Monday, January 9, 2012

Healthy Kung Pao Chicken

My new secret ingredient is Sichuan pepercorns. The flavor is addicting. We love kung pao chicken and order it out all the time. It's unbelievable when you make it at home how healthy it can be. This recipe has all that awesome kung pao flavor without all that fat/oil/grease. You could use shrimp instead of chicken or tofu to make it vegetarian.

Kung Pao Chicken
Recipe from
  • 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1.25 lbs)
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 medium cucumber
  • 1 medium red onion
  • 5 stalks green onion
  • 50g (1/2 cup) roasted peanuts, unsalted or not
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon Shao Hsing (Chinese cooking) wine, rice wine, or dry sherry (I had some mirin in my pantry and it worked fine.)
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
For the sauce:
  • 3 tablespoons Hoisin sauce
  • 4 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons Shao Hsing (Chinese cooking) wine, rice wine, or dry sherry (again I used mirin)
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider, rice wine, or red wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar, honey, or white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons chicken stock, or a small pinch chicken stock powder plus 2 tablespoons water, or 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1-inch knob of ginger
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 7 dried chili peppers (I was lazy and used a combo of Sriracha and red pepper flakes.)
  • 1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns (I used a bit more.)
  • 2 teaspoons Sesame oil
Dice the chicken into 1-inch pieces at most, but at least be uniform. Place the chicken cubes, oil, cornstarch, wine, and soy sauce in a bowl and give a quick toss before placing in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to marinate. Dice the pepper and cucumber into 1/2-inch squares or cubes, dice the onion, and chop the green onions into 1/2-inch pices.

Mince the garlic and grate the ginger; set aside. In a wok or any suitably large frying pan, dry-roast the dried red peppers and the peppercorns until they release their aroma; set aside. In a blender or food processor, combine the hoisin sauce, soy sauce, wine, vinegar, oyster sauce, sugar, and chicken stock. Toss in the roasted peppercorns and 2 of the dried peppers and purée until no big chunks of the dried red pepper remain and the peppercorns are pulverized. If you don't have a blender or food processor or if you want to be more thorough, crush the peppers and peppercorns with a mortar and pestle, then just whisk together with the sauce in a small bowl or use the blender anyway.

In the same pan, heat the oil over high heat (smoking hot) and add the chicken pieces until it has cooked through. Drain the chicken from the pan, leaving the hot oil behind, and set aside. You could also fry the peanuts until they achieve a darker brown hue (especially if you only have unroasted peanuts) but I didn't bother. In the same oil, sauté the onion for a couple minutes, then add the cucumber green onion, and red bell pepper for about 4 minutes; just to remove their rawness while still retaining their crunchiness. If they start to release liquid, stop cooking and drain them right away. In the same oil, sauté the ginger and garlic for 30 seconds. Add the contents of the blender (the sauce) and bring to a boil. Keep it at a boil until it has reduced to a thick syrup-like consistency. Add in the cooked chicken, peanuts, the rest of the dried peppers, and cooked vegetables and toss to heat the chicken through and coat all the pieces with sauce. (If the sauce is still not thick enough at this point combine 1 tablespoon corn starch with 2 tablespoons of water and stir into the pot.) Transfer to your serving plate and drizzle with sesame oil.