Roasted peanuts, ginger, garlic, and spicy red chilies give this easy kung pao chicken a kick that makes it quite unique.
Kung Pao chicken is savory and sweet with as much spiciness as you might desire. The peanuts provide an additional nutty flavor that really brings it all together.
My husband and kids devoured their servings, peppers and all. I simply left the peppers on my plate and the stir fry was the perfect level of heat for my taste.
I found this recipe for the best-ever kung pao chicken over ten years ago and it’s been a family favorite for all of these years. I’ve learned to double this recipe since I first started making it.
The recipe below is already doubled from the original. If you’ve made it in the past and prefer a smaller recipe, use the slider in the recipe card to reduce the serving size to 3.
Easy Kung Pao Chicken
My favorite flavors these days are found in Asian foods and I am always looking for more stir fry ideas. I never can resist the ready-made freezer meals at Trader Joe’s and their Kung Pao Chicken and Orange Chicken have both been staples in our freezer for many years.
That said, it was well past time for me to try my hand at authentic kung pao chicken, so I was thrilled to find this easy recipe. While the ingredient list is a little long at first glance, like most stir-fry recipes the dish comes together very quickly.
The ingredients in this recipe may be a little different from what you’re used to, but they are all very easy to find in an Asian market or online. I typically shop in the stores (because I love to see the variety in person!) but if there isn’t a nearby option or if you want a visual before shopping, I’ve linked to a few similar products here.
Kung Pao Chicken Ingredients
There are several ingredients in Kung Pao Chicken that are adaptable to what you might have on hand. Black soy sauce is thick and almost syrupy and just the teaspoon of it in this recipe does make a difference. However, I’ve made this without it when I didn’t have it on hand, and it is still delicious with regular soy sauce.
I don’t typically use Chinese black vinegar, because with only ¼ teaspoon in the recipe, it isn’t something I’m likely to purchase just for this recipe. I use balsamic vinegar, which is the recommended substitution and it works great.
Kung Pao Sauce
There are two parts to the sauce that makes up a Kung Pao stir fry. First, you’ll marinate the chicken in a combination of rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, and oil.
When you’re ready to cook the chicken, you’ll need the following ingredients for the sauce:
- low sodium soy sauce
- dark or black soy sauce (see note above)
- Chinese black vinegar or balsamic vinegar
What Peppers Are Used in Kung Pao Chicken?
The dried red chiles used here are very small, about one inch in size. (Don’t mistake them for the dried Mexican red chiles used here.) My preference here is dried Thai chili peppers and they tend to be very spicy.
I’ve also used these dried Szechuan Chinese red chili peppers. They are significantly milder and the resulting dish will have no noticeable heat at all. It boils down to personal preference here.
Is Kung Pao Chicken Spicy?
The spiciness of Kung Pao Chicken is in your hands now. While the peppers can be spicy at times, the recipe is easily adapted for more or less heat.
My family enjoys a good bit of heat, so when I can find them, Thai chili peppers are my first choice. Both ways of making this kung pao chicken are delicious and we never have any leftovers.
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Servings: 6 servings
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Chicken Marinade Instructions
Place the chicken in a bowl and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch. Toss to coat. Add the remaining marinade ingredients: rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, and olive oil. Toss again to coat. Place the chicken in the fridge to rest for at least 30 minutes.
While the chicken is marinating, whisk together the sauce ingredients: tablespoons soy sauce, dark soy sauce, sugar, balsamic vinegar, water, and cornstarch. Set aside next to the stove.
Stir Fry Instructions
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook until lightly browned and almost cooked through, about 3 minutes. Stir occasionally while the chicken is cooking. Remove the chicken to a bowl and add the remaining the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to the skillet.
Add the ginger and garlic to the pan and stir to coat. Add the chilies and stir fry until they are aromatic, about 2 minutes.
Add the chicken back to the skillet, along with the peanuts. Add the sauce and toss to coat. Stir until the chicken is well-coated.
Cook for 1-2 minutes to slightly reduce the sauce, adding 1-2 tablespoons of water only if needed to help scrape up the tasty browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the green onions, stir to combine, and serve warm.
I’ve learned to double this recipe since I first started making it. (The recipe below is already doubled from the original.) If you’ve made it in the past and prefer a smaller recipe, use the slider in the recipe card to reduce the serving size to 3.
Calories: 391kcal · Carbohydrates: 8g · Protein: 44g · Fat: 20g · Saturated Fat: 3g · Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g · Monounsaturated Fat: 11g · Trans Fat: 0.02g · Cholesterol: 121mg · Sodium: 665mg · Potassium: 846mg · Fiber: 1g · Sugar: 2g · Vitamin A: 117IU · Vitamin C: 5mg · Calcium: 32mg · Iron: 1mg
originally published 12/19/12 – recipe notes and photos updated 5/1/23
recipe adapted from and with thanks to Rasa Malaysia (This is an awesome website full of easy authentic Chinese recipes. Check it out!)