Kung Pao Chicken

cast iron skillet of kung pao chicken
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It was time for everyone’s favorite Chinese restaurant staple to get a home-cooked upgrade—our Kung Pao chicken recipe swaps in cashews for the traditional peanuts, and gets extra balance from a few extra veggies, too. All the spicy, lightly sweet-sour Kung Pao chicken goodness that you crave, with none of the day-after regrets. 

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

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

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

Other Take-Out Copycat Recipes! 

Yeah, getting take-out is pretty easy. But staying home and cooking in your PJs is even easier. 

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

Ingredients

2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breast, thinly sliced (about 3 chicken breasts)
1/4 cup soy sauce (or tamari)
2 tbsp cornstarch
3 tbsp sesame oil
1 red bell pepper, cubed
1 green bell pepper, cubed
1 bunch green onions, white and green parts, cut into 3" pieces
1 cup cashews (or peanuts)
10 dried red chili peppers, cut in half to release their heat
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 tbsp fresh ginger, minced or grated

Kung Pao Sauce

1/4 cup soy sauce (or tamari)
1/3 cup rice vinegar (or sherry vinegar)
2 tbsp sugar

Method

  1. Make the Kung Pao sauce: combine 1/4 cup of soy sauce, rice or sherry vinegar and sugar in a bowl. Stir to combine and set aside.
  2. Combine the remaining 1/4 cup of soy sauce or (tamari) with cornstarch in a large bowl and whisk until the mixture is smooth and uniform. Toss chicken breast pieces in the soy sauce-cornstarch mixture to coat and set aside.
  3. In a large skillet, heat the sesame oil over high heat. Working in batches so as not to overcrowd the pan, stir-fry the chicken pieces until lightly browned and cooked through—about 3-4 minutes total. Remove the chicken from the pan and set it aside.
  4. Once all of the chicken is cooked, use the same skillet to finish the dish. Heat one tablespoon of sesame oil over medium heat. When the pan is hot, stir-fry the bell peppers for about four minutes, until they begin to soften. Add the green onions, cashews, ginger, garlic, and dried chili peppers. Stir-fry the vegetables for two minutes before adding the Kung Pao sauce and the cooked chicken breast. Bring the pan to a simmer, and cook until the sauce has thickened— about 2 minutes. Serve over white or brown rice. Enjoy!

This recipe is dairy-free, kid-friendly and comes together in 30 minutes or less!