About Kung Pao Chicken
Kung Pao chicken (Chinese: 宫保鸡丁; pinyin: Gōngbǎo jīdīng), also transcribed Gong Bao or Kung Po, is a spicy, stir-fried Chinese dish made with cubes of chicken, peanuts, vegetables (traditionally Welsh onion only), and chili peppers. The classic dish in Sichuan cuisine originated in the Sichuan Province of south-western China and includes Sichuan peppercorns. Although the dish is found throughout China, there are regional variations that are typically less spicy than the Sichuan serving. Kung Pao chicken is also a staple of Westernized Chinese cuisine.
Ding Baozhen, the Qing dynasty official in Sichuan after whom the dish is named
The Anhui version of Kung Pao chicken served in an iron pot
The dish is believed to be named after Ding Baozhen (1820–1886), a late Qing Dynasty official and governor of Sichuan Province. His title was Taizi Shaobao, which is one of Gongbao (Chinese: 宫保; pinyin: Gōngbǎo; Wade–Giles: Kung1-pao3; lit. ‘Palace Guardian’). The name Kung Pao chicken is derived from this title, while the use of the character 丁 dīng in the name of the dish is a pun on his surname Dīng, a moderately common Chinese surname that can also be read to mean “small cube” (like the cubes the chicken is diced into for the dish).
During the Cultural Revolution, the dish’s name became politically incorrect because of its association with the imperial system. The dish was renamed “spicy chicken” (Chinese: 糊辣鸡丁; pinyin: húlà jīdīng) by Maoists until its political rehabilitation in the 1980s under Deng Xiaoping’s reforms.
The original Sichuan version uses chicken as its primary ingredient. In this original version, diced chicken is typically mixed with a prepared marinade. Shaoxing wine is used to enhance flavor in the marinade. The wok is seasoned and then chili peppers and Sichuan peppercorns are flash-fried to add fragrance to the oil. In Sichuan, or when preparing Sichuan-style Kung Pao chicken, only Sichuan-style chili peppers such as facing heaven pepper or seven stars pepper (Chinese: 七星椒; pinyin: qīxīngjiāo) are used. Smaller, thinner Sichuanese varieties may also be used. Sichuan peppercorns are then added; while Kung Pao chicken does not belong to the numbing-spicy “mala” flavor profile (Chinese: 麻辣味型; pinyin: málà wèixíng), a small amount of fresh toasted peppercorns are traditionally used to balance the heat of the chilis. Then the chicken is stir-fried and chopped leeks, along with peanuts, are added. Kung Pao chicken starts off with fresh, moist, unroasted peanuts. These are often used instead of their pre-roasted versions. The peanuts are dropped into the hot oil at the bottom of the wok, then deep-fried until golden brown before the other ingredients are added.
Variants exist that use other meats in place of chicken, such as “Kung Pao shrimp” (Chinese: 宫保虾) and “Kung Pao frog legs” (Chinese: 宫保田鸡).