Who doesn’t love American Chinese food? Sure, it’s a complete bastardization of the traditional cuisine of an entire country, but I’m pretty sure it’s the closest I came to international cuisine as a child other than taco night (and we always put black olives on our tacos growing…so that was kind of deliciously absurd as well).
Alex and I used to eat Chinese food at least every other week in New Orleans. Our first date was even at a Chinese restaurant, China Orchid, in the riverbend because we could walk there from campus. Eventually I realized that my favorite thing to order was the dish where everything is chopped to the same size and there are peanuts and chicken and vegetables. But I could never remember what it was called. I would always turn to Alex and ask, “What’s that thing I like?” and every time he’d reply, “Kung Pao Chicken”. Every time. It’s gotten to the point where I ask even though I’m well aware of what the answer is. I’m not sure if he finds it endearing or irritating, but I’m going to keep doing it regardless.
This is my best attempt at Kung Pao Chicken. Coating the chicken in the cornstarch is a little trick that I found online that really seems to make it taste more like it does in a restaurant. I use water chestnuts because I think the crunch is important and the peanuts have to be unsalted so that, combined with the soy sauce, it’s not a salt-fest when you eat it. This whole dish takes less than 30 mintues to make and it’s one of my favorite things to eat, even when I make it at home and don’t get to ask Alex what it’s called.
chicken stir fry (aka kung pao chicken)
makes 4 servings
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
2 bell peppers, diced
1 can sliced or diced water chestnuts
8 ounces white mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts
4 tablespoons soy sauce
4 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon fish sauce (optional)
1 teaspoon sriracha
Cut each chicken breast in half length-wise and then cut into bite-sized chunks. Toss the chicken with the cornstarch until each piece is evenly coated. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large skillet or wok set to medium heat. Add the chicken and cook until it’s golden brown on the outside and cooked through. Remove the chicken from the wok and set aside. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the wok and add the onions. Cook until the onion starts to soften. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute more, making sure not to let it burn. Add the celery, bell pepper and mushrooms. Let cook for 3-4 minutes, stiring occasionally so that everything cooks evenly.. In the meantime, stir together the spoy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, fish sauce and sriracha oil a small bowl. Add it to the wok along with the chicken, water chestnuts, and peanuts. Stir everything to combine and cook for 3-4 more minutes, until everything is heated through and the sauce has had time to cook down a little. Serve hot over rice.