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The many faces of Kung Pao Chicken 宫保鸡丁

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889

Not even a teasponful of sugar!

I'm pretty sure in Beijing there's a cupful in this dish.

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Xiao Kui

Wow, I didn't know kung pao chicken wasn't from Sichuan - that was a revelation! I would say that after living there for 2 years I prefer the Sichuan version and find it difficult to enjoy anywhere else in China. I especially can't stand it with cucumbers! I'm not a fan of cooked cucumbers anyway, and they almost ruin this dish for me which is only saved by the fact  that i can avoid them with chopsticks!  The only vegetables they put in it in Chengdu were wosun and scallions. Also, it is never made in Sichuan without sugar.  I had difficulty enjoying it even one province away in Yunnan where it was always made without huajiao, and often without sugar. The dish is completely different from the Sichuan version there.  In Henan they usually leave out the sugar, sometimes get the huajiao in, but often add *gasp* carrots! Just my personal experience of and preference for this dish.  I'm not sure of its seasonal availability but I do suggest you try making it with wosun if you haven't tried it before. I got it at the market in Kunming and made it at home when I was desperate for the taste that I was accustomed to. :)

 

 

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Larry Language Lover

Wow, you really know how to cook.  That looks absolutely delicious!

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3 hours ago, Xiao Kui said:

I'm not sure of its seasonal availability but I do suggest you try making it with wosun if you haven't tried it before.

 

That sounds excellent. Thanks, I'll try it soon. My outdoor market still has plenty of wosun 莴笋。What I took away from reading a whole lot of recipes on the Chinese internet was that the vegetables, whichever ones you choose, should take a back seat to the chicken, should not compete with the chicken, should let the chicken be the star. 

 

10 hours ago, 889 said:

Not even a teasponful of sugar!

 

Aaargh! In copying the recipe from my notebook to the forum post, I forgot to write in the sugar. Thank you for calling that to my attention! 真不好意思!

 

Even though sugarless versions do exist, Kung Pao Chicken usually does include sugar so as to produce a balance between three essential flavors: sweet, sour, and spicy/hot 甜酸辣。Especially true with the Beijing edition; seems to be the sweetest one. In point of fact, i included one tablespoon of sugar in the thickening sauce. Will go back and make that correction right now.   

 

In a little while, I'll write out a succinct copy of the recipe itself complete with an ingredient list. That's a good way to prevent oversights like this. Also makes it easier for other people to follow the recipe when they make it themselves. 

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9 hours ago, Larry Language Lover said:

Wow, you really know how to cook.  That looks absolutely delicious!

 

Thank you @Larry Language Lover -- Cooking Chinese food is one of my hobbies. I live in Kunming and have access to lots of prime fresh seasonal ingredients. They are always an inspiration, year around. I just walk through the local farmers market and get ideas. Talk with the vendors about how they suggest cooking their produce; they always have practical suggestions. And I also like to recreate the classics. 

 

Here are some other Chinese Forum recipes which are indexed alphabetically. You might find something else that strikes your fancy.

 

https://www.chinese-forums.com/forums/topic/52430-alphabetical-index-of-food-articles/


@Xiao Kui -- 

Quote

Wow, I didn't know kung pao chicken wasn't from Sichuan - that was a revelation! 

 

Well, actually it sort of is from Sichuan. But it is also sort of from Shandong, Guizhou, and Beijing. Several regions claim it. This dish got around, and everyplace it passed through produced some changes. 

 

Now it also exists in New York, London, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, Singapore and so on.  Every place which has adopted it as its own makes some changes so it will appeal more to local tastes. 

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889

In a good restaurant they'd no doubt throw a dollop of long-simmered chicken stock into the wok. And in a not-so-good one a dollop of 味精.

 

Stocks can make all the difference in creating a dish with a deep and complex flavor. Do you use them?

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6 hours ago, 889 said:

Stocks can make all the difference in creating a dish with a deep and complex flavor. Do you use them?

 

Agree in principle. I always have frozen home-made stock 高汤 on hand. But I don't use it in this dish since the amount of required liquid is so small. 

 

What I do when I want to "kick it up a notch" is to make Kung Pao Chicken out of chicken thighs instead of chicken breast. A bit more work, since you must cut the meat off the bone. But dark meat has more flavor. It also has less of a tendency to dry out. The second trick is to use a little 郫县豆瓣酱 early on, when frying the chicken by itself, before adding the vegetables. 

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ChTTay

Generally cheaper restaurants will add carrot and cucumber. Especially if it’s 盖饭. On the one hand, less chicken is needed and, on the other, turns it into a bit more of a meal. 

 

If you go to a better restaurant, especially Beijing or Sichuan style, they’ll just have chicken scallion and peanuts. 

 

Personally the worst 宫保鸡丁 I had was in Chengdu. My friend who lived there also didn’t find any great home style stuff while he lived there. He guessed perhaps because they all cook that stuff at home a lot more. Who knows ... 

The best I’ve ever had in 9 years is from a small Sichuan restaurant in Yinchuan. The owner and chef was from Sichuan and his son was second-chef. Whole family lived above the restaurant. 

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889

I suppose we should add a warning here that 宫保鸡丁 is a standard item on the menu of the cheap chain fast food places, where it seems to be prepared in a vast factory months before then somehow re-heated in the back of the store that masquerades as a kitchen before arriving at your table, often as a soggy tasteless 宫保鸡丁盖饭. Sad to say, even some places that resemble a real restaurant will put re-heated junk on your table these days.

 

In 10 or 20 years, getting food hot out of the wok in a Chinese restaurant may well become a very expensive treat, so enjoy eating out in China while you can.

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Those sound like good reasons to make it at home, at least when time permits. You can use good quality ingredients and you can vary the contents according to personal preference. Plus you can be sure it's made fresh from scratch on the premises, in your own kitchen. 

 

Quote

In 10 or 20 years, getting food hot out of the wok in a Chinese restaurant may well become a very expensive treat, so enjoy eating out in China while you can.

 

In the US it's an increasingly-common sight to see a large truck pulled up to the back of small restaurants delivering food that has already been preppped and maybe partially cooked. The local staff just applies the finishing touches and serves it up. Restaurants run on such a thin margin that they see the time and labor saving this affords as something they must do to survive. It's a pity, but understandable. 

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