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What Is Kung Po Chicken?

By Glyn Sinclair
Updated May 16, 2024
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Kung Po chicken, also known as Kung Pao or Gong Bao chicken, is a traditional Sichuan dish. Originating from the Sichuan province in China and spreading west, there are now multiple versions of this dish. Typically rather spicy, the main ingredients found in Kung Po chicken are chili peppers, peanuts and, of course, chicken. Although the history of this dish is unknown, it is believed that it may have been discovered by a Chinese crown prince who came across the recipe during his extensive travels and carried it back to the Imperial Court.

Sichuan province is typically a warm and humid region, and Sichaun cuisine tends to mirror this climate in that it is usually hot and spicy in flavor. Due to the inclusion of chili peppers, Kung Po chicken fits into this category as well. Some say that the food also serves to cool the body through the process of sweating.

To prepare and cook Kung Po chicken the meat is diced into cubes and marinated in soy sauce, rice wine, and water for up to 30 minutes. Chili peppers are then chopped up and added to the mix. Oil is heated in a wok, or pan, and the chicken is deep-fried for a few minutes. The chicken is removed and towel dried to absorb any excess oil. Garlic and peanuts are added to the wok and stirred, then mixed in with the chicken.

Although Kung Po chicken is popular across the globe, there is one aspect of the dish that is missing from the Western plate. The Sichuan peppercorn is unique in flavor and taste but is usually not found on the Western menu. This is due to the fact that for many years it was illegal to bring the peppercorns into the United States because they were said to carry the citrus canker virus and could potentially destroy the local citrus crops. The ban lasted for almost 40 years and as a result the distinct flavor of the Sichuan peppercorn is almost absent from American Kung Po dishes.

There have been claims that eating Kung Po chicken has certain health-related benefits. The dish is filled with vitamins and is low in fat, prompting some people to go so far as to claim reductions in blood pressure and incidents of heart disease. It is rather high in sodium, however, but this can be remedied by using a low-sodium soy sauce when cooking the meal.

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Discussion Comments
By jonrss — On Feb 01, 2012

Anyone that had not tried kung pao chicken with the real Szechuan peppercorns owes it to themselves to give it a try. It is like a little bit of heaven mixed with a little bit of hell. the flavor is spicy but dynamic and it elevates the dish to a whole new level.

By truman12 — On Feb 01, 2012

@ZsaZsa56 - I know what you mean. I've eaten a lot of bad kung pao chicken myself. But I would suggest to you that you should try making it yourself.

My biggest problem with a lot of Chinese take out places is that they use very low quality meat. The vegetables and sauces are not the highest quality either but I think the cheapness really comes out in the meat. This has rendered at least a few of my Chinese dinners inedible.

But Chinese cooking is easier than you would expect and you can buy pre-made kung pao sauce at the grocery store in the ethnic foods aisle. If you combine the sauce with some high quality chicken and vegetables you will have an easy and delicious meal that might rival the kung pao chicken you had that first time.

By ZsaZsa56 — On Jan 31, 2012

The first time I ever tried kung pao chicken it was incredible. It was from a little Chinese take out place in Long Island. But I was just visiting the area and when I went home to Massachusetts I could never find a restaurant that made kung pao chicken as tasty as that first place I'd had it.

Seriously, I must have ordered kung pao chicken at 25 different places and it always ranged from disappointing to disgusting. There was some kind of magic in that first place I tried it. Finally I gave up and went back to my standard fare which has always been sweet and sour shrimp. Chinese take out is so hit or miss and sometimes the good ones are two states away.

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