Kung Pao Chicken has been my favorite stir fry since childhood, and it’s one of those favorites I’ve never grown tired of. You know how sometimes you can overdo it on something you really love and then have to put it aside for awhile? I don’t think that’s even remotely possible with Kung Pao Chicken, my love of this stuff truly knows no bounds.
In fact with each of the batches I made leading up to this recipe, I could barely wait the next morning to get some out for breakfast, even the less than stellar batch where I overcooked the zucchini noodles and it turned out watery. Maybe I have a problem, (I mean I have eaten this for the last 3 out of 3 meals) but then again maybe it’s just that good! And… there’s no guilt involved with this version because it’s veggie packed, and there’s no mystery ingredients you can’t pronounce!
Zucchini noodles can be tricky, so I’m going to give you a few tips I’ve learned over many batches of this dish.
- Pull the pan off the heat when the zucchini noodles seem a little underdone. I promise they go from firm to perfect in the minute and a half between the stove and the table.
- With any stir fry it’s really key to have all your ingredients ready to go before you start stir frying, that way when you’re cooking over high heat you don’t have to stop to mix together the sauce or chop something.
- A large heavy bottomed stainless steal pan will give you the best results and the most authentic seared flavor, but it’s also a bit more difficult to cook in than non-stick. I browned my chicken first and removed it from the pan, next you add the veggies and if you’re using stainless steel I find it to be the best when you add about 2 tablespoons of water as well. This helps to loosen the browned bits on the bottom of the pan and prevent them from burning. Once the veggies are done stir frying you add the chicken back to the pan with the zucchini noodles and the sauce. When you add these in, be sure you’re using a metal spatula and really scrape the bottom of the pan as you add in these last ingredients because their moisture will help loosen the accumulated browned bits on the bottom. You want to be sure that at all times any of the browned bits on the bottom aren’t turning black. As long as you work quickly and keep things moving, you’ll be good to go!
For the bell pepper, remove the stem and seeds. Cut it into 1/2″ strips and then slice crosswise into small bite sized pieces.
Peel the carrots, and slice them as thinly as possible so that they cook evenly with everything else.
For the onion, cut off both ends and peel away the tough outer layer. Cut the onion in half from the top to the bottom, then make another cut from the top almost to the bottom, (but not cutting through the core) in each half. Lay each half flat side down on the cutting board, and make 4-5 cuts across the rounded top being sure not to cut through the core. Finally cut crosswise into a 1/2″ dice.
Place the minced ginger, garlic, and red pepper flakes together in a small bowl and set aside. It’s important to have each component in a small bowl ready to go when you’re stir frying.
Mix the tapioca starch thoroughly into the sauce mixture making sure there aren’t any lumps. Add the honey but don’t worry about mixing it in, it will melt instantly when it hits the hot pan.
You might have noticed that this isn’t the most authentic Kung Pao Chicken, but you can find loads of recipes for that. This version can be made with ingredients from a regular grocery store, and I also used cashews instead of peanuts because they’re my favorite. The usual dried whole peppers that you’d associate with Kung Pao chicken were nowhere in sight in my little grocery store, so we went with red pepper flakes instead. Even though I’ve made few substitutions, this version still completely hits the spot, and I’m pretty picky about my Kung Pao Chicken!
For the brief time I lived in Calgary, I loved going to the gigantic Asian grocery stores to hunt down the most authentic ingredients possible for a recipe. But as a native Montanan, it drives me crazy looking at a recipe that says ‘you can easily find this at your local Asian grocery’ – I mean… what if you don’t have one of those!?! So this recipe is for anyone else out there that finds themselves in the same situation as me, and can’t get those more difficult ingredients without Internet shopping.
- 1 medium onion, 8 ounces, ½" dice
- 1 red bell pepper, 8 ounces, ½" dice
- 4 large carrots, 1 pound, thinly sliced
- 4 medium zucchini, 2 pounds
- 1 Tablespoon minced fresh ginger
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 Teaspoons red pepper flakes
- 1 pkg boneless skinless chicken things, 1½ pounds or 4 thighs cut into ½" pieces
- ¼ cup avocado oil
- 1 Tablespoon honey
- ¼ cup gluten free soy sauce or coconut aminos
- 1 Tablespoon rice vinegar
- 2 Tablespoon rice wine
- 4-6 drops (less than ¼ teaspoon) toasted sesame oil
- 1 Tablespoon tapioca starch
- 1 cup toasted cashews
- ½ cup thinly sliced green onions
- Prepare the onion, bell pepper, and carrots and set aside in a bowl.
- Spiralize the zucchini and set the noodles aside in a bowl.
- Place the ginger, garlic, and red pepper flakes in a small bowl and set aside.
- Mix together all the ingredients for the sauce making sure there are no lumps of tapioca starch but don't worry about mixing the honey in completely.
- Preheat a large (6 quart) stainless steel fry pan (you can use non stick, it's easier but gives less seared flavor to the stir fry) over high heat. When the pan is hot, add 2 Tablespoons of the avocado oil and the cubed chicken to the pan. Stir fry for a couple of minutes turning twice, waiting for browned edges appear before turning. When the chicken is mostly done, remove it from the pan and set aside until the end.
- Add the remaining oil to the pan along with the onions, bell pepper, and carrots. If there's a lot of browned bits on the bottom add 2 tablespoons of water as well and scrape it off as you stir fry the veggies. When they're crisp tender, add the ginger, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Stir fry until fragrant, about 1 minute. Then add the chicken back into the pan along with the zucchini noodles and sauce. Stir fry for 1-2 minutes scraping the bottom with a metal spatula as you go. Remove the pan from the heat when the zucchini noodles still look underdone and bit firm, they will soften in the next few minutes without further cooking. Season to taste with sea salt if desired.
- Serve immediately with the toasted cashews and green onions.
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