Kung Pao Chicken

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Kung pao chicken with bell peppers, onions, lean white meat, and a spicy sauce that rivals authentic Chinese takeout! The best part, this quick stir fry meal is ready in just 20 minutes.

bowl of kung pao chicken and white rice

This homemade version of kung pao chicken will have you ditching the takeout menu for good. Making Chinese dishes with restaurant quality taste is not as hard as it may seem. The trick to fast food with top-notch taste is to use a fiery hot wok or large pan to do the work.

In this stir fry recipe, chicken becomes golden brown in the pan developing extra flavor on the surface. Dried red chili peppers add in layers of heat that builds and boosts the taste. You’re in for a treat, ready to get cooking?

spatula moving small pieces of white meat chicken in a wok

How do you make authentic kung pao chicken?

  • Marinate the chicken
  • Use a wok (or large pan) to brown the chicken surface
  • Set aside chicken
  • Stir-fry the vegetables and red chili peppers
  • Add back chicken and simmer with liquid ingredients
  • Add cornstarch slurry until the sauce thickens
  • Garnish with peanuts and green onions

I like to serve this dish on a bed of steamed white rice, or cauliflower rice is a fantastic low carb vegetable-packed option.

pieces of bell peppers and dried red chili peppers sauteing in a wok

What adds the heat to kung pao chicken?

Whole dried red chili peppers take the heat of kung pao chicken to the next level. The chilies are split open, seeds removed and then stir-fried in with the chicken and vegetables. You can get dried red chili peppers in the Latin section of the grocery store or specialty market.

What sauce is used in kung pao chicken?

The base of this sauce is a combination of soy sauce and sesame oil for umami notes. Honey then adds a touch of sweetness and rice vinegar a bit of tanginess. A cornstarch slurry helps to thicken the sauce, make sure to keep stirring when adding to help the starches evenly distribute.

cornstarch slurry being poured into a wok filled with kung pao chicken

What can I substitute for dried red chili peppers?

Dried chili flakes are a good substitute for red chili peppers. Start by adding ¼ teaspoon, and gradually increase to your tolerance level. If you want the dish even spicier, add some chili oil, or chili sauce like sriracha. Just make sure to give the base sauce a taste at the end of cooking to gauge how much extra heat is needed.

Chili lovers will love this dish! However, the good news is you can control the level of spiciness to your liking. I know that I’m a wimp when it comes to fiery hot foods, so next time I might use half the amount of chili peppers that the recipe calls for.

close up photo of kung pao chicken cooking in a wok

More Chinese recipes

How to maximize the spiciness of the dish

Dried red chili peppers are used because the flavors are more concentrated and complex compared to fresh chilies. The chilies are split in half to expose the flesh and seeds where the majority of spicy capsaicin resides. When the chilies are sauteed with oil and vegetables, the spice molecules disperse which enhances the heat level of the dish.

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Kung Pao Chicken

Kung pao chicken recipe with bell peppers, onions, lean white meat, and a spicy sauce that rivals authentic Chinese takeout!
Pin Print Review
4.13 from 63 votes
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time10 mins
Total Time25 mins
Servings 4 people
Course Entree
Cuisine Chinese

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ pounds boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 ½ teaspoons cornstarch, divided
  • 5 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
  • 5 teaspoons sesame oil, divided
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup diced white onion, ¾-inch dice
  • 2 cups diced bell pepper, red and green, ¾-inch dice
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 8 pieces dried red chilies, cut in half and seeds removed
  • 2 tablespoons roasted peanuts
  • 1 tablespoon thinly sliced green onions

Instructions 

  • Add diced chicken, 1 ½ teaspoons cornstarch, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 teaspoons sesame oil, and black pepper to a medium-sized bowl, mix to combine. Allow chicken to marinate while preparing the other ingredients.
  • To make the sauce, whisk together 3 tablespoons water, 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 3 tablespoons rice vinegar, 3 tablespoons honey, and 1 tablespoon sesame oil in a medium-sized bowl.
  • Make a cornstarch slurry by whisking together 1 teaspoon cornstarch and 2 teaspoons water. 
  • Heat a wok or large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add vegetable oil, once the oil is hot add the marinated chicken in a single layer in the pan.
  • Allow it to cook without moving for 2 minutes. Stir and cook for 2 minutes then transfer to a clean bowl.
  • Turn heat down to medium and add the onions, stir-fry for 1 minute.
  • Add the bell peppers and stir-fry for 1 minute.
  • Add the garlic, ginger, and chili peppers, and cook for 1 minute.
  • Add the chicken back to the pan. Add the sauce to the pan and allow to heat and bubble, 1 to 2 minutes. 
  • Mix the cornstarch slurry and then gradually add to the pan, stirring to combine. Stir and cook until the sauce is thickened, 1 minute.
  • Garnish with peanuts and green onions.

Recipe Video

Equipment

Notes

Serving Size: 1 cup (smaller portion, 6 servings), 1 1/2 cups (larger portion, 4 servings).

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Nutrition Facts
Kung Pao Chicken
Amount Per Serving
Calories 412 Calories from Fat 162
% Daily Value*
Fat 18g28%
Saturated Fat 7g35%
Cholesterol 108mg36%
Sodium 1479mg62%
Potassium 774mg22%
Carbohydrates 20g7%
Fiber 1g4%
Sugar 15g17%
Protein 40g80%
Vitamin A 50IU1%
Vitamin C 5mg6%
Calcium 27mg3%
Iron 1.4mg8%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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29 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Maria says

    Made this for dinner last night. It was delicious. Husband approved. It’s going in a binder. Can see making variations using the same sauce and omitting and adding. I’m so glad I invested in a carbon steel wok because I’ve used it a lot.

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