Kung Pao Chicken
Of the many versions of kung pao chicken that I’ve eaten, this is one of my favorites. The dark, rich sauce clings to the chicken and peppers, with just an undertone of heat and aromatic fl avor from the chilies and Sichuan peppercorns. For the dried chili peppers, use kitchen scissors to snip 1∕4-inch from one end to release the seeds during cooking. Use 4 chilies for mild heat and 8 or more for maximum heat. If you cannot find unsalted roasted peanuts, buy raw peanuts in the shell, shell them, remove the skins, and dry stir-fry them in a dry wok over medium heat for a few minutes until light golden.
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thigh or breast, cut into 3∕4-inch cubes
2 tablespoons minced ginger
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon Shao Hsing rice wine or dry sherry
2 teaspoons sugar
3∕4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons chicken broth
1 tablespoon Chinkiang or balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
4 to 8 dried red chili peppers, snipped on one end
1∕2 teaspoon roasted and ground Sichuan peppercorns
1 large red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch squares
3∕4 cup unsalted roasted peanuts
1∕2 cup minced scallions
1. In a medium bowl combine the chicken, ginger, garlic, cornstarch, soy sauce, 1 teaspoon of the rice wine, 1 teaspoon of the sugar, 1∕2 teaspoon of the salt, and 1 teaspoon cold water. Stir to combine. In a small bowl combine the broth, vinegar, dark soy sauce, sesame oil, and the remaining 1 tablespoon rice wine.
2. Heat a 14-inch fl at-bottomed wok or 12-inch skillet over high heat until a bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact. Swirl in 1 tablespoon of the peanut oil, add the chilies and ground Sichuan peppercorns, then, using a metal spatula, stir-fry 15 seconds or until the chilies just begin to smoke. Push the chili mixture to the sides of the wok, carefully add the chicken, and spread it evenly in one layer in the wok. Cook undisturbed 1 minute, letting the chicken begin to sear. Then stir-fry 1 minute or until the chicken is lightly browned but not cooked through.
3. Swirl the remaining 1 tablespoon peanut oil into the wok. Add the bell peppers and stir-fry 1 minute or until the peppers begin to soften. Swirl the broth mixture into the wok and stir-fry 1 minute or until the chicken is just cooked through. Add the peanuts and scallions, sprinkle on the remaining 1 teaspoon sugar and 1∕4 teaspoon salt, and stir-fry 30 seconds or until the scallions are bright green.
Serves 2 to 3 as a main dish with rice or 4 as part of a multicourse meal.