Kung Pao or Princess Chicken is the first Chinese food I remember eating. Daddy would take my sister and I to a place near the mall in Birmingham, Alabama when we were little. I adored it - crunchy and spicy, with that luscious sauce - it became my standard order no matter where I went or to where I traveled.
I think I've had every cruddy Kung Pao chicken served in the US. I got lucky with my first exposure - if I had had most Kung Pao dishes I've had since then, I probably never would have eaten it again. Either so fiery it's painful - and still not tasting like much - or made mostly of celery - which is cheap, and therefore used as a filler in a lot of restaurants - or simply insipid with no flavor - this beautiful little dish has been sorely abused.
I wanted the real thing - and I'm rather proud of the fact that this is. Especially since Kung Pao is an absolute favorite of my sister - it's really her thing. When trying to name this my five year old - trying to say 'kung pao' - came up with "Kelly's Bang Pow Chicken". This takes as well to chicken, pork or shrimp. I'm sure beef would work too - I just haven't tried it yet. It is absurdly easy, and requires very little in the way of specialty items. Even those are easily substitutable, I listed my favorite replacement ingredients, so you have no excuse not to try this one!.
1 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs (or breast, shrimp, pork - the prep is the same), diced
1 medium yellow onion, large dice
1 green or red bell pepper - large dice
1 rib of celery - sliced on the bias
3-4 green onions, sliced on the bias
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup of plain peanuts - or cashews are even better if you have them
1/4 cup sake or white wine - I often use Pinot Gris or Chardonnay
2 Tbl soy sauce - I use low-sodium when I can find it
1/2 Tbl black vinegar, or rice wine vinegar is acceptable
1 tsp fish sauce - you can leave this out altogether, although I do like the depth of flavor it gives
2 Tbl sesame oil
2 Tbl cornstarch
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 Tbl olive oil
Hot Sauce - I LOVE Sriracha - a very spicy hot sauce I find even in my local grocery. I love it because a little packs a huge punch, and the flavor profile is just right for this dish. Add it at the end - so everybody's happy with how spicy their own portion is.
1. Place two bowls on the counter - one in which to mix your marinade, and one for your sauce. In the first bowl place 2 Tbl sake, 1/2 Tbl soy sauce, 1 tsp vinegar, and 1 tsp cornstarch. Whisk well, and pour over chicken. Cover and allow to refrigerate for 1/2 hour.
2. In the second bowl, combine remaining sake, soy sauce and black vinegar, fish sauce, sesame oil, remaining cornstarch and chicken broth. Whisk together and set aside.
3. Heat a very large skillet or wok over very high heat. Add half of olive oil to pan, and toss in the marinaded chicken. Stir fry for a couple of minutes, until meat is just barely cooked through. Do not finish the cooking at this point, or it will be overcooked later. When opaque, remove from pan.
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4. Add remaining olive oil to pan and toss in onion, pepper and celery. Stir fry for about two minutes, and add garlic. Continue to stir fry until the vegetables are crisp-tender, about five minutes.
5. Add the chicken back to the pan, and stir-fry together with vegetables, for about two minutes.
6. Whisk together sauce ingredients, and pour these on top of the chicken, making sure to scrape the fond (fond means the sticky brown bits on the bottom of the skillet) up and stirring it into the sauce as it thickens. Add nuts and green onions and remove from heat.
Serve with Sriracha or other hot sauce.
I almost always serve it with Fried Rice for Midnight, especially since they have so many similar ingredients - it's easy to line the stuff up on the counter and pop it into whatever pan it goes in.
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