By Tatiana Pietrzak
Traditional Kung Pao Chicken uses Sichuan peppercorns. This gives off a “ma” sensation or numbing effect on the tongue and mouth. This was not used in the American version of Kung Pao Chicken because Sichuan peppercorns were banned by the US Food and Drug Administration until 2005. The peppercorns could carry citrus canker bacterial disease, which is very difficult to control. It could potentially harm citrus crops but is not known to have any dietary dangers. It is important to ask chefs to add this peppercorn to have an authentic Sichuan Kung Pao experience. The numbing effect is an important experience to have for foodies.
Legend has it that Kung Pao Chicken was created by the famous governor Ding Baozhen (1820-1886). His services as an official lasted for ten years from 1876-1886, during the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). He was so revered for helping the people that he was given the honorable title of Kung Pao “an officer who tutors the crown prince,” or “palace guardian”. The name was then given to his favorite dish which became well-known throughout Sichuan and then all of China, and finally the Western world. During the Cultural Revolution it was renamed Spicy Chicken by the Maoists so as to not revere officials and intellectuals. The name changed back during the political rehabilitation in the 1980’s under Deng Xiaoping’s reforms.
Donald Trump was served the dish on a state visit to China in 2017. Chinese astronauts also eat this meal in space. It gives them the comfort of being at home, and is truly nutritious.
Traditional pieces of chicken used are diced thighs. They are harder to cut up than chicken breasts but are moister and stay more tender during the stir fry process. Peanut oil is used to brown the roasted peanuts, and leaks can be used to enhance flavor with scallions. This is a dish that has pleased many across continents.
Ingredients For Kung Pao Chicken
2 lb chicken thighs
6 Tbls. dark soy sauce
6 Tbls. light soy sauce
4 Tbls. white cooking wine
1 Tbls. cornstarch
6 Tbls. peanut oil
1/3 cup roasted peanuts
2 Tbls. ginger root, grated
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1 Tbls. Sichuan peppercorns
1 Tbls. chili oil
2 leeks (white part only), cut
1 cup chicken broth
1 Tbls. rice or white vinegar
6 spring onions, cut on a bias to garnish
Dice the chicken thighs into bite size pieces. In a mixing bowl, combine 4 Tbls. of dark soy sauce and 4 Tbls. light soy sauce with cooking wine and stir. Sift cornstarch into the mix and whisk until there are no lumps. Place chicken in marinade and cover for 30 minutes or overnight.
Pour peanut oil into a wok. Fry peanuts until golden brown over medium heat. With a slotted spoon, remove peanuts from oil and dry on a paper towel. Save peanut oil.
Combine rest of soy sauce with ginger. Reheat peanut oil and slightly brown garlic. Add Sichuan peppercorns and chili oil to peanut oil. Stir fry a couple of minutes. Then add soy sauce and ginger mixture and cook for 4-5 minutes longer. Set aside.
Place chicken, marinade and leeks into the peanut oil sauce. Stir-fry chicken for 8 minutes over high heat adding chicken broth a few Tbls. at a time. Do not leave watery. Add vinegar and peanuts. Stir-fry for 2 more minutes. Garnish with green onions. Serve hot.