My new favourite: Kung Pau Chicken

summary: Kung Pau Chicken recipe; following (or not) cookbook instructions; what to do with sprouting onions; (click on image for larger view)

Wow!! Has it really been a month since I last posted? I’m just going to pretend that there hasn’t been a long silence and proceed as if four weeks hasn’t suddenly disappeared into the past.

Kung Pau Chicken The other day, we suddenly had a hankering for Chinese style chicken. We thought about Hoisin Chicken or Chili Chicken and then remembered my sister raving about the Kung Pau chicken in one of her Chinese cookbooks.

She said it was the best Kung Pau chicken and even if we were tempted to stray from the instructions, we shouldn’t – because every step was essential.

On her recommendation, we had cleverly got the book in question – or so we thought. We went directly to the cookbook shelf and immediately turned to the Kung Pau chicken recipe. It DID look good. Best of all, it called for green onions.

But wait!! Why would green onions be a necessity?

It’s because suddenly (or perhaps not so suddenly) we had green onions galore. Not by design. Sometime in the winter, giant net bags of red onions were on sale. We couldn’t resist and bought two bags, storing one of them in the unheated section by the back door. And we happily proceeded, substituting red onions for cooking onions almost all winter long. It was wonderful.

We finally got through the first bag of onions and went to fetch the one from the unheated section by the back door.

Oh oh.

It’s spring now. The section by the back door isn’t exactly unheated. Every single onion had sprouted. The net bag was almost invisible because it was covered in onion sprouts. Long onion sprouts. The inside of the bag was filled with composting onions. Augh!!!

We went through the whole bag cutting off all those lovely long green shoots and squeamishly putting what was left of the onions themselves into the compost pail to go out to the garden. (I think we managed to rescue four actual onions out of the whole bag. So much for getting the onions on sale….)

So that clinched it. Whatever we made that night had to include green onions. The Warner’s Kung Pau Chicken fit the bill perfectly. And, as my sister had warned, the instructions WERE rather convoluted. And seemed a little silly in places.

[A]dd chicken and stir-fry for 2 to 3 minutes or until opaque. Remove to a strainer to drain excess oil. Clean and dry wok, if charred bits stick to the bottom.

Return to high heat […] add garlic, chilies (including seeds), and green onions.

-Joie Warner, ‘A Taste of Chinatown’, p. 79

What? Is she crazy? Why not cook the garlic and chilies first and then add the chicken? And why would we want to remove those wonderful caramelized bits from the bottom of the wok? Unless it’s to eat them….

So, we didn’t follow every step to the letter. And maybe we didn’t measure exactly, substituting red wine vinegar with cider vinegar. And instead of Chinese chili oil, we used President’s Choice Italian style chili and herbed oil.

The resulting Kung Pau Chicken was stellar. No. More than stellar. I want to have Kung Pau Chicken every night!!

We served the chicken with steamed rice and stir-fried broccoli and black beans.

When we had finished savouring every morsel, we immediately called my sister to rave about our dinner. Of course we confessed that we hadn’t followed the instructions but couldn’t believe it could have been any better.

Ha! It turns out that my sister’s “best Kung Pau Chicken recipe” is in a different book! (Silly me, I’ve forgotten the title of the cookbook now.)

Chinese Cookbook We got this wonderful cookbook through (We love! Authors might not though. We bought this lovely cookbook for 50 cents….)

Warner did a lot of experimentation in order to achieve the flavours and textures of restaurant Chinese food in the home kitchen. Her method for making battered chicken (light and crispy) is truly stellar.

The recipes are quite well laid out, although there is an inordinate amount of instruction to clean out the wok and set things aside during the preparation of a dish. It’s my understanding that this is why woks are shaped the way they are. Things can be set aside on the edges of the wok.

But these are small points. The ingredients appear to be correct and Warner has handily suggested brand names for her favourite kinds of sauces and vinegars. This is especially handy for us because the ChinaTown that Warner has written about is Toronto’s ChinaTown, which is only a short bicycle ride away.

While leafing through “A Taste of Chinatown”, we were thrilled to see that Warner had included a recipe for Lemon Chicken.

L.e.m.o.n C.h.i.c.k.e.n… mmmmmmmm…. We adore lemon chicken!! Next time….


edit 18 May 2011: My sister’s favourite Kung Pau chicken is in “Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook” by Ellen Schrecker (HarperCollins Publishers ISBN: 006015828X). Handily, the recipe is online:

(I just looked at the rave reviews for Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook on the Amazon site. Hmmm, it seems that the cookbook is a must-have.)

This entry was posted in cookbooks, etc., food & drink, main course, spicy on by .

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1 response to “My new favourite: Kung Pau Chicken

  1. your sister barbara

    I hope you try Mrs Chiang’s Kung Pau chicken too. From the picture of the Taste Of Chinatown version, Mrs Chiang’s will be very different. But it will also be wonderful. I think it’s the raw peanuts and the huge amount of garlic that make it so great. And for me, the bell peppers cooked exactly the way she says – I like to use both green and red together.


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