rather than a pan with straight sides), which will allow the steam to escape. Second, make sure you don’t crowd the pan! This means that if you have four chicken breasts and only one small frying pan, you’re going to have to work in batches. Finally, ease up on the stirring. All that flipping, flopping, stirring, and whirring you see when you watch someone whip up a delicious stir-fry in a wok? Forget about it! Instead, after you add the meat (or vegetables) to the pan, allow it to brown completely before flipping it over. This allows for nicely browned meat that doesn’t stick to the pan.
For this particular recipe, I tried to use only ingredients that I usually have on hand or could easily find at my local grocery store. (Again, probably did not contribute hugely to authenticity…but I promise it was still yummy!) This means that instead of shaoxing wine I used rakija (Macedonian brandy) and instead of black vinegar I used balsamic. I did not, however, skimp on the peppers….we love peppers! If you don’t have any peppers, I’m sure you could dial up the heat with red pepper flakes. If you happen to have shaoxing wine or black vinegar, by all means use them. But no sense in making a special trip for something you’ll only use once just for this recipe!
Lastly, this recipe is really meant to be served over rice. With out it, it tastes a little salty. So, if you plan on going sans rice, cut back a little on the soy sauce.
- 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
- 1 tablespoon corn starch
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon sherry or brandy (or Shaoxing wine if you have it on hand)
- 1 teaspoon canola oil
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon balsamic (or black) vinegar
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 teaspoon corn starch
- 10 arbol (or Chinese) chillies
- 1 inch peeled fresh ginger, thinly sliced
- 2-3 cloves garlic (chopped)
- 1/4 cup roasted cashews (or peanuts)
- 1 green onion (chopped)
- 3 tablespoons canola oil
- In a medium sized bowl, combine 1 tablespoon cornstarch, 2 teaspoons soy sauce, 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil, 1 tablespoon brandy, and 1 teaspoon canola oil.
- Cut the chicken breast into cubes, a little less than an inch long. Place the cut chicken in the bowl with the soy sauce and brandy and stir until well coated. Allow to marinate while you prepare the rest of the ingredients (about 30 min).
- To make the sauce, in a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 teaspoons sugar, 1/4 teaspoon balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons water, and 1 teaspoon corn starch. Mix thoroughly and set aside.
- Remove the seeds from the chillies and set the chillies aside, along with the thinly sliced ginger and 2-3 cloves chopped garlic.
- Heat a large frying pan over medium high heat, add about 3 tablespoons canola oil. Once the oil is really sizzling, add the chicken. Make sure the chicken is spread evenly, so that each piece is touching the pan. Unlike cooking with a wok, you do not want to over stir the chicken. Let it cook undisturbed for a few minutes until the edges turn white, and the piece can be easily flipped. Once the pieces of chicken an be easily flipped and are golden brown on the bottom, flip all of the pieces and allow to cook for a couple more minutes.
- Remove the chicken from the pan and place in a small bowl.
- Heat another tablespoon of oil (if necessary) in the pan and add the chillies, garlic, and ginger and stir until the garlic begins to turn golden.
- Add the chicken back into the pan, and add the cashews. Pour the sauce over the chicken and stir until it begins to thicken.
- Remove from heat and serve over steamed rice and top with chopped green onion.