Gong Bao Chicken with Peanuts (gongbao jiding)
This dish, also known as Kung Pao chicken, is named after a nineteenth-century governor-general of Sichuan, Ding Baozhen, who is said to have enjoyed eating it. Ding was born in Guizhou province and, before moving to Sichuan in 1876, served as tutor to the imperial princes in Shandong—an honorary role for which he was known as “Palace Guardian” (gongbao). Guizhou, Shandong and Sichuan all lay claim to versions of Ding’s famous dish, but the Sichuanese is the most renowned. No one can quite agree on the details of its origins. Some say Ding Baozhen brought it with him from Guizhou to Sichuan; others that he ate it at a modest restaurant when he went out in disguise to observe the real lives of the people. Whatever the truth of its origins, its association with an imperial bureaucrat was enough to provoke the wrath of the Cultural Revolution radicals, and it was renamed “fast-fried chicken cubes” (hongbao jiding) or “chicken cubes with seared chiles” (hula jiding) until its political rehabilitation in the 1980s.
Gong Bao chicken is a glorious medley of succulent chicken, golden peanuts and dark red chiles. The “lychee-flavored” sauce is pepped up with a scorched-chile spiciness and a trace of Sichuan pepper that will make your lips tingle pleasantly. Although the classic dish is made with peanuts, cashew nuts are even more delicious.
- 10 oz (300g) boneless chicken breast
- 5 scallions, white parts only
- A good handful of dried chiles (at least 12)
- 4 tbsp cooking oil
- 1 tsp whole Sichuan pepper
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
- An equivalent amount of ginger, peeled and sliced
- 1/2 cup (75g) roasted or fried peanuts (or cashews)
For the marinade
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 tsp light soy sauce
- 1 tsp Shaoxing wine
- 1½ tbsp potato starch for the sauce
- 2 tbsp superfine sugar
- ¾ tsp potato starch
- ¾ tsp dark soy sauce
- 1 tsp light soy sauce
- 2 tbsp Chinkiang vinegar
- 1½ tbsp chicken stock or water
- 1 tsp sesame oil
Cut the chicken breasts as evenly as possible into 1/2-inch (1.5cm) cubes. Place in a bowl, add the marinade ingredients and 1½ tbsp cold water, and mix well. Cut the scallion whites into small chunks to match the chicken cubes. Snip the chiles in half or into 3/4-inch (2cm) sections and shake out the seeds.
Combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl—if you dip your finger in you should be able to taste the light sweet-and-sour or “lychee” base flavor of the dish.
Pour the cooking oil into a seasoned wok over high heat. Quickly add the chiles and Sichuan pepper and stir-fry briefly until the chiles are fragrant and darkening but not burned. Tip in the chicken and stir to separate. As soon as the pieces have separated, add the garlic, ginger and scallion whites and stir-fry until they smell delicious and the chicken is just cooked (you may test a piece by cutting it in half to make sure).
Give the sauce a stir and pour into the center of the wok. Wait for a second or two, then stir as the sauce thickens and coats the chicken pieces. Mix in the peanuts (or cashews) and serve.
Excerpted from FOOD OF SICHUAN: A New and Updated Edition of the Classic Land of Plenty. Copyright © 2019 by Fuchsia Dunlop. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
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