Kung Pao Chicken with Toasted Cashews: This Szechuan classic is well-loved around the world for its sweet, sour and sweat-inducing-spicy-but-oh-so-good mix of flavours! Pair it with lightly toasted heart-healthy cashews for that extra crunch in every bite. Super yummy!
Kung Pao Chicken, known as 宫保鸡丁 Gong Pao Ji Ding in Mandarin or Kung Po Gai in Cantonese, is actually diced chicken fried with dried chilli, black vinegar and sugar from which it derives its characteristic sweet, sour, and spicy flavours. Kung Pao Chicken is a very typical Sichuan dish, boasting the bold flavours for which Sichuan cuisine is famed, particularly the pungency and tongue-numbingly spicy flavours achieved by the generous use of peppercorn and chilli oil.
Just some interesting trivia as an aside: Szechuan cuisine comprises seven basic flavours: sour, pungent, spicy, sweet, bitter, salty and aromatic, which are typical flavours in some of Szechuan’s most most famous dishes including 麻辣火锅 Ma La Huo Guo (Spicy Steam Boat), 麻婆豆腐 Mapo Doufu (Spicy Bean Curd) and 担担面 Dandan Mian (Spicy Noodle).
Authentic Sichuan-style Kung Pao Chicken would require the use of ground Sichuan peppercorn (this is what gives you that numbing sensation in your tongue). This is what achieves the 麻 Ma (literally translated: numb) element in 麻辣 Ma La. In addition to chilli flakes and chilli oil for the spicyness – the 辣 La (literally translated: spicy) element in 麻辣 Ma La. For me, I love chilli and can take very spicy food, but I’m not a huge fan of the numbing sensation of peppercorn, so I have only used chilli in this recipe.
If you are not a spicy-food lover, or if you are cooking for a family with kids, you can easily tone down the spice level by omitting the chilli flakes and chilli oil, and making it a as a separate dipping sauce so that children and adults alike will be able to enjoy this dish together as a family.
For me, the highlight of this dish is always the lightly browned crunchy cashews. Toasting the cashews in a toaster oven is to easiest and most fuss-free way of getting the cashews slightly browned and crunchy. Once the dish is ready to serve, just sprinkle generously with toasted cashews over the Kung Pao Chicken and serve immediately. I prefer not to fry the cashews together with the Kung Pao Chicken, because they tend to get soggy and lose their crunchiness, and I like my cashews crunchy! But its all up to individual taste!
Hope you enjoy this recipe, and please leave me a comment below if you have any questions, suggestions or feedback for me!
Suggested Modifications for Special Diets
- Child-Friendly: Omit or make a separate dipping sauce of chilli flakes and chilli oil; reduce the number of dried chillis used.
- Egg-Free: No modifications needed.
- Fish-Free: No modifications needed.
- Gluten-Free: Ensure condiments are gluten-free versions.
- Shellfish-Free: No modifications needed.
Kung Pao Chicken with Toasted Cashew Nuts
- 2 Whole Chicken Breast About 700 gm
- 1 TBsp Oil To fry the chicken breast
- 80 gm Cashew Nuts Roasted and unsalted
- 1/2 Yellow Onion Large
- 2-3 cloves Garlic
- 15 Dried Chillies
- 2 tsp Chilli Flakes Optional
- 2 TBsp Chilli Oil Optional
For Chicken Marinade
- 1 Sprig Parsley
- 1 Sprig Spring Onion
PREPARATION METHOD FOR KUNG PAO CHICKEN WITH CASHEWS
- Debone and remove the skin from the chicken. Wash and pat dry.
Cut the chicken into bite size. Place the chicken in a bowl and add in the marinade ingredients and mix well. Cover with a cling wrap and leave it in the fridge for 30mins.
For mild spicyness, remove the seeds from half of the dried chillies, while leaving the other half with seeds intact. Method: Use scissors to cut lengthwise on one side, then gentle lift the centre core of the dried chilli including the seeds and discard.
Soak the dried chillies in hot water for 15 mins. Wash and pat dry. Cut the chillies into half and leave aside.
Wash and remove the skin from the garlic and chop finely
Wash and remove the skin from the green onion and cut into chunks.
Toast the cashew nuts in the toaster until golden brown. Once it's ready, take it out to cool. Once completely cooled, store in an air tight jar.
Wash the spring onion and parsley. Cut the spring onion diagonally into small pieces. Cut the parsley about 1 cm lengthwise and set aside.
In a bowl, put all the sauce ingredients and stir well. Leave aside for later use.
COOKING METHOD FOR KUNG PAO CHICKEN WITH CASHEWS
In a wok, add in 2 TBsp of oil over medium heat. Add in the marinated chicken and fry until it is about 70% cooked ( about 8-10mins). Transfer onto a plate.
Wash the wok and heat up 2 TBsp of chilli oil and 2 tsp chilli flakes over medium heat (Optional. You can replace the chilli oil with cooking oil instead). Add in the green onion and garlic and stir fry. Then add in the dried chillies and fry till aromatic.
Add back the chicken pieces and continue to fry until the chicken is completely cooked (about 5 mins). Stir in the sauce and fry for 1-2 mins. Add in the cashew nuts and mix well.
Transfer onto a serving dish and garnish with parsley and spring onion. Serve immediately with a bowl of steaming hot Jasmine rice.
- Do not overcook the chicken breast otherwise it will be hard and dry.
- You can also add in capsicum chopped into chunks to make this a complete meal. Red and yellow capsicums add a beautiful touch of colour to the dish, and also taste sweeter than green capsicums.
- You can substitute cashew nuts with roasted peanuts.
- Some brands of dark soya sauce are very salty while other are not. Taste the sauce mix before adding it to the chicken, so you can adjust the saltiness level. I recommend using the Kwang Siang Thye Superior Dark Soya Sauce or the Red Date Dark Soya Sauce, which you can get from NTUC. They are very flavourful and not too salty, so they are excellent for braising Pork Belly (Kong Bak) as well.
- When buying dried chilli, choose those that are bright red in color. If the color is dull and pale, it probably has lost its flavour and aroma.
- Chilli peppers contains a compound known as capsaicin, which can cause a severe burning sensation if it comes into contact with your lips, skin or eyes. When handling and cooking with chilli whether fresh or dry, it is helpful to wear rubber glove to prevent contact with capsaicin. If you are not wearing gloves, avoid rubbing your eyes, or touching babies and children immediately after handling chilli. In addition you should wash the knife, scissors and cutting board after cutting the chilli pepper.
- There are different degrees of 'spicyness' between the chilli varieties and sometimes even within the same species. So when you cook, you need to adjust the amount to use by tasting a little to determine the spice level before adding more.
- If you prefer a high level of spiciness, leave the seeds of the dried chillies intact or you can add in more chilli oil and chilli paste / chilli flakes during the cooking process to spice it up.
- For milder spiciness, removed the seeds from half the dried chillies and leave the other half with chilli seeds intact.
- Chilli Oil Recipe: Put 3 TBsp of oil in a pan over medium low heat. Add 3 tsp of chilli flakes to the oil. Lower the heat and let it bubble for 1-2 mins. Turn off the heat and pour the oil through a strainer. Be careful not to burn the chilli flakes. You can also use chilli powder if you cannot get chilli flakes.