When Americans think of Kung Pao Chicken, one of the first things they think of is the mediocre Chinese food at the mall or a crappy Chinese buffet. But Kung Pao chicken is one of the few dishes served at those places that is a traditional Chinese dish served at restaurants across China today. Actually, sweet and sour pork also exists in China but the authentic versions of both dishes bear little to no resemblance to the versions served at most Americanized Chinese restaurants in the US. And the authentic versions of both dishes are just so much better. Real Kung Pao Chicken (or Gong Bao Ji Ding) is a Sichuan dish and as such, is both sweet and spicy, with an extra kick from the Sichuan peppercorns (which the American version omits entirely). And for the record, real sweet and sour pork lacks that totally neon orange, thick, sweet, gloopy sauce, as well as the overly thick dough/breading. I think it is worth noting that the recipe I used from The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook: Home Cooking from Asian American Kitchens omitted the Sichuan peppercorns. Fuchsia Dunlop has a nice explanation of the history of Kung Pao Chicken in Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking, as well as a description of the flavors of an authentic Kung Pao Chicken.
This is a really nice version of Kung Pao Chicken, although it can't quite compare to the Kung Pao Chicken served at Little Pepper in Flushing. I've never heard of using oyster sauce in Kung Pao Chicken before, but I am only really familiar with Fuchsia Dunlop's recipe and this one. Generally I think the sauce is a little less thick and has a little more balance - more sourness and more spice to balance out the sweetness. But with all of that said, this is a great American home cook's version of an authentic Sichuan dish.
Recipe after the jump!
Gong Bao Ji Ding (Kung Pao Chicken aka Sichuan Chili Chicken)
Adated from The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook: Home Cooking from Asian American Kitchens
By Patricia Tanumihardja
1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
1 tbsp cornstarch
3 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp sugar
3 tbsp vegetable oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
15 whole dried red Thai chilis
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
1 medium yellow onion, halved, cut into thin crescents and separated
3 scallions, white and green parts, cut into thin rings
1/2 cup dry-roasted peanuts
ground chili flakes (optional)
In a medium bowl, toss the chicken with the rice wine and cornstarch. Set aside. In a small bowl, mix together oyster sauce, soy sauce, and sugar. Set aside.
Preheat a large wok or skillet over medium-high heat. Swirl in the oil and heat until it becomes runny and starts to shimmer. Add garlic, ginger, chilis, and Sichuan peppercorns and cook until garlic is golden and the oil is fragrant and tinged with red, about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the chicken and cook until it is no longer pink, about 3-4 minutes. Add onion and cook for 1 minute. Add the oyster sauce mixture. Stir-fry everything swiftly, cooking until the sauce is thick and shiny and the chicken is cooked through, another 3-4 minutes. Taste and add s&p or other seasonings as necessary.
Add scallions and peanuts. Toss. Transfer to a serving platter. If desired, sprinkle with ground chili flakes for more heat and serve with steamed rice.