Homemade chile paste in kung pao chicken for the win

Scallion greens added at the end brighten this chile-paste kung pao chicken.
(Yuki Sugiura / For The Times)

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.

Chile Paste

  • 20 dried small mild red chiles, stemmed and seeded
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • ½-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped

Marinated Chicken

  • 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)


  1. 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.
  2. For the chicken: Place the chicken, starch, salt and 2 tablespoons cold water in a medium bowl. Mix until evenly coated.
  3. For the sauce: Combine the sugar, vinegar, wine, starch and both soy sauces in a small bowl and mix until the sugar dissolves.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.