Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Kung Pao Chicken or Shrimp - 四川人宫保鸡丁

The Chinese ideographs above are: Sichuanese Kung Pao Chicken.

In Pinyin that is: Sìchuān rén gōng bǎo jī dīng.

For me, Kung Pao Chicken will always be one of the first Chinese dishes I ever ate at a restaurant as an adult, that I remember. As such, my understanding of Kung Pao is based on that, and that alone, until now. I have devoted dozens of hours towards a better recipe. Both what I cook and where I eat it at Chinese take-out joints. See the links below about the chiles. For me, Kung Pao Chicken will always be a Chinese take-out item. You can eat it at the restaurant if you prefer, but it's part of what Chinese-in-America have for take-out or standard restaurant fare.

Although Fuchsia Dunlop has given English readers an authentic look into Kung Pao, I may have come across a little known technique, that is likely to prove to be the making of this dish in as an authentic Chinese Restaurant Take Out style as possible. (If you regularly read Danger! Men Cooking you know I don't often brag.)

Ms. Dunlop's interpretation of Kung Pao chicken is lacking in this respect. The chicken (or other meat/fish) must be velveted. I have seen multiple recipes that use whipped (or beaten) egg white to help marinate the chicken bits (cubes), in an attempt to velvet it. That's not it. It was not until today that I read about velveting meats that I realized that I have yet to have my own, homemade, Kung Pao Chicken dish. And I love to make authentic recipes. And Kung Pao Chicken is one of my favorites.

I have already located the Heaven Facing Chiles as the Chinese call them, and posted about them here. These seem to me to be the authentic ingredient for Kung Pao Chicken. Comments from Sichuan, greatly appreciated. I prefer these chiles (also spelled: chilis, chilies, chillis, chilles) because the have a fruity note and the heat dissipates from the tongue quickly . . . somewhat quicker than chile de arbol or japonese. Those being chiles often found in Kung Pao Chix.

So, Dear Reader, here is what I believe is the final piece of the puzzle as to how to make authentic Kung Pao Chicken (or Shrimp). You must use the oil blanching technique. Let me explain why. A busy Chinese restaurant will have as much food prepared ahead of time as possible. Then, when the rush for lunch or dinner comes, (even breakfast), the food or plates can be got to the diner as quickly as possible. This technique works for more than that reason alone, however. By oil blanching the meat, it has had the micro-organisms on the surface destroyed. It's safer. Now in a home cooking setting that doesn't matter so much, but in a restaurant, it is crucial. So not only does the food stay fresher, the oil penetrates the surface of the chicken or shrimp and flavor it. And by being browned, later, the food stays moister. The Chinese save this oil and at least one other cookbook calls it: cooked oil. Yes, I'm well aware that some say that once an oil is heated it shouldn't be reused. (Is that group the people selling vegetable oil?) I disagree. I have oil that has been used multiple times, and gets a little more flavorful each time it is used. The USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service, has a .pdf about reusing oil: hereThe oil I use is not used for deep frying, however, I use it for stir frying and sometimes for sautéing eggs or small foods. Yum. 

Here is how to oil blanch the cubed chicken or shrimps.

Batterie de Cuisine

Wok shovel or spatula (chuan)
Sieve - large enough to hold the quantity of food being cooked at one time
Metal or heat-proof (in the USA "Pyrex") bowls, or measuring cups
Paper toweling


Cube the chicken. Reserve. If you are using shrimp, cut them into bite-size morsels, if they are large. (Why would you use large shrimp in this dish and then cut them to size?)

In the wok, heat 8 ozs. of peanut oil. (I prefer peanut oil, use the oil you choose).  When it has reached 350° to 375° F, add the cubes in one batch. Stir to separate the cubes. Allow 1 minute for the chicken to blanch. Remove the blanched chicken to a sieve over a bowl and allow the oil to drain. After the oil has drained, transfer the chicken to paper toweling on a baking sheet. When the oil is drained onto the toweling, proceed with your way of making Kung Pao Chicken.

The chicken cubes will turn white within the prescribed minute. Do not brown them at this time.

What I like about this is that you can now make the vinegar sauce, mince the scallions or garnish, etc. Or you can do the other prep work first and them finish. It works well either way.

Copyright Mark Preston, the Secret Ingredient, Danger! Men Cooking, 2015.