I love Kung Pao chicken. This Chinese classic was [and still is] my mom’s favorite order. I wanted to create this at home tonight, because I have not found a place in Houston that makes it as good as the local Beaverton, OR restaurant my family would order it from growing up. I took inspiration from one of my favorite chefs, Martin Yen. If you’ve never seen Chef Yen break down a chicken… click the link and buckle your seatbelt! I took a look at his Kung Pao Recipe and adapted it to match the tastes I remember from going out with my family.
Here is my version:
Ingredients (mostly pictured):
(5) Chicken Thighs boned, skinned, and trimmed of excess fat.
(10) Dried "Jap Peppers" or whole italian style peppers (the ones that are crushed up on pizza)
3/4 Cup Peanuts, toasted.
2 tblspn Sambal Garlic Chili paste.
3 tblspn Oyster Sauce.
3 tblspn Hoisin sauce.
2 tblspn soy sauce.
2 tblspn corn starch.
3 tblspn grapeseed oil.
(5) Garlic cloves, peeled, sliced thin.
1 bunch Green Onions.
1 handful cilantro leaves.
1 head lettuce (your favorite variety– boston, buttercup, red leaf).
juice of 1/2 lime.
If you don’t have a rice cooker, do yourself a favor and buy one! For about $30 bucks, you can find one that seals (the kind where the lid just sits on top of the pot are useless — get one where the lid sort of clamps down over the heating aparatus) In fact, as fast as Amazon is at shipping, you should probably just go to your local Target or Costco and buy one over the counter… what are you waiting for?! You can also use rice cookers to make pasta, keep soups warm, boil potatoes… and make rice. The only excuse to not have a rice cooker is that you have limited space and already have an electric pressure cooker. Seriously, I don’t even know how to make rice without either of these!
First, make rice. Here’s my method… I don’t ever measure rice. I use some type of scoop (usually a coffee mug) to transfer rice from my 25 pound bag into the bowl of my rice cooker.
Unless I’m extremely lazy (or sometimes drunk) I rinse my rice. This removes excess starch and results in a slightly fluffier rice — not "Uncle Ben’s" fluffy… don’t even get me started on that crap, it’s not even real rice — but just "kinda fluffy". The first dose of water you add to the rice (and swish around with your hand) will look like this:
Cloudy huh? Drain this off, add fresh water, swish around, and repeat… How many times? It depends on your rice. Three to five repetitions is a good rule of thumb. You will know your rice is sufficiently removed of excess starch when you add water, swish around and it looks like this:
Drain off this last installment of rinse water and add the actual water you will cook the rice in. You could also use chicken/vegetable/beef stock at this point, but that wouldn’t be very Asian. (It could be delicious, but not very Asian and not really good for this application).
Back to adding the water… how much to add? ONE FINGER’S WORTH. This is some Asian rice science that I cannot explain. No matter what the size of your vessel, no matter how much rice you are cooking, you just put water up to the first "digit" of your index finger and it makes perfect rice…perfect. I don’t even think the size of your finger matters… your rice cooker just somehow knows!
From here, season the water liberally with salt, and follow the directions that came with your rice cooker (close the lid, press "cook") Your perfect rice should be done in about 40 minutes. Let the rice "rest" for at least 5 minutes (20 would be better) after your cooker beeps signifying that your rice is cooked.
One important note about rice cookers- YOU MUST NOT OPEN THE LID BEFORE THE BEEP… your rice will be all jacked up if you do, just let your cooker do it’s thing:)
While the rice is cooking- prepare the mise en place for the chicken. Mise en place – French for "Everything in its place" is important to cooking, but CRITICAL to Asian stir-frying. Because of the high temperature that woks cook at, having everything sliced, diced, and ready to go is ultra important because you won’t have time to multi task.
Here is the Mise for Chicken Kung Pao.
Cooking is fun right, and what’s more fun than kitchen snacks? But seriously, let’s talk knife maintenence for a moment. I take a few minutes to hone my blades before every use and you should too… a sharp knife is a safe knife! Some basic knife skills [towards the end of the video] will keep you from needing a medic!
Now, let’s get to work…
Green onions, sliced thin.
Toast the peanuts in a dry pan until they smell peanut-y.
Skin, bone, and trim the chicken thighs (I saved the legs for my upcoming gumbo next week). Also, be sure to save the skin so you can meat glue it to something later. I keep a freezer bag with chicken bones and trimmings so I can make stock… I suggest you do too!
Slice and dice… about 1/2" dice.
And here is the completed Mise en Place:
In a cold Wok, add the grapeseed oil, dried chilies, and sliced garlic. Heat over medium heat to infuse the oil… This will allow chili-garlic flavor to run throughout the entire stir-fry… a really simple flavor enhancing technique.
Just before the garlic browns, and when you smell pungent chili-garlic smell, remove the garlic and chilies… reserve them for later.
Increase the heat to HIGH… Actually, if you have the time, Wok-ing over a Propane Barbecue burner would be even better… It’s about the closest thing that most homes have to the BTU’s of a wok burner that is found in the kitchens of a Chinese restaurant.
Add the corn starch to the diced chicken and mix thoroughly to coat. This will help create a light crust on the chicken and also slightly thicken the final sauce.
When the chicken is 3/4 cooked, add about half of the green onions.
Then the oyster sauce.
And the Sambal.
and the Hoisin sauce. Having prepared that mise is coming in pretty handy, huh?
Stir everything to combine, and continue to cook over high heat to reduce. Keep stirring so that the sauce dosen’t burn on the bottom of the wok… that would be bad. Once the sauce evenly coats the chicken, add the dried chilies and garlic slices (the ones you sautéed earlier to flavor the oil) back to the party.
*One time, my dad suggested that I eat one of these dried chilies… being about 7 years old, I took his advice… that experience sucked. I then guzzled down a couple of gallons of water (which was the wrong thing to do — water just spreads the Capsaicin making your whole mouth and throat burn). Those little suckers are pretty hot for a seven year old… Dairy is the answer to hot food… or not eating those F@#$ing dried chilies.
Add the rest of the green onions, toasted peanuts, and the lime juice… lime juice isn’t really traditional but I like how a splash of acid at the end of cooking wakes up all of the flavors, making them brighter and fresher. Stir everything to combine.
Plate your Kung Pao up with your perfectly cooked rice and enjoy your "better than take out meal"!
Or you could lighten everything up and make lettuce wraps… I don’t care what ANYONE says, deconstructed food is fun:)