Asian Cuisine Exposure Therapy Part I: Kung Pao Chicken

26 Jan

Cooking Asian cuisine has always scared the living daylights out of me. I am unfamiliar with many of the ingredients, have a poor bead on the techniques used to create the unique flavor profiles, and I figured there was no way I could ever make anything that could hold a candle to even the dingiest Chinese carry-out. Well, I decided to face my fear head on and in a rather grandiose fashion…at least in my mind it was grandiose. I planned a menu of homemade Kung Pao chicken, homemade veggie eggrolls and homemade pork pot stickers (including that awesome spicy chili sauce you get at restaurants!). This, for me, was the very definition of exposure therapy. I turned to a blog I frequent, Use Real Butter, for the basic recipes. She has some fantastic recipes for a wide range of Asian cuisine; you should give the site a visit.

Kung Pao Chicken - this is what was left for lunch the next day

Here are my thoughts on the Kung Pao chicken. (I will put the eggrolls and pot stickers in a separate post.) WARNING! Chicken marinates for 30 minutes – plan accordingly! I followed the recipe pretty closely actually. I had a little over a pound and a half of chicken which is more than the original recipe called for, so I doubled the marinade recipe and tripled the sauce – I also just like my Kung Pao to be saucy. I could not find Shaoxing cooking sherry or black vinegar, so I replaced it with regular cooking sherry and balsamic vinegar respectively. It was still very tasty, but I would recommend that if you can find the proper ingredients use them. I minced rather than sliced the garlic and ginger so it would distribute more evenly throughout the dish. I also added water chestnuts, thinly sliced red pepper and tripled the amount of peanuts ‘cause I love me some peanuts! I found this dish incredibly easy to make and just as good as – if not better than – what I would get at a local restaurant. I have officially overcome my fear of Asian cuisine, well at least some Chinese cuisine. Perhaps I shall tackle Indian food next!

Kung Pao Chicken
Adapted from Use Real Butter


For Chicken
1.5 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast – remove fat, cut into cubes or short, thin slices (I prefer slices)
2 tsps cornstarch
4 tsps soy sauce
2 tbsps Shaoxing cooking sherry – or regular cooking sherry
2 tsps sesame oil
3 tbsps vegetable oil (not olive oil)
8-12 dried red chili peppers, halved and de-seeded
2 tbsps of minced ginger
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 red pepper sliced thin
1 cup whole bamboo shoots
2 cans sliced water chestnuts
1.5 cups peanuts or cashews, roasted and unsalted
Black pepper to taste
2 stalks green onions, diced

For Sauce
6 tbsps soy sauce
3 tsps sugar
3/4 tsp black vinegar – or Balsamic vinegar
6 tbsps water
1.5 tsp cornstarch


1.  Mix the chicken with 2 teaspoons of cornstarch, 4 teaspoons of soy sauce, 2 tablespoons of Shaoxing cooking sherry, and 2 teaspoons of sesame oil in a bowl. Cover and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, make the sauce. Combine all of the sauce ingredients in a bowl, mix together and set aside – yes it is that easy! This is also a good time to start cooking rice to serve with the Kung Pao chicken.

3. Heat 2 tablespoons of cooking oil in a wok, sauté pan, or large frying pan on high heat. When the oil is hot, add the chicken and stir-fry until half-cooked. Remove the chicken from pan and put into a bowl.

4. Heat the remaining cooking oil in the same pan on high heat. Toss in the ginger, garlic, and chili peppers, stirring until the oil is fragrant. Add the chicken, bamboo shoots, sliced red peppers, water chestnuts and peanuts and stir for a few turns. Pour in the sauce and continue to stir-fry until the chicken is coated and cooked. Add black pepper to taste.

5. Serve over hot rice and sprinkle with green onions and extra peanuts

Dig In!


Posted by on January 26, 2012 in Chicken, Chinese, Main Dishes


9 responses to “Asian Cuisine Exposure Therapy Part I: Kung Pao Chicken

  1. Don

    January 26, 2012 at 4:33 pm


    Jay’s International Grocer in Kirkwood carries both Shaoxing wine and black vinegar…I know because that’s where I got mine! Totally worth the trip.

    • cocobock

      January 26, 2012 at 4:34 pm

      Many thanks, Don!!!!

      • Don

        January 26, 2012 at 4:36 pm

        I look forward to continued adventures in Chinese cooking: I spent a long time working on my fried rice recipe, never to be fully satisfied. Other dishes I tried never quite turned out right for me. I’ve since turned my attention to Japanese cooking, which is far easier. That said, you weren’t around when I figured out my recipe for back-yard char shu, I’m happy to share it with you. That was freaking delicious. But I am looking forward to your success mastering the ingredients!

  2. cocobock

    January 26, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    Don, I would love the recipe. Or, if you like, you can write up a guest post!

  3. Dani

    January 26, 2012 at 5:56 pm

    Only because you mentioned asian flavor profiles at the beginning

    • cocobock

      January 26, 2012 at 6:00 pm

      Oooooo. This looks fascinating! I will read through it and perhaps post about it. Thanks, Dani.

  4. Kay

    January 28, 2012 at 11:11 am

    I’ve done a bunch of Asian recipes in the past. Now (age 69) I just make up my own mix of Asian plus what I like. But I have some useful old cookbooks to share with you when you come. The Chinese one is big. I have used the little Japanese one a lot. Have even made sushi, although it didn’t hold together too well. I love Indian food, but that recipe book is too hard to follow. I don’t deep fry, so I just skip those.


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