I managed to get around to cooking a new recipe tonight and it turned out good! Is it the same as the old China Town’s Kung Pao? Nope. But it’s close, and it was a fairly easy one to pull off. I will say it made a bit of a mess of my skillet, but I also did triple the recipe and split it, cooking in two waves. Just doing a normal 4-person version should be easy.
I modified the recipe a bit to suit what I had on hand. Finding potato starch in a town of 2,000 people just isn’t going to happen, so I used corn starch. Same with Shaoxing wine, I subbed cooking wine. I wouldn’t do that, I could definitely taste it and it didn’t compliment all of the other flavors very well in this dish. For the peppers I used chile de arbol, the dried peppers you’ll find near the spices that are used in some Mexican dishes. They made a good flavor and hat just a bit of spice.
Time to prep: 20 minutes
Time to done: 1 hour
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast (1 large or 2 small), cut into ½-inch cubes
- 1½ tablespoons potato starch
- 2 teaspoons light soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons superfine or granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons Chinkiang (Chinese black) vinegar
- 1½ tablespoons homemade or unsalted store-bought chicken stock or water
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon light soy sauce
- ¾ teaspoon dark soy sauce
- ¾ teaspoon potato starch
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- 12 dried Sichuan chiles, halved and seeded
- 1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
- 3 garlic cloves, sliced
- 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
- 5 scallions, white parts only, cut into ½-inch pieces
- ½ cup roasted or fried unsalted peanuts
For the marinated chicken: Place the chicken in a bowl, add the potato starch, soy sauce, wine, salt and 1½ tablespoons cold water. Mix until evenly coated.
For the sauce: Combine the sugar, vinegar, stock, sesame oil, both soy sauces and the starch in a small bowl. Stir until the sugar dissolves. If you dip your finger in, you should be able to taste the light sweet-and-sour, or “lychee,” base flavor of the dish.
To stir-fry: Heat a well-seasoned wok, large cast-iron skillet or other large skillet over very high heat. Add the oil, carefully swirl to coat the bottom and sides, and immediately add the chiles and peppercorns. Stir-fry briefly, just until the chiles are fragrant and darkening but not burnt, about 15 seconds. Tip in the marinated chicken and stir to separate. As soon as the pieces have separated, add the garlic, ginger and scallion whites and stir-fry until they smell delicious and the chicken is just cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes. Test a piece by cutting it in half to make sure.
Pour the sauce into the center of the wok, wait for a second or two, then stir as the sauce thickens and coats the chicken, 1 to 2 minutes. Mix in the peanuts and serve immediately.