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Kung Pao Chicken

Our Kung Pao chicken recipe swaps in cashews for the traditional peanuts, and gets extra balance from some added veggies. All the spicy Kung Pao goodness that you crave, no day-after regrets.


kung pao chicken in a cast iron skillet with cashews and bell peppers

What is Kung Pao Chicken

Kung Pao chicken is so popular here in the U.S., it’d be tempting to assume that it’s a Chinese-American dish, but in fact this spicy Chinese chicken stir-fry is an authentic Sichuan dish. Preparations vary widely, but some version of this dish has existed since at least the late 19th century. At its core, Kung Pao chicken is a simple dish of chicken breast, cut up and stir-fried in “Kung Pao sauce”, primarily flavored with soy sauce, vinegar and a bit of sugar.

ingredients for kung pao chicken in small bowls

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What's in Kung Pao Chicken?

In Sichuan province—and in many Chinese restaurants here in America—this simple chicken stir-fry would get its unique and powerful spicy heat from a handful of Sichuan (also spelled Szechuan) peppercorns. We’re calling for dried chilies instead, because they’re easier to find. Not only did we want our version of Kung Pao chicken to be easy, we also wanted to opt for healthy Kung Pao chicken ingredients when possible. A little less oil that they’d use in a restaurant (actually, probably a LOT less) and a few extra veggies. Here’s what’s in our Kung Pao chicken recipe:

  • Boneless skinless chicken breast
  • Soy sauce (or tamari)
  • Vinegar (rice vinegar or sherry vinegar)
  • Cornstarch
  • Granulated sugar
  • Toasted sesame oil
  • Red & green bell peppers
  • Green onions
  • Cashews
  • Dried red chili peppers
  • Fresh garlic & ginger
raw chicken breast in a glass bowl with a kung pao marinade
chicken cooked in a cast iron skillet for kung pao chicken
red and green bell peppers in a cast iron skillet
bell peppers, green onions, cashews, and herbs in a cast iron skillet for kung pao chicken
bell peppers with onions and cashews with kung pao sauce in a cast iron skillet
kung pao chicken in a cast iron skillet

How to Make Kung Pao Chicken

Some Kung Pao chicken recipes require you to marinate the chicken in the Kung Pao sauce before stir-frying, but we wanted this easy Kung Pao chicken recipe to be one that you can turn to on even the busiest weeknight, so we skipped that step and found that the resulting dish was no less tasty. Here’s how to make our quick, easy Kung Pao chicken stir-fry:

  1. Make the Kung Pao sauce: mix the soy sauce, vinegar and sugar in a bowl. (yeah, it’s that simple.)
  2. Prep the chicken! Cut the boneless, skinless chicken breast into uniform strips. This is a little easier to do if your chicken is slightly frozen. Then, toss it in a little soy sauce and cornstarch to coat.
  3. Cook the chicken until crispy! Working in batches so as not to overcrowd the pan, stir-fry the chicken pieces in sesame oil until they're cooked through and gorgeously crispy.
  4. Stir-fry! Stir-fry the bell peppers until they're a little soft. Then add the scallions, cashews, ginger, garlic, and dried chili peppers. Stir fry all of that for a minute or two, and then stir in the Kung Pao sauce and cooked chicken.
  5. Simmer. Let all of the flavors meld over the heat for a few more minutes. The Kung Pao sauce will thicken slightly and really coat the veggies and chicken, which is what you want.
  6. Serve! We love to serve this over steaming bowls of white or brown rice.
kung pao chicken

Tools You’ll Need:

kung pao chicken over white rice on a plate with chop sticks

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New Favorite?

Quick, easy, and saves time and money—we hope you’re as into this Kung Pao recipe as we are! Snap a photo of your stir-fried Kung Pao chicken and tag us on Instagram using @themodernproperand #themodernproper so we can celebrate your cooking victories! Happy eating!

kung pao chicken in a cast iron skillet

Kung Pao Chicken

  • Serves: 6
  • Prep Time:  20 min
  • Cook Time:  30 min
  • Calories: 405


  • ½ cup low-sodium soy sauce or tamari
  • ⅓ cup rice vinegar or sherry vinegar
  • 1½ tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thinly sliced
  • 2½ tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 bunch green onions, white and green parts, cut into 3-inch pieces
  • ½ cup raw cashews or peanuts
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 10 dried red chili peppers, cut in half or ¼ teaspoon chili flakes
  • Cooked rice, for serving (optional)


  1. In a small bowl, combine ¼ cup of the soy sauce, vinegar, and sugar, set aside.

  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the remaining ¼ cup of soy sauce and cornstarch, until smooth. Add the chicken and toss to coat.

  3. Heat 1½ tablespoon sesame oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil is glistening, working in batches, cook the chicken, stirring, until lightly browned, on both sides, about 8 minutes total per batch. Transfer the chicken to a plate.

  4. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon sesame oil in the same skillet over medium heat. Once the oil is glistening, add the bell peppers and cook, stirring, until they begin to soften, about 4 minutes. Add the green onions, cashews, ginger, garlic, and dried chili peppers, cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes more.

  5. Return the chicken to the skillet, add the sauce and stir to combine. Bring the sauce to a simmer, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 2-3 minutes.

  6. Serve over rice.

Nutrition Info

  • Per Serving
  • Amount
  • Calories405
  • Protein39 g
  • Carbohydrates18 g
  • Total Fat16 g
  • Dietary Fiber2 g
  • Cholesterol87 mg
  • sodium818 mg
  • Total Sugars9 g

Kung Pao Chicken

Questions & Reviews

Join the discussion below.

  • Sue

    Hi. Can't wait to make this - the crispy chicken with blistered green beans eas awesome.
    For the Kung Pau are the nuts salted or unsalted? Also, I just happen to have Sichuan peppercorns - how much would be spicy but not kill me spicy?

    Either salted or unsalted nuts will be fine. We used unsalted. We don't use Sichuan peppercorns in our recipe but maybe just use 1/4 - 1/2 tsp? I'd say start small first time using them so try 1/4 tsp. Hope you enjoy Sue!

  • James R Delaney

    Shouldn't this recipe include Szechuan peppercorns for authentic Kung Pao?

    We don't include them in o ur recipe but you can definitely add them in if you prefer! Hope you enjoy James!



    Can I substitute arrowroot powder for the cornstarch? If so, do I have to double the measurement?


    Yes, that should be fine Anna! We haven't tried it with arrowroot but it usually is recommended to double the amount when subbing for corn starch for the same results. Hope you enjoy!

  • K. Romano

    Haven’t made yet. For less heat could you sub jalapeño w/o seeds?

    Absolutely, or you can just leave out the dried red chili peppers. Hope you enjoy!

  • CHUI

    is it white or black rice vinegar?

    Hi Chui, white rice vinegar. Hope you enjoy!

  • Joan J

    Turned out great!

    Thanks Joan!

  • Sandra

    It was awesome! My 17 year old son had 3 helpings.

    Love that! Glad you enjoyed it, thanks Sandra!

  • Hollie Monson-Haefel

    tastes like chicken :)

    haha! Thanks Hollie!

  • Olive

    I think this is a nice straightforward recipe to use as a guide. I cut back on the sugar. I added white pepper to the chicken, and 1-2 tablespoons oyster sauce at the end. Next time I will dig those Szechuan peppercorns out of the pantry per James’ comment. I am really pleased with the flavor. Thank you for the recipe.

  • Sue

    So good. As good as take-out! I followed the recipe exactly as presented. Very easy. Next time, I will omit the cornstarch as it made a bit of a mess and didn't seem to be necessary. Thank you for this, and all of your great recipes. I am a big fan!

    Thanks so much Sue, we are so happy you loved this chicken!