Whenever I want to test a new Chinese restaurant, I always order their Kung Pao Chicken. That determines if I'll be going back to that place again or not. It is my all-time favorite asian stir-fry dish to eat! After having tasted a gazillion Kung Paos, I have to admit, in the end, nothing beats 'Panda Express's Kung Pao Chicken:-)
Kung Pao Chicken is asian comfort food for me (sometimes called kung pow chicken or kungpao). Tender juicy chicken, crunchy onions, peppers and celery, dressed with a light garlicky sauce, which is a perfect blend of salty & sweet goodness. Peanuts complete this dish by adding a slight crunch. I don't even need rice or chowmein with it, I can eat a bowl full as-is. That being said, it pairs really well with brown jasmine rice.
Putting together this Kung Pao Chicken Recipe
This is my take on this popular dish. I mix a bunch of ingredients for the sauce- Soy Sauce, Rice Vinegar, Honey, Hoisin Sauce, Sambal Oelek (chili garlic sauce), add Corn Starch and some water. Mix it up and set aside. Saute ginger-garlic, add chicken, then your favorite veggies, saute for another 4-5 , toss in the sauce and you're done! That simple!
This recipe works great if you have some leftover cooked chicken or turkey too. Just add the cooked meat with the veggies to warm it through and add the sauce. In fact, this is one of the dishes I make with my leftover turkey after Thanksgiving!
Cook in Instant Pot or Stir-Fry in Skillet
You can make this on the stove-top, in a Nonstick Open Skillet, or even in your Instant Pot using the Saute function. No pressure cooking required! I use the Instant Pot as a skillet sometimes, especially when I've just finished cleaning my stove-top and I don't want to mess it up just yet 🙂 Another way to cook this in your Instant Pot would be to pressure cook the chicken and veggies for 1 minute on Manual, QR, and then sauté with the sauce till it all comes together.
Customize with Different Vegges and Tofu
You can customize this dish to your liking- adjust the sweet level, the salty level, the spice level or even switch the vegetables to your taste. I typically add celery, pepper and onions to it, but some days, I'll add broccoli and carrots too!
Don't like peanuts, no problem- add cashews or almonds, or, leave it out!
You can make this vegetarian Kung Pao Tofu, by switching the chicken with 1 cup Extra-Firm-Tofu, cut into ½ inch pieces and cooked with the vegetables.
Another popular variation is Kung Pao Shrimp. Shrimp cooks faster so adjust cooking time appropriately.
What to Pair Kung Pao Chicken With
Kung Pao Chicken pairs well with brown jasmine rice, chowmein, or even white rice. Here is my recipe for brown rice:
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Kung Pao Chicken or Tofu
- 1 lb. boneless skinless chicken cut into 1 inch pieces: thigh or breast
- 1 teaspoon ginger grated or fine chopped
- 1 teaspoon garlic grated or fine chopped
- 1 cup chopped Celery : about 2 ribs
- 1 cup chopped Carrots or Zucchini. About 2 carrots or 1 zucchini
- ½ onions cut into quarters
- 1 cup broccoli florets optional
- 1 small red bell pepper cut in ½ inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons roasted unsalted peanuts for finishing
- ½ teaspoon Sesame Oil for finishing
- Prep: Chop the vegetable and keep aside. Mix all ingredients listed under sauce and whisk till cornstarch is incorporated. Keep aside. Chop chicken or Tofu and keep aside.
- Turn Instant Pot on Saute mode, Adjust heat level to 'more'. Wait till it displays "hot". Add ginger-garlic, sauté for 15 seconds. Then, add chopped chicken pieces and sauté for 3-4 minutes till chicken is almost cooked. Add vegetables and sauté for another 3-4 minutes. If making this with Tofu, add that with the vegetables.
- Check if the chicken is done. Give the sauce another good stir and add it to the pot. Stir the sauce around to coat chicken and vegetables with the sauce. Add sesame oil and stir. Turn off the sauté mode. Add peanuts and serve with white or brown Jasmine rice.
- Another way to cook this in your Instant Pot would be to pressure cook the chicken and veggies for 1 minute on Manual, QR, and then sauté with the sauce till it all comes together.