Panda Express Kung Pao Chicken Copycat Recipe

When we crave Chinese takeout, what is it we’re wanting? The saltiness of soy. The spiciness of dried red pepper. The wonderful, fresh textures that cooking in a hot wok can create. And yes: the sweet, seductive crunch of peanuts that make Kung Pao chicken a national favorite! We fall victim to this craving more often than we would like to admit.

What flavors come forward?

As we researched this copycat recipe, and tested it in our studio kitchen, we tried hard to find the right balance of flavors – adding salt, adding moisture, pulling back a little on the too-generous quantities of spicy-hot peppers. We also switched from powdered to fresh ginger and garlic, and layered a little fresh cilantro in at the end. Why? If you’re cooking at home and not in a take-out joint, you can improve the dish with the zing of fresh ingredients. Just delicious.

True Confessions!

True confessions: once the photo was taken, the crew devoured the entire dish. Another confession: The next time we crave Kung Pao chicken, the odds are even that we will order it up at our local take out joint. The speed and ease make that option pretty powerful. But then again…the flavors and the piping hot freshness of our version are quite compelling. Let us know what you think.

Panda Express Kung Pao Chicken Copycat Recipe

INGREDIENTS

For the chicken:
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts (thighs are fine, too)
¼ cup water
½ tsp salt
1 egg
¼ cup plus 2 tbsp corn starch
1 tbsp vegetable oil
¼ tsp black pepper
¼ tsp salt

For the vegetables:
2 tbsp white wine
4 tbsp soy sauce
½ cup water
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 tbsp fresh garlic, peeled and chopped very fine
1 tsp cayenne pepper (optional, if you don’t love spicy food)
3 tbsp vegetable oil, divided
8 whole dried red peppers, crushed roughly
½ cup green onion, chopped
¾ tbsp cornstarch
½ tbsp water
½ cup roasted peanuts
1 large red bell pepper, diced (more if you like veggies)
1 medium zucchini, seedy pith removed, diced (more if you like veggies)
Chopped cilantro (optional)

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Start by preparing the chicken. Whisk together water, salt, egg, cornstarch and
    vegetable oil. When smooth and well combined, add chicken and toss until meat is well coated. Cover and set aside in refrigerator for 90 minutes.
  2. Now, on to the veggies. In a lidded jar, shake together wine, soy sauce, water, sesame oil, ginger, garlic and cayenne. Set aside.
  3. In a bowl, stir cornstarch and water until smooth. Set aside.
  4. Add 2 tbsp vegetable oil to wok or skillet on high flame.
  5. When the oil is piping hot, add chicken. Toss on high heat until golden and slightly crispy. Remove chicken to an oven-safe dish. Let chicken stay warm in low temperature oven.
  6. Keeping the heat high, add remaining vegetable oil to wok or skillet along with bell pepper and zucchini. Cook until slightly browned. Remove veggies and place alongside chicken in warm oven.
  7. Add dried chilies to wok or skillet. Cook for 1 min.
  8. Add green onions, peanuts, and the jar of wine, soy sauce, sesame oil, water, ginger, and garlic. Bring to a rapid boil and let cook for 1 minute.
  9. Add cornstarch and water mixture. Stir until well combined. Cook for 1 minute.
  10. Put chicken and veggies back into the wok or skillet. Stir to combine. Let cook for a minute or two.
  11. Garnish with fresh cilantro.
  12. Serve piping hot with freshly made rice.

Recipe, Stying, Story and Photography by Keith Recker

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