Alix Clark is the editor of SBS food magazine Feast. In this regular series, she will choose a different dish from Feast magazine and recreate it in her own kitchen:
For some reason, Kung Pao chicken puts me in a US-sitcom state of mind. It seems like the kind of Chinese dish that is ordered by a sextet of New York pals in between jokes, or picked over by a quartet of Manhattan ladies while they ponder the state of their love lives. I’m sure it never featured on the menu in any of the suburban Chinese restaurants I ate in as a child.
So I was thrilled when it made an appearance in Feast's Dinner and a Movie – Chinese Legends feature. This was my chance to have my own sitcom moment. Cue the laugh track and let’s get cooking.
I don’t generally cook very much Asian food – the fact that I couldn’t locate my wok is testament to that fact. We’re so spoiled for choice where I live that it seems easier to head to one of the many local restaurants than cook it myself at home. However, that being said, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I had most of the ingredients required already in the cupboard – the Szechuan peppercorns were kindly supplied by Feast's food editor, Angela.
The first step was marinating the chicken – easily done and it gave me time to prep the rest of the ingredients and get the rice-cooker started. From there, it all came together pretty quickly. My lack of a wok meant that I had to use a large frying pan instead – oil spattered everywhere – and a new wok is now on my shopping list.
Keen-eyed readers will note that the spring onions in my version look suspiciously like pieces of green capsicum. That is because they are, in fact, pieces of green capsicum. The peanuts are also slightly cashew-shaped – right again! However, these substitutions didn’t affect the main flavours of the dish, which Mr Ed declared delicious. He’s not known for his love of chilli, so I reduced the chilli from 8 to 6 and got away with it.
What’s your favourite Chinese dish? Do you always follow a recipe exactly, or are you happy to substitute ingredients when you run short of something? We look forward to hearing from you.
Kung Pao chicken
- 2 large (about 600g) chicken breast fillets, cut into 2.5cm pieces
- 3 tsp Chinese rice wine (shaoxing)*
- 2 tsp sesame oil
- 2 tbsp salt-reduced soy sauce
- 1 tbsp cornflour
- 60ml (1/4 cup) chicken stock
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 tbsp Chinese black vinegar (chinkiang)*
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 75g (½ cup) unsalted raw peanuts
- 8 small dried red chillies
- 2 tsp Szechuan peppercorns*
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 spring onions, sliced on the diagonal into 2.5cm pieces
- Steamed rice or flower rolls (recipe page 90), to serve
- Combine chicken with rice wine, sesame oil, 1 tbs soy and 2 tsp cornflour in a bowl. Set aside for 30 minutes, then drain, reserving the marinade. Combine remaining 2 tsp cornflour, 1 tbs soy, stock, sugar and vinegar in a bowl.
Heat 1 tbs vegetable oil in a wok over medium–high heat. Add peanuts and cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes or until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel. Cook chicken in 3 batches, tossing for 2 minutes or until browned. Remove from wok and set aside.
- Heat remaining 1 tbs oil, add chillies, peppercorns and garlic, and cook for 1 minute or until fragrant and chillies darken slightly. Return chicken to wok, stir in reserved marinade and chicken stock mixture. Cook for a further minute or until sauce has thickened and chicken is cooked through. Stir in spring onions and peanuts, and serve with steamed rice or flower rolls.
* Shaoxing is from selected supermarkets and Asian food shops. Substitute dry sherry.
* Chinese black vinegar is from Asian food shops. Substitute rice wine vinegar.
* Szechuan peppercorns are from selected delis and Asian food shops.
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If you'd like to try some authentic Kung Pao chicken for yourself, why not take a trip to China? On our Gourmet China tour you will taste the true essence of this country, participating in cooking classes and many sumptuous feasts.