Gong Bao Ji Ding (Kung Pao Chicken)
With few exceptions, in American Chinese restaurants, Gong Bao Ji Ding is rife with ingredients not usually found in the mainland versions: water chestnuts, green peppers, broccoli, baby corn and a multitude of “fillers” which lower the restaurants’ food cost and dilute the traditional dish. In Sichuan, the de-facto home of this dish, the presentation generally contains only chicken breast meat, peanuts, chilies, chili sauce and other seasonings. As always, the name and origin of the dish is obscured by time and folklore. Most commentators agree that it is named after a Qing dynasty Sichuan governor, whose title was Gong Bao. The Ji Ding translates as “chicken cut into small cubes.” Even with the changes it has gone through coming to the states, the popularity of Kung Pao Chicken is a testament to the simple genius of the dish. Gong Bao Ji Ding is just as well known in China. No Sichuan restaurant on the mainland would be complete without it.
You will find that in this version of Gong Bao Ji Ding the main flavoring ingredients are somewhat large, sliced pieces; this not only visually mimics the shape of the cubed chicken, but produces potent bursts of flavor which characterizes this fiery dish.
11-12 oz boned and skinned, cubed approx. 5/8”Sauce:
4 – 8 dried chilis, cut into 1” sections
1” x 1” pc ginger, peeled and thinly sliced—cut slices in quarters
4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
3 or 4 green onions, white portion cut into 1” lengths; garnish with greens
3 oz. Peanuts
1/2 tsp Sichuan peppercorn (Hua Jiao)
2 – 3 tsp red chili sauceMarinate the chicken cubes in wine, soy, sugar and cornstarch. Section the chilis, retaining the seeds if you prefer the full effects of the spice. Peel and slice the ginger and garlic; section the green onion and diagonally slice the greens to use as a garnish.
1 rounded TAB of sugar, palm sugar or honey
1 Tab soy
Tab Shao Xing or rice wine
1 – 2 tsp Chinkiang vinegar
1/4 cup stock
I prefer to wok roast raw peanuts, as they develop a more robust peanut flavor and crunchy texture. To do this, put raw peanuts (with or without skins) into a medium hot wok and add a dash of peanut oil. Toss the peanuts constantly as they will burn in only a few seconds if left unturned. Increase the heat as needed to brown the nuts, but they must reach a sufficient internal temperature to drive out their moisture, so do not roast them too quickly. It should take 15 or 20 minutes to do this. Obviously, you can use pre-roasted peanuts and save the time. In any case, be sure to add the peanuts to the dish at the last minute, to preserve their texture. Thehua jiao should be tossed for a minute in a med hot wok to refresh it; crush the peppercorns with the flat of the cleaver, and set aside for garnish.
Mix all sauce ingredients in a small bowl and set aside. Red chili sauce is available in a dizzying variety of forms and brands at Asian groceries; the popular Thai chili sauce, Sriracha, works well and is available even in standard grocery stores. The amount can vary, according to your taste; however, red chili sauce is usually acidic and should be balanced with at least equal parts sugar, making Gong Bao Ji Ding a traditionally sweet and sour dish.
On high heat, using 4 or 5 tablespoons of peanut oil, stir-fry the chicken cubes until they are browned and cooked through. Remove with bamboo handled strainer or slotted spoon and set aside. Add more oil if necessary and stir-fry the chilies for a few seconds until they darken, then add ginger, garlic and onions. When these have just begun to brown, stir sauce ingredients and add to the wok, then thicken with slurry as soon as it boils. Add back the chicken; off the heat, quickly stir in the peanuts, plate the Gong Bao Ji Ding, garnish with a drizzle of sesame oil, green onion shreds and hua jiao.