One of the dishes we returned to time and again when we were visiting our friend Cristy in Beijing a few years ago was the popular Gong Bao Ji Ding or Kung Pao Chicken (also called Kung Po or Gung Po chicken). Traditional Gong Bao Ji Ding is a spicy Sichuan dish, the westernised version of which is often very different from the authentic Sichuanese version. I’m sure there are many variations of the dish within China, as well. But it’s not usual to add other vegetables like onions, peppers (capsicum) or cashews (or even pineapple?!).
I like to call it Gong Bao Ji Ding, because it has such a lovely ring to it, and apologies to Mandarin speakers the world over for my terrible pronunciation. Perhaps, as I’m erring towards attempting to cook an authentic version of the dish, I should also be trying to pronounce it correctly. But the truth is, I simply don’t know how.
There are very few main ingredients in Gong Bao Ji Ding – just chicken, peanuts and spring onions (green onions), really. But, as with many east Asian dishes, the complexity is in the many flavourings.
We’ve tried here to create as authentic a version as possible, so have used proper Shaoxing wine, Sichuan peppercorns, black rice vinegar and the various types of soy. You could substitute dry sherry for the wine and if you can’t get the vinegar you could try red wine vinegar. Don’t use black peppercorns instead of Sichuan peppercorns as they really are like chalk and cheese; just leave the peppercorns out. We couldn’t get the proper Sichuanese dried red chillies but the ones we used worked alright. Ideally, you should halve the chillies before cooking and shake out the seeds – you don’t want chilli seeds ruining the aesthetic of the dish – but if this is too much of a faff for you (as it was for us) you can leave them whole.
Peanuts are another key ingredient of this dish. You can use roasted peanuts or, if you can get them, freshly shelled peanuts; you cook the dish slightly differently depending on which type of peanuts you’re using. I think we were a bit heavy-handed with the dark soy in our version, so I’ve toned it down a bit in the below recipe; also we could have used plenty more spring onions, which is also reflected in the recipe below.
Unlike in some other stir-fries, the chicken should be diced into small cubes for Gong Bao Ji Ding, as we have done in the video.
2 cups long-grain rice
4 chicken breast fillets
8 tbsp vegetable oil
12-15 dried red chillies, halved with most of the seeds shaken out
2 tsp whole Sichuan peppercorns
10 slices peeled ginger
4 cloves garlic, finely sliced
6 tbsp roasted, unsalted (or fresh, peeled) peanuts
6 stalks spring onion, sliced, the firm, light green part separated from the softer tops
2 tbsp cornflour (cornstarch)
4 tsp soy sauce
2 tbsp Shaoxing wine
2 tsp vegetable oil
3 tbsp light soy
1 tsp dark soy
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp black rice vinegar
4 tbsp water (or chicken stock)
2 tsp cornflour (cornstarch)
Dice the chicken into small cubes and marinate in a mixture of the cornflour, soy, wine and oil for at least 30 minutes and up to 24 hours.
Put the rice in a pot and add 3 cups of boiling water. Bring it to the boil then put the lid on and turn it down to the lowest heat on your smallest burner for 20 minutes, without removing the lid.
Mix together the ingredients for the sauce and set aside.
To cook the chicken in two batches, get your wok smoking over a high heat and add 2 tbsp of oil. When it, too, is smoking, add half the chicken and marinade and stir-fry until about three quarters cooked. Remove it and do the other half of the chicken with another 2 tbsp of oil. Put all the chicken to one side.
Clean the wok – you don’t want those bits of sticky sauce burning while you’re doing the next step. Heat the wok, add 4 tbsp oil and get it smoking. (If you’re using fresh peanuts, add them now and deep fry them for a minute or two until they start to brown). Add the chillies and peppercorns and fry for 30 seconds or so until they become aromatic. Add the ginger and garlic and fry until they are aromatic.
Add the chicken, stir everything together, then add the peanuts (if you are using roasted ones), then stir again.
Add the sauce ingredients and cook until everything is nicely coated and the sauce has thickened. Now add the sliced base of the spring onions and stir through.
Serve over rice and sprinkle with the chopped spring onion tops.