Kung Pao Chicken

Kung Pao Chicken
Photo: David Malosh
Total Time:
45 mins

Not all stir-fries use high heat; this Szechuan-inspired recipe calls for more of a steam-sauté in a covered pan to keep the chicken breast meat from becoming stringy as you cook this 45-minute chicken and peanuts entrée. It has a kick from charred dried chiles, the tingle of Sichuan peppercorns, and a light coating of a subtle sweet-sour sauce.


  • ½ cup unsalted raw peanuts

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, preferably peanut

  • 5 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce

  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch

  • 4 teaspoons Chinese rice wine (Shaoxing) or sherry vinegar

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken-breast halves (1 ¼ pounds total), cut into ¾-inch pieces

  • 4 teaspoons Chinese black vinegar or sherry vinegar

  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil

  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar

  • 2 teaspoons Szechuan peppercorns, coarsely crushed in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle

  • 15 small dried chiles (about ¼ cup), such as Szechuan or árbol, broken in half, stems and seeds removed

  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (from 3 cloves)

  • 2 celery stalks, sliced on the bias into ¼-inch-thick pieces (⅔ cup)

  • 4 scallions, sliced into scant ½-inch-thick pieces (⅔ cup)

  • Cooked white rice, such as jasmine, for serving


  1. Heat a large cast-iron or non-stick skillet or wok over medium. Add peanuts and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil; cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and golden brown in places, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

  2. In a bowl, whisk together 3 tablespoons soy sauce, cornstarch, and rice wine. Stir in chicken; let stand 5 minutes. Meanwhile, combine black vinegar, remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce, sesame oil, and brown sugar in a small bowl, stirring until sugar is dissolved.

  3. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in skillet over medium-high. Add peppercorns and chiles; cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant and chiles are blistering in places, about 1 minute. Stir in garlic; cook 30 seconds. Stir in chicken mixture, spreading in an even layer to edges of skillet. Cover, reduce heat to medium, and cook, undisturbed, until chicken is beginning to turn golden on bottoms but is not cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes.

  4. Stir in vinegar-soy mixture and celery. Increase heat to medium-high and cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, until chicken is just cooked through and liquid thickens enough to become glossy and evenly coat, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in toasted peanuts and scallions, and serve with rice.

Cook's Notes

Toasted raw peanuts have a meatier texture than store-bought roasted ones.

Szechuan peppercorns are available in Asian markets and many grocery-store spice aisles. There is no substitute that perfectly mimics their distinct flavor and the subtle tingling, numbing sensation they elicit, but if you can't find them, a tablespoon of coarsely crushed black peppercorns can be used instead.

The handful of dried chiles may seem like a lot, but they're here to suffuse the whole dish with a warm heat. For a less spicy dish, reduce the number to 10. While they're technically edible, we recommend parking them on the side of your plate.

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