This kung pao chicken is sweet, sticky, spicy, and delicious! The recipe is perfect for making the best take-out style kung pao chicken with tender chicken pieces and the tastiest kung pao stir-fry sauce at home.
Kung pao chicken is one of the most delicious Chinese dishes. It is spicy, sweet, rich in umami, and perfectly combines juicy chicken with perfectly seared bell peppers and crunchy peanuts.
If you’ve been wondering how to make this take-out classic at home, be sure to give this recipe a try! It uses ingredients easily found in most Asian grocery stores or online. Plus, it’s super simple and absolutely delicious!
Kung Pao Chicken Ingredients
The ingredient list may look a little long, but buying them so you can make kung pao chicken at home whenever you crave it is definitely worth it!
To make kung pao chicken, you’ll need the following ingredients:
- Chicken thighs: Kung pao chicken is often made with boneless, skinless chicken thighs as the meat stays juicy and delicious when seared in the pan. Chicken breasts can be used if you don’t overcook them. Otherwise, they will be dry and tough to eat.
- Bell pepper: Bell peppers are another classic ingredient. You’ll usually find a combination of red bell pepper and green bell pepper in restaurants. This combo tastes great, so I’d highly recommend it!
- Peanuts: You can use whole peanuts with their skin on or off. I love to leave the skin on. But both options work great!
- Aromatics: You’ll also need garlic, ginger, and green onions. They are super important for making delicious stir-fries!
- Dried chilies: Another classic ingredient is dried chilies. You can find them in Asian grocery stores or online. Just make sure to deseed them as the seeds are quite spicy.
- Sichuan pepper: You can either buy ground Sichuan peppercorns or whole Sichuan peppercorns and grind them yourself with a mortar and pestle. Just make sure that you use it as it’s really important to make delicious kung pao chicken.
- White pepper: This recipe uses white pepper instead of black pepper. You can use black pepper as a replacement.
- Cornstarch: Cornstarch is used to thicken the sauce, so definitely make sure you have some on hand.
- Kung pao sauce: For the sauce, you’ll need light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, Chinese black vinegar, honey (or sugar), and chicken broth or water. It’s really important to use this combination of ingredients. Plus, you can use them for many other homemade Chinese dishes!
How to make kung pao chicken
Making kung pao chicken is really simple. Adjusting the heat as needed may be a little challenging in the beginning, but other than that you will be surprised by how easy this recipe is! Here are the steps you need to follow:
- Marinate the chicken: Place the chicken thigh pieces in a bowl. Add the marinade ingredients and cornstarch. Then toss until evenly covered. Set the marinated chicken pieces aside.
- Prepare the sauce: Next, whisk together all sauce ingredients in a bowl. Then set the sauce aside.
- Toast the peanuts: Preheat some vegetable oil in a pan or wok over medium heat. Then toast the peanuts until they start to become roasted. Remove them from the pan.
- Sear the bell pepper: Now add the bell pepper to the pan and sauté over medium-high heat until they start to blister. Make sure that they are still slightly crisp. Adjust the heat as necessary. Remove the bell pepper from the pan.
- Sear the chicken pieces: Sear the marinated chicken thigh pieces over medium-high heat until they are browned and cooked through. Remove them from the pan.
- Sauté the aromatics: Now sauté the garlic, ginger, green onion, and dried chilies. Make sure the ingredients don’t burn and lower the heat as needed.
- Combine: Now add back the peanuts, bell pepper, and chicken thigh pieces. Season with ground Sichuan pepper and white pepper. Pour the sauce into the pan and sauté until it thickens.
- Serve: Serve with some white rice on the side and enjoy!
Tips & Notes
Here are a few quick notes to make sure that this recipe turns out perfectly!
- Don’t skip any of the ingredients. This stir fry only tastes like kung pao chicken if you stick to the ingredients. So only skip or replace ingredients if you are sure about it. Otherwise, the stir fry may not turn out as intended.
- Prepare all ingredients before you start to cook. The cooking process for stir fry recipes is always super quick, so I’d recommend preparing all ingredients in advance. It makes for a much more enjoyable cooking process!
- Adjust the heat as needed when cooking. The most important thing to watch out for when cooking is not burning or overcooking the ingredients. If you use high heat, you need to be quite quick with everything. So if you need to lower the heat to not burn things, feel free to do so! I always cook stir-fries on medium-high heat.
Here are a few ideas to modify this chicken stir fry recipe.
- Protein: If you prefer other meats or tofu, you can replace the chicken thighs. I personally love shrimp, so sometimes I will make kung pao shrimp using the same recipe.
- Spice level: I’d say that this recipe is spicy, but not in a way where you can’t enjoy the dish. So if you want to make things even spicier (or less spicy), adjust the amount of dried red chilies.
- Sauce: This recipe is slightly saucy and has a deep flavor. If you prefer a lighter flavor, increase the amount of light soy sauce and reduce the amount of dark soy sauce. To make it less saucy and more sticky, you can lower the amount of chicken broth or water to ¼ cup.
How to serve kung pao chicken
To turn your kung pao chicken into a full meal, consider serving it with:
- White rice: White rice is a staple in Chinese cuisine. So make sure to serve it when trying this recipe.
- Dumplings: If you have some extra time and want to add some sides to your meal, you can prepare dumplings (I always reach for Japanese gyoza). There are many delicious frozen options or try an online recipe.
- Vegetable sides: Vegetable sides like garlic bok choy or Korean cucumber salad taste great when served alongside kung pao chicken. Definitely add some if you feel like it!
Frequently Asked Questions
Kung pao chicken is spicy, slightly sweet, and has tons of flavor! The sauce is made with a combination of light and dark soy sauce that is rich in umami. The chicken pieces are super juicy and the bell pepper tastes perfect when it is seared and blistered. Kung pao chicken is perfect for anyone who loves deep and delicious flavors. But if you don’t like spicy foods, I’d recommend trying another stir fry recipe such as my ground beef stir fry noodles or teriyaki chicken.
Yes, kung pao chicken is a spicy dish. So if you don’t like spicy foods, I recommend trying another stir fry recipe on my website!
Yes, kung pao chicken is traditionally made with peanuts. If you have an allergy or simply don’t like them, you can skip them or use another type of nut like cashews.
You can store leftovers in an airtight container in your refrigerator for 3-4 days. Reheat them in the microwave or on the stove.
More tasty and quick stir-fry recipes
If you love flavorful and simple stir-fry recipes, I highly recommend checking out the following:
Kung Pao Chicken
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
- ½ tablespoon dark soy sauce
- ½ tablespoon Shaoxing wine
- ½ tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- white pepper to taste
Kung Pao Sauce Ingredients
- 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
- ¾ tablespoon Chinese black vinegar
- 2 tablespoons honey
- ⅓ cup chicken broth or water
- 1 ½ teaspoon cornstarch
Kung Pao Stir Fry Ingredients
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil more as needed
- ½ cup peanuts with or without skin
- ½ red bell pepper cut into bite-sized pieces
- ½ green bell pepper cut into bite-sized pieces
- 3 green onions sliced
- 3 garlic cloves minced
- ½ teaspoon minced ginger
- 5 dried chilies cut into pieces without seeds
- ½ teaspoon ground Sichuan pepper more to taste
- white or black pepper to taste
- Add all chicken marinade ingredients to a bowl. Toss until evenly covered and let the chicken rest.1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, 1 tablespoon light soy sauce, ½ tablespoon dark soy sauce, ½ tablespoon Shaoxing wine, ½ tablespoon vegetable oil, 1 teaspoon cornstarch, white pepper
- Next, whisk together all sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Then set aside.2 tablespoons light soy sauce, 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce, 2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine, ¾ tablespoon Chinese black vinegar, 2 tablespoons honey, ⅓ cup chicken broth or water, 1 ½ teaspoon cornstarch
- Preheat the vegetable oil in a pan or wok over medium to medium-high heat. Then roast the peanuts until they become toasted. Remove the peanuts from the pan.2 tablespoons vegetable oil, ½ cup peanuts
- Next, add the bell pepper to the pan. Sear them over medium-high heat until they are still slightly crisp with a beautiful char on the outside. You may have to adjust the heat if it's too low or too high. Then remove the bell peppers.½ red bell pepper, ½ green bell pepper
- Add the marinated chicken thigh pieces to the pan. Sauté over medium-high heat until they are nicely colored on the outside and cooked through. Then remove the chicken from the pan.
- Lastly, sauté the green onions, garlic cloves, ginger, and dried chilies over medium-low heat until fragrant. Make sure the ingredients don't burn and adjust the heat as needed.3 green onions, 3 garlic cloves, ½ teaspoon minced ginger, 5 dried chilies
- Now add back the chicken, peanuts, and bell peppers. Give the sauce a quick stir and add it to the pan. Season with ground Sichuan pepper and white pepper. Then sauté until the sauce thickens.½ teaspoon ground Sichuan pepper, white or black pepper
- Serve alongside white rice and enjoy!