Kung Pao Chicken

August 30, 2020

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An easy Kung Pao Chicken recipe that’s better than take-out and sure satisfy those cravings! It’s a seriously delicious dish made with tender chicken pieces coated in a flavorful, spicy sauce and it’s finished with rich crunchy peanuts.

White bowl filled with rice and kung pao chicken.

What is Kung Pao Chicken?

Kung Pao Chicken is a popular Chinese stir fry dish made up of chopped chicken, vegetables, peanuts and it’s all coated in a spicy sauce that’s lightly sweet, salty and tangy.

And I’d have to say this easy homemade version is definitely better than Panda Express or Pei Wei’s Kung Pao chicken! Homemade usually always wins right?

It’s a quick and tasty dinner that’s perfect for serving any day of the week. You can have it ready in 30 minutes or less!

Kung Pao Chicken in a large skillet.

Kung Pao Chicken Ingredients and Substitutes

  • Low-sodium soy sauce: If you don’t have low sodium just blend 4 tsp regular soy sauce with 2 tsp water.
  • Mirin: You can find this Japanese rice wine in the Asian section of most larger grocery stores. If needed you can substitute with sherry or marsala wine.
  • Cornstarch: This ingredient can assist in lock in moisture, helps sauce cling to the meat and it’s also use to thicken up the sauce. I don’t recommend substitutes here.
  • Chicken breasts: Chicken thighs work great here too. Use boneless skinless of either. Prep will be so much faster when you don’t have to remove it yourself.
  • Chinese black vinegar: Rice vinegar or even a not so sweet balsamic vinegar can replace it if needed.
  • Hoisin sauce: This pre-made sauce adds great background flavor to the dish, feel free to add more to taste.
  • Toasted sesame oil: I love this ingredient, it adds so much flavor. If you need try Perilla oil or unrefined peanut oil (using a little more as needed).
  • Water: Chicken broth works great too but since it’s such a small amount I don’t usually use it unless I’ve got leftover in the fridge.
  • Honey: Brown sugar is a good substitute.
  • Light olive oil: Of course vegetable oil is more authentic and works well too, olive oil is just a healthier option.
  • Red oriental chilies: This is where the heat comes in. You can also use red pepper flakes. I would use about 1 tsp – but keep in mind these ingredients are spicy.
  • Green onions: Yellow onion finely minced can be substituted. Just use 1/3 cup then skip the garnish.
  • Garlic: Fresh offers best flavor but if you need use 3/4 tsp dried.
  • Ginger: Again fresh is best but 1/2 tsp dried ground will work.
  • Dry roasted peanuts: Chopped cashews are another good option.

Keep scrolling down for full recipe with ingredient amounts and directions.

Image of ingredients used to make Kung Pao Chicken. Shows chicken, cornstarch, honey, sesame oil, mirin, vegetable oil, red chili peppers, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, peanuts, hoisin sauce, Chinese vinegar and green onions.

How to Make Kung Pao Chicken

  1. Marinate chicken: In a medium mixing bowl whisk together 1 Tbsp soy sauce and mirin with 1 1/2 tsp cornstarch. Add chicken and let rest 10 minutes at room temperature (or for several hours in the fridge).
  2. Make sauce: In a small mixing bowl stir together remaining 1 Tbsp soy sauce with remaining 1 1/2 tsp cornstarch. Add black vinegar, hoisin sauce, sesame oil, water or broth, and honey and whisk to blend well. Set aside.
  3. Cook chicken: Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken in a single layer and cook until no longer pink, about 1 1/2 – 2 minutes per side.
  4. Saute aromatics: Scoot to one side of the pan, add red chilies, white portion of green onions, garlic and ginger and saute 1 minute. Pour in sauce and cook and toss until thickened, about 1 minute.
  5. Garnish: Toss in green portion of green onions and peanuts. If needed season with salt (or more soy sauce), thin with a little more water if needed. Serve warm.

Collage of six images showing how to make Kung Pao sauce and cook thicken in skillet, then coat chicken and sauteed vegetables in skillet with sauce.

Variations

  • Include Sichuan pepper: If you want to make it even more authentic add 1/2 tsp ground Sichuan pepper. It’s harder to come by in the U.S. (which is why I’ve chosen not to include it here) but it adds an interesting, numbing kick to the chicken.
  • Add bell pepper: Another optional ingredient you could add is a chopped bell pepper. Saute it separately then add along at the end.
  • Make it mild: If you hate spicy food just omit the chilies or red pepper flakes.
  • Double up the sauce: If you like extra sauce to serve with rice then double up the sauce (all ingredients included in step 2).

Close up image of Kung Pao chicken in a large skillet shown from a side angle.

Kung Pao Chicken Frequently Ask Questions

What does it taste like? It has a well balanced flavor of salty savoriness, balanced with a light sweetness, that’s paired with and just enough tang and heat. The chili pepper and sesame oil taste is definitely a highlight.

Is it healthy? Yes this is a healthy option, especially when compared with other take-out style chicken recipes. No deep frying (so less fat) and there isn’t a lot of sugar.

Just watch how much soy sauce is added if you need to keep the sodium level down, and then you could serve with cauliflower rice for an added vegetable.

Is it gluten-free? As is no, because traditional soy sauce and hoisin sauce are is not gluten free. But you could substitute tamari and gluten-free hoisin sauce, and of course ensure all other ingredients are labeled gluten free.

What to serve with it? To keep it simple I usually just serve with steamed white or brown rice, and a steamed vegetable like broccoli or sautéed vegetables. Fried rice (without ham) is another tasty option.

Overhead image of white bowl filled with rice topped with kung pao chicken. Chop sticks are shown to the side.

More Take Out Style Favorites to Try

Kung Pao Chicken

An easy Kung Pao Chicken recipe that's sure to satisfy those cravings! It's made with tender chicken pieces coated in a flavorful, spicy sauce and it's finished with rich and crunchy peanuts.
Servings: 4
Prep15 minutes
Cook10 minutes
Ready in: 25 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce, divided, then more to taste
  • 1 Tbsp mirin
  • 3 tsp cornstarch, divided
  • 1 1/4 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp Chinese black vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp hoisin sauce
  • 1 1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 2 Tbsp water or low-sodium chicken broth, or a little more if needed
  • 1 Tbsp honey
  • 2 Tbsp light olive oil or vegetable oil
  • 10 dried red oriental chilies, halved and seeded (or 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes)*
  • 4 green onions, chopped, white and green portions separated
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced (1 Tbsp)
  • 2 tsp peeled and minced fresh ginger
  • 1/3 cup unsalted dry roasted peanuts, roughly chopped

Instructions

  • In a medium mixing bowl whisk together 1 Tbsp soy sauce and mirin with 1 1/2 tsp cornstarch. Add chicken and let rest 10 minutes at room temperature (or for several hours in the fridge).
  • In a small mixing bowl stir together remaining 1 Tbsp soy sauce with remaining 1 1/2 tsp cornstarch. Add black vinegar, hoisin sauce, sesame oil, water or broth, and honey and whisk to blend well. Set aside.
  • Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken in a single layer and cook until no longer pink, about 1 1/2 - 2 minutes per side.
  • Scoot chicken to one side of the pan, add red chilies, white portion of green onions, garlic and ginger and saute 1 minute. Pour in sauce and cook and toss until thickened, about 1 minute.
  • Toss in green portion of green onions and peanuts. If needed season with salt (or more soy sauce), thin with a little more water if needed. Serve warm.

Notes

*The peppers are spicy so if you don't like heat you can omit this ingredient. If you are using red pepper flakes you can add to taste.
Nutrition Facts
Kung Pao Chicken
Amount Per Serving
Calories 364 Calories from Fat 171
% Daily Value*
Fat 19g29%
Saturated Fat 3g19%
Cholesterol 91mg30%
Sodium 617mg27%
Potassium 677mg19%
Carbohydrates 15g5%
Fiber 2g8%
Sugar 8g9%
Protein 34g68%
Vitamin A 361IU7%
Vitamin C 5mg6%
Calcium 27mg3%
Iron 1mg6%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.