Kung Pao chicken

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Kung Pao chicken
Sichuan version of Gong Bao Chicken
Traditional Chinese 宮保雞丁
Simplified Chinese 宫保鸡丁

Kung Pao chicken, (Chinese: 宫保雞丁; pinyin: Gōngbǎo Jīdīng; Wade–Giles: Kung1-pao3 Chi1-ting1; Jyutping: gung1 bou2 gai1 ding1), also transcribed as Gong Bao or Kung Po, is a spicy stir-fry dish made with chicken, peanuts, vegetables, and chili peppers. The classic dish in Szechuan cuisine originated in the Sichuan Province of south-western China and includes Sichuan peppercorns. Although the dish is found throughout China, there are regional variations that are typically less spicy than the Sichuan serving. Kung Pao chicken is also a staple of westernized Chinese cuisine.

The dish is believed to be named after Ding Baozhen (1820–86), a late Qing Dynasty official, and governor of Sichuan Province. His title was Gongbao (Kung-pao; Chinese: 宫保; pinyin: Gōngbǎo; Wade–Giles: Kung1-pao3; literally: "Palace Guardian").[1] The name "Kung Pao" chicken is derived from this title.

During the Cultural Revolution, the dish's name became politically incorrect because of its association with Ding. The dish was renamed "Fast-fried chicken cubes" (Hongbao Jiding) or "chicken cubes with seared chiles" (Hula Jiding) until its political rehabilitation in the 1980s.[2]

Sichuan version[edit]

The original Sichuan version uses chicken as its primary ingredient. In this original version, diced chicken is typically mixed with a prepared marinade. The wok is seasoned and then chili peppers and Sichuan peppercorns are flash fried to add fragrance to the oil. Then the chicken is stir fried and vegetables, along with peanuts, are added. Shaoxing wine is used to enhance flavor in the marinade.

Kung Pao chicken starts off with fresh, moist, unroasted peanuts or cashew nuts.[3] These are often used instead of their pre-roasted versions. The peanuts or cashew nuts are dropped into the hot oil on the bottom of the wok first, then deep fried until golden brown before the other ingredients are added.

In Sichuan, or when preparing authentic Kung Pao chicken, only Sichuan-style chili peppers such as facing heaven pepper or seven stars pepper (Chinese: 七星椒; pinyin: Qīxīngjiāo; Wade–Giles: Ch'i1-hsing1-chiao1) are used. Smaller, thinner Sichuanese varieties may also be used.

The most important component of the dish is handfuls of Sichuan peppercorns. It is these peppercorns that give authentic Kung Pao chicken its distinctive numbing flavor. Use of hot and numbing flavor (Chinese: 麻辣味型; pinyin: Málà wèixíng; Wade–Giles: Ma2-la4 wei4-hsing2) is a typical element of Sichuan cooking.

Western versions[edit]

Westernized version of Kung Pao chicken, served in London
Another version of Kung Pao Chicken

Versions commonly found in the west, called "Kung Pao chicken" or "Kung Po" (the Wade-Giles transliteration of Chinese is still very popular, though more misleading as a guide to pronunciation than Pinyin, which is Gong Bao); the pronunciation is "goong bow" (bow is pronounced like the word for bending from the waist, not like the bow that's used with arrows), consist of diced marinated chicken stir-fried with orange or orange juice, ginger, garlic, chicken broth, sugar, cooking oil, corn starch, and salt and pepper to taste. The dish often includes or is garnished with whole roasted peanuts. Other versions substitute beef, pork or seafood for chicken.

The original version includes Sichuan peppercorns, which from 1968 until 2005 were illegal to import into the United States (they were viewed as potential carriers of citrus canker, a tree disease that can harm citrus crops).[4] The ban was lifted in light of new processing methods, but the 37-year ban resulted in versions without Sichuan peppercorns.