Homemade chile paste in kung pao chicken for the win
More piquant than spicy, this version of kung pao chicken starts with a chile paste fragrant with garlic and ginger. Combined with a sauce that’s sweet with sugar, sour with vinegar and savory from rice wine and soy sauce, the result is a chicken stir-fry with an even balance of flavors. This preparation is unique to Guizhou, where it’s made with ciba chiles.
Here’s the complicated history of America’s most famous Chinese dish: kung pao chicken.
Guizhou-Style Kung Pao Chicken
Kung Pao Ji 宫保鸡
25 minutes. Serves 4.
- 20 dried small mild red chiles, stemmed and seeded
- 1 garlic clove, chopped
- ½-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
- 10 ounces boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into ½-inch cubes
- 1½ tablespoons potato starch
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1½ tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1½ tablespoon Chinkiang vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
- ¾ teaspoon potato starch
- 1 teaspoon light soy sauce
- ½ teaspoon dark soy sauce
- 6 tablespoons vegetable oil
- ½-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
- 3 scallions, cut into 1½-inch pieces, whites and greens separated
- 2 teaspoons sweet flour sauce (tianmianjiang)
- For the chile paste: Place the chiles in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Place a little dish on the chiles to keep them immersed, and leave until softened, at least 5 minutes. Drain the chiles. Place them in a mortar with the garlic and ginger and pound to a coarse paste, or pulse to a paste in a small food processor or with an immersion blender.
- For the chicken: Place the chicken, starch, salt and 2 tablespoons cold water in a medium bowl. Mix until evenly coated.
- For the sauce: Combine the sugar, vinegar, wine, starch and both soy sauces in a small bowl and mix until the sugar dissolves.
- To stir-fry: Heat a well-seasoned wok, large cast-iron skillet or other large skillet over very high heat. Add 3 tablespoons oil, carefully swirl to coat the bottom and sides, and immediately add the marinated chicken. Stir-fry to separate the pieces. When the chicken pieces have gone pale but are not fully cooked, about 3 minutes, transfer to a plate.
- Set the wok over medium heat. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons oil and when the oil shimmers but before it smokes, add the chile paste and stir-fry until sizzling, 1 to 2 minutes. Take care not to burn the chiles. Add the ginger, scallion whites and sweet flour sauce, turn the heat up to high and stir-fry until aromatic, 1 to 2 minutes. Return the chicken to the wok and mix well.
- Pour the sauce into the center of the wok, then stir as it thickens and cloaks the chicken, 3 to 4 minutes. Finally, stir in the scallion greens and serve immediately.
Adapted from “The Food of Sichuan” by Fuchsia Dunlop.
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