This Kung Pao Chicken recipe has the perfect balance of sweet, savory and spicy, all stir-fried together in about 30 minutes. Adjust the spiciness level to your liking and serve alone, over white rice with Chow Mein or fried rice.
Kung Pao Chicken is a flavorful blend of sautéed onion, red bell pepper, seasoned chicken, scallions and peanuts, all in a delicious savory sauce. A homemade remake of the takeout classic that’s even better than the Chinese restaurant version!
Why you should make this recipe
- Quick & easy. It only takes 30 minutes to makes this Kung Pao Chicken recipe from scratch and it’s all done in one pan. That’s quicker than ordering takeout!
- Versatile. This dish can easily be customized to your taste preferences and ingredients you have available. Use whatever veggies you like and serve over rice, noodles or another grain.
- So delicious. Panda Express Kung Pao Chicken has always been one of my favorite dishes to order at our local Panda Express and this recipe is packed with flavor and might be even more incredible.
The ingredients you’ll need to make this Kung Pao Chicken recipe are simple and easy to find. The list looks a bit long but most everything are flavorings for the sauce. Here’s the lineup:
- Vegetables. The veggies we’re using are onion and red bell pepper, which get sautéed in olive oil just before frying the chicken.
- Chicken. Cut chicken tenders or boneless, skinless chicken breast into bite-sized pieces. You could even use boneless, skinless chicken thighs.
- Spices. Salt, pepper and cayenne pepper are the only seasonings you’ll need to season the chicken. This dish is traditionally a bit spicy, but feel free to omit the red pepper, if you’d like.
- Hoisin sauce. Has a salty and slightly sweet flavor. It adds delicious richness to the sauce.
- Dark or regular soy sauce. Combines with the other sauce ingredients for that classic Kung Pao flavor. Substitute with gluten-free tamari, if you’d like.
- Sugar. A small amount of sugar is used to give the sauce a subtle sweetness.
- Cornstarch. Helps the sauce thicken as it cooks.
- Worcestershire sauce. Just 1/2 tablespoon for bold umami flavor.
- Sesame oil. Adds a rich, nutty taste that’s totally delicious. I love using toasted sesame oil!
- Garlic + ginger. One garlic clove and 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger adds delicious aromatic flavor to the marinade.
- Scallions. The green onions add a pop of color and freshness to the finished dish.
- Peanuts. A common ingredient used in this recipe, adding texture and delicious nutty flavor. You can sub with cashews. If you have a nut allergy, feel free to omit.
How to make this recipe
You just need one pan or pot to cook everything and then a bowl to whip up the Kung Pao sauce. This is quite a quick dish to make. We recommend getting all the ingredients ready before you start cooking. Here’s the simple process:
- Sauté the veggies. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium to medium high heat. Sauté onion and red bell pepper for about 5 mins and until softened. If using, add in the red chili peppers at this point.
- Cook the chicken. While veggies are cooking, cut chicken into bite-sized pieces and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper (if using). Add in the hot pan to cook thoroughly to brown.
- Make the sauce. In a small bowl, whisk all sauce ingredients together. Pour into hot pan with the chicken and veggies, and simmer to thicken sauce. Before serving, toss together with scallions and peanuts.
- Serve. Enjoy served over cooked rice such as Jasmine rice or Basmati rice, noodles or another grain.
- Adding more heat. This Asian recipe is typically made with dried chilies for extra heat. If you like spicy food, add 10 dried red chiles in while you’re stir frying the onion and bell pepper. You do not have to eat the dried chilies. They release heat as they cook and can be left in the finished dish for garnish.
- Don’t use salted peanuts. Only use UNSALTED peanuts, so this recipe does not turn out too salty. Also, purchase roasted, unsalted peanuts for a more complex flavor, or, toast the peanuts yourself in a dry skillet over medium heat until golden.
- Soy sauce. Dark soy sauce is used in authentic recipes, however it can be hard to find. It can be replaced with regular or light soy sauce. It’s mostly added to darken the color of the sauce.
- Time saving tip. Short on time, use about 1/2 cup of pre-made Kung Pao or stir fry sauce. You can also use pre-chopped vegetables for convenience.
Frequently asked questions
It’s a stir fry spicy dish made with chicken, vegetables, peanuts, and chili peppers, in a saucy combination that is slightly sweet, tangy, salty, and spicy. Even though, the recipe has become very Americanized, it originated in the Sichuan province of China. It became popular in various regions, each adding its own special touch. It’s still quite as popular in Chinese restaurants as much as it is on American takeout menus.
Kung Pao Chicken and General Tso’s Chicken are similar in that they are both stir-fry chicken-based dishes that are made with veggies and a hint of chili. The main difference is that General Tso Chicken is typically deep-fried and tossed in a sticky sweet and sour sauce, and Kung Pao Chicken cooked on the stovetop and coated in a more savory sauce.
You can easily control the spice level in this dish. It can be as spicy or as mild as you prefer. To really spice it up, use dried red chilis, red pepper flakes, cayenne pepper and/or Asian chili paste.
- Gluten free. To make this recipe gluten free, simply use tamari in place of soy sauce and be sure to use a gluten-free hoisin sauce.
- Vegetables. Increase the nutrition in this dish by stir-frying more veggies. Some great options are broccoli, zucchini, mushrooms, carrots, celery, snow peas and/or baby corn.
- Change the protein. Swap the chicken for shrimp to make Kung Pao Shrimp or make this vegetarian by using tofu.
- Authentic add-ins. To make this recipe more authentic, you can add 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine to the sauce and Sichuan peppercorns ground into 1/2 teaspoon peppercorn powder.
Kung Pao Chicken is delicious served over a bed of freshly steamed white rice, hearty brown rice or cauliflower rice for a low-carb meal. On the side, pair this with an Asian Salad, Hot & Sour Soup or fried wontons for a complete meal that is better than any takeout.
- Make-ahead. This is a great recipe to meal prep for daily lunches or make in advance for dinner. It becomes even more flavorful the next day! You could also just cut the chicken and veggies and/or make the sauce a day or so in advance.
- Leftovers. Place any extras in an airtight container and refrigerate. It will keep fresh for about 4 to 5 days.
- To reheat. Rewarm in a pot or skillet on the stovetop or pop it in the microwave to reheat. Reheating in a skillet will yield the best results.
- Freezing. You can freeze this by storing it in an airtight container or freezer bags, once it has fully cooled. Store for up to 2 months. To thaw, take it out of the freezer the night before and place it in the refrigerator. The next day when ready to serve, either heat it up in the microwave or add it to a skillet/wok and stir-fry until heated through.
More chicken recipes
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Kung Pao Chicken
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 large yellow onion diced (about 1 1/4 cups)
- 1 whole red bell pepper diced
- 10 dried red chilies optional, see note below
- 1 pound chicken tenders or boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper optional
- 3 scallions sliced thin
- 1/4 cup unsalted and roasted peanuts
Kung Pao Chicken Sauce
- 1/2 cup cold water
- 2 tbsp hoisin sauce
- 2 tbsp dark or regular soy sauce
- 1 1/2 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
- 1/2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 tbsp sesame oil
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Sauté onion and red bell pepper for about 5 mins and until softened. If using dried red chilies, add them in with the onion and bell pepper.
- While veggies are cooking, cut chicken into bite-sized pieces and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and cayenne pepper (if using). Add in the hot pan to cook thoroughly to brown.
- In a small bowl, whisk all sauce ingredients together. Pour into hot pan and simmer to thicken sauce. Before serving, toss together with scallions and peanuts. Serve over white rice.
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