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.