Kung Pao Chicken

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Ready for a delicious kung pao chicken stir fry made in less than 30 minutes? Sure you are! This recipe rivals any Chinese takeout with lean white meat and crisp vegetables tossed in a spicy sauce.

bowl of kung pao chicken and white rice
Table of Contents
  1. What is kung pao chicken?
  2. Chicken selection
  3. Marinate before cooking
  4. Make the kung pao sauce
  5. For a kick of heat
  6. Pan selection
  7. Cook the chicken first
  8. Stir-fry vegetables and aromatics
  9. Cooking the sauce
  10. Serve this with
  11. FAQ
  12. Kung Pao Chicken Recipe

This homemade version of kung pao chicken will have you ditching the takeout menu for good. This dish is for those who enjoy a spicy kick to their Chinese food. To achieve restaurant-quality results, it’s about getting organized for fast cooking in a fiery hot wok or large pan.

The sauce simmers with dried red chili peppers for the characteristic hot taste. The result is heat layers that leave a lingering spice while boosting the flavor. Combined with tender pieces of seared meat and fresh vegetables, it’s a tasty dish that you can make even when you’re short on time.

What is kung pao chicken?

A stir-fried Chinese-style dish that combines small pieces of chicken tossed in a spicy, sweet, and savory sauce. The chicken can be seasoned and cooked in a wok or coated and deep-fried for a crispy texture. It’s often served with vegetables and garnished with peanuts.

The dish originated in the Sichuan province in southwest China, known for its spicy cuisine. Due to its popularity, you can now find it on menus in Chinese restaurants worldwide.

pieces of chicken marinating in a red dish

Chicken selection

I use boneless skinless chicken breast cut them into even, 1-inch pieces. The small uniform size allows more surface areas to develop flavors while searing in the hot wok. A quicker cooking time also prevents the lean meat from drying out. If you prefer dark meat, use chicken thighs. They contain more fat, which you may need to trim off.

Marinate before cooking

Start by briefly marinating the chicken in umami-packed ingredients like soy sauce and sesame oil to enhance the savory taste of the chicken. Black pepper adds a hint of heat. However, use Sichuan peppercorns if you like a more tingling, numbing sensation. They add an exciting flavor dimension.

Using cornstarch gives the meat a velvety texture when stir-fried as it soaks up the sauce ingredients sp that it clings to the surface. You only need about 10 minutes since the chicken is cut into small pieces, exposing more surface area for marinating.

Recipe Resources

spatula moving small pieces of white meat chicken in a wok

Make the kung pao sauce

The base of this sauce is a combination of soy sauce and sesame oil for umami-flavored notes. Equal parts of honey and rice vinegar give a balanced sweet and tangy flavor. Whole dried chili peppers provide a spicy taste, while a cornstarch slurry helps thicken the sauce at the end of cooking.

For a kick of heat

Grab a bag of whole dried red chili peppers. You can find them in the Asian or Latin sections of the grocery store or specialty market. They won’t add any heat to the sauce until they are split open, exposing the spicy membrane loaded with capsaicin. 

You can shake out and discard the seeds for a milder taste, but leave some in for a hotter experience.

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

Pan selection

A wok with a circular base efficiently heats the bottom and sides of the pan, giving more area for searing the ingredients. Alternatively, you can use saute pan with sloped sides to make it easier to toss and stir the meat, vegetables, and sauce. The wok and oil must be very hot to get a good sear on the chicken and retain the vegetables’ crispness.

Cook the chicken first

Arrange the marinated chicken in the wok in one layer, then don’t move the pieces! Letting them sit for a few minutes in the hot oil develops a golden-brown crust, allowing them to release quickly from the pan’s surface. 

After the browning process adds a nice contrast in texture and flavor, move the pieces around and complete the cooking process. Stir-frying the chicken happens fast! About 4 minutes so that the lean white meat stays juicy.

pouring stir fry sauce into a wok

Stir-fry vegetables and aromatics

Chopped white onions and bell peppers add a nice earthy, sweetness, and crisp texture. Two essential ingredients in Chinese stir-fries are minced garlic and ginger. The moment the sulfurous allium hits the pan, the raw flavor mellows out and turns nuttier in taste. The ginger adds a strong pungency to the dish.

Add the split chilies into the wok after cooking the other vegetables. The fat in the pan helps to extract the fat-soluble flavors and spicy capsaicin.

Cooking the sauce

The pieces of cooked chicken and kung pao sauce simmer together. The heat helps to thicken the cornstarch slurry. Once you pour the slurry in, keep stirring to help the starches evenly distribute. It only takes about 1 minute to reduce the liquid into a glossy sauce that clings to the chicken. 

Before serving, I like to garnish with peanuts for crunch and sliced greens onions for a pop of green color and mild onion taste.

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

Serve this with

FAQ

Is kung pao chicken spicy?

Yes, it’s meant to be a spicy dish, although you can control the heat level when making it from scratch. The split dried chili peppers give most of the lingering heat, but you can add extra chili sauce or minced fresh chili peppers to crank up the spice level.

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. Additional alternatives include chili oil or chili sauce like sriracha or sambal oelek. Just make sure to give the base sauce a taste at the end of cooking to gauge how much extra heat is needed.

Is kung pao chicken healthy?

Stir-frying uses just enough oil to cook the meat and vegetables. The recipe uses lean white meat and fresh vegetables, considered a healthy combination. The sauce is balanced with soy sauce, honey, and vinegar. Enough to coat the chicken without being too heavy. I like to serve this with cauliflower rice or broccoli rice for a low-carb side dish.

close up photo of kung pao chicken cooking in a wok

How to maximize the spicy factor

Whole 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 most spicy capsaicin resides. When the chilies are sauteed with oil and vegetables, the spice molecules disperse, enhancing the dish’s heat level.

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Kung Pao Chicken

No need to order Chinese takeout, this delicious kung pao chicken stir fry is made in less than 30 minutes and tastes much better at home.
Pin Print Review
4.43 from 84 votes
Prep Time15 mins
Cook Time10 mins
Total Time25 mins
Servings 4 people
Course Entree
Cuisine Chinese

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ pound 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, plus 2 teaspoons, divided
  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup diced white onion, ¾-inch dice
  • 1 cup green bell pepper, ¾-inch dice
  • 1 cup red bell pepper, ¾-inch dice
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 8 pieces dried red chilies, cut in half, seeds removed
  • 2 tablespoons roasted peanuts
  • 1 tablespoon sliced green onions

Instructions 

  • Marinate the chicken – In a medium bowl, combine diced chicken, 1 ½ teaspoon cornstarch, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 teaspoons sesame oil, and black pepper. Set aside while preparing the other ingredients.
  • Stir fry sauce – Whisk in a medium bowl, 3 tablespoons water, 3 tablespoons soy sauce, rice vinegar, honey, and 1 tablespoon sesame oil. Set aside.
  • Cornstarch slurry – Whisk in a small bowl, 1 teaspoon cornstarch, and 2 teaspoons water. Set aside.
  • Heat a wok or large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add vegetable oil. Once hot, add the marinated chicken to the pan in a single layer. Cook without moving for 2 minutes. Stir and cook until no longer pink, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a clean bowl.
  • Turn the heat down to medium and add the onions, stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the bell peppers, 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 and allow it to heat and bubble, 1 to 2 minutes.
  • Mix the cornstarch slurry and then gradually add it to the pan, stirring to combine. Stir and cook until the sauce thickens, about 1 minute.
  • Garnish with peanuts and green onions. Serve warm.

Recipe Video

Equipment

Notes

  • ​​Serving Size: 1 ½ cup
  • Spice Level: Add some of the dried red chilies seeds to increase the heat. Alternatively, add ¼ teaspoon of chili oil or chili sauce like sriracha or sambal oelek at the end of cooking. Adjust to your tolerance.
  • Storing: Cool completely and store in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Cover and reheat in the microwave in 30-second intervals until hot.
  • Make it Gluten-Free: Use gluten-free tamari or coconut aminos instead of soy sauce.

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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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Reader Interactions

34 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Jaida says

    Hey Jessica 🙂

    Do you know roughly how big a serving size would be in cups? (I.e., 1/2 c = one serving, etc?)

    Your food is delicious by the way ^^ This recipe is one of my personal favourites that got me through my first semester away from home at uni. I usually omit the chicken for tofu (to please my vegetarian soul) and it is equally delicious <3

    Thanks Jessica and keep up the good work!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Jaida! I’m so happy to hear that you are doing well at college and cooking for yourself! I would that the recipe makes about 6 cups of kung pao chicken. So 1 cup for a smaller serving, about 1.5 cups for a larger portion. Good luck in school!

  2. Linda-Marie says

    I made this for dinner tonight. It was AMAZING! This is now in our weekly dinner rotation! If I wanted to make this as a Kung Pao Shrimp dish, would I do the same thing — browning the shrimp first and then adding it back in at the end? I’m seeing Kung Pao dinner varieties in my future! I have never made an Asian dish in my life. This was the first and you made it so easy. I’m looking forward to trying more of your recipes! Your Pan-Fried Pork Chops with Garlic Butter are on-deck for tomorrow night. Thank you. You’re wonderful!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Thank you for your feedback Linda-Marie! Yes, I would cook the shrimp first and then add back. You may need a little shorter cooking time because the shrimp will cook fast, and then you briefly reheat. Try about a minute per side.

  3. Amanda says

    Wow! This dish was amazing. The ginger and sesame oil really give this dish the most wonderful touch. This is the first Asian inspired recipe that I’ve tried that has turned out better than takeout.

    This is also the second recipe I’ve tried if yours that has been a huge hit! I’m a huge fan of your cooking style.

  4. Eileen says

    Made this this yesterday for a cold winters night was absolutely delicious no more take out on this dish for me! Can it be frozen?

  5. Linda-Marie says

    Oh my goodness! This recipe is amazing! We’ve missed being able to go out for Chinese food, and this recipe tastes better than Take Out! I’ve made this 3 or 4 times already and my husband and I LOVE it! I customize a few things for us… My husband prefers chicken thighs to chicken breasts, so I make a straight substitution for a slightly different flavor. I use fresh ginger, but decrease the amount (…just flavor preference). I also use a little extra corn starch slurry for a little thicker sauce. I taste the sauces along the way to adjust throughout the cooking process for that perfect flavor. I serve it with brown rice, and it’s so delicious… a true comfort food! The prep takes me a bit of time. If I’m working from home, sometimes I prep the veggies a little at time and when it’s time to cook, I just toss it all together! Jessica. Thank you so much for this recipe!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      You’re a wok star Linda-Marie! I love your substitutions and sides. That’s wonderful that you are able to prep ahead of time so it makes it quick to cook when you’re ready to eat.

  6. Caroline Gapit says

    This recipe for Kung Pao Chicken is so easy to make I love it and it’s my favorite dish and I would definitely make this dish again and again cause it’s that so good 👍👍👍

  7. Soner Ali says

    Delicious would like more gravy next time.
    Was thinking of doubling up on all the sauce and slurry ingredients, would the flavour be to strong for the same amount of chicken.
    Thanks.

  8. 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.

  9. Michael Salcido says

    Jessica,
    Your Kung Pao recipe was a hit in my family. I thought I made enough for left overs and I was wrong. My wife insists this needs to be a once a week dish.

    I mentioned the version with shrimp and she is excited to have me prepare that dish. Your instructions are amazing easy to follow.

    Looking forward to exploring more of your dishes!!

  10. Suzanne says

    Hi Jessica; I appreciate your style and recipes as they are yummy. Can you confirm that you would NOT eat the dried red chiles; only use for flavor?
    Thanks so much; Suzanne

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Suzanne- It’s possible to eat the dried chilies, but they are quite large in size and very hot. Unless you love super spicy food, I usually just stir-fry it to make the sauce spicy, but skip eating the whole chili.

  11. Maureen Dwyer says

    Crazy question, but do you think I could make the dish right up until adding the sauce and freeze the results? Then I could defrost, rewarm and add the sauce and serve. I like having freezer ready dishes available for those nights when I have no energy for cooking but love eating.

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