I have cooked Kung Pao Chicken previously. I have even shared the results of one venture here. There seem to be more versions and variations on the Kung Pao theme than there are woks in Schezwan Provence. So, I thought it safe to post a different version for your delight. This one leans towards the rising sun (It comes up in the East around here). It favours more of the ‘authentic’ than other versions around the place and it is truly fantastic and tasty.
It seems to me that everything cooked in Schezwan Provence manages to combine a face numbing mixture of Schezwan peppercorns and extreme amounts of chilis. This dish is no exception to the rule. So, if you like your Kung Pao to be “Chicken with nuts in a sweet brown sauce”, look elsewhere for your inspiration.
Ingredients (for 4 people)
- 4 chicken breasts
- 8 to 12 dried chilis
- 150 grammes of cashew nuts (not roasted and salted)
- 1 tablespoon of Schezwan peppercorns
- 3 cloves of garlic
- 3cm piece of root ginger
- A bunch of spring onions
- 1 tablespoon of dark soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons of light soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon of rice wine
- 1 level tablespoon and a teaspoon of corn flour (cornstarch)
- 2 tablespoons of peanut oil
Warning for the weak of mouth: The combination of the hot red chilis and the Schezwan peppercorns makes this a very hot, sweat running into your eyes, kind of dish (note the lack of anything sweet to counteract the spices). But, it’s very, very tasty. You have been warned.
There is a good deal of chopping to be done. I will illustrate some of it.
You also need to chop the ginger and garlic into small pieces. Slice the spring onions across the grain into pieces about 3 cm long.
Grind the Schezwan peppercorns up nice and fine.
Add the Schezwan peppercorns, tablespoon of corn flour, rice wine and one tablespoon of the light soy sauce to the chicken. Stir to incorporate.
Mix the remaining soy sauces, teaspoon of cornflour, garlic and ginger. Deseed and slice the chilis into small pieces (I sliced them into about six pieces per chili).
Get rid of the seeds. There is hot and there is torture. Let’s stay with “hot”.
Next, heat some peanut oil in a wok. Fry the cashew nuts until golden brown.
This happens fast. Don’t let them burn. Drain on kitchen paper. Heat the wok again (use the same peanut oil).
Stir the chicken again to ensure good coverage of spices etc. Add it in batches to the wok, being sure to not add too much at a time. This is to stop the temperature of the wok falling and to prevent you having stewed rather than stir-fried chicken.
When the chicken has turned a nice brownish colour, mix and add the sauce. This will thicken quite a bit. Add the chilis and the nuts. Stir well into the mixture and bring back to boiling. Stir it for a couple of minutes, to ensure the chicken is cooked.
Serve with some nice rice (Thai Fragrant is my favourite) and, if you want to be reasonably authentic, a glass of whiskey. No wine will stand up to the spice battering and beer only seems to make the heat worse.
Yes, the Chinese love a glass of whiskey with a celebration meal. This was well worth celebrating. I have to say I loved it. It is pretty hot and very flavoursome. It leaves the more Westernised, sweet and toned down versions in the shade.
Footnote on authenticity: I understand that in Schezwan, they would use thigh meat. I couldn’t get my hands on any the day I cooked this. They would also use peanuts rather than cashews. I failed to find any and resorted to the cashew. So, In two key ways, this “authentic” Eastern dish is leaning West. Sorry, but it was the best I could do!