Kung Pao Chicken is a one-skillet dish made of stir fry chicken, veggies, peanuts, and a flavorful heat. It’s coated in a delicious sweet and spicy sauce that gives us every reason to skip the line at Panda Express. Make an even better, quick, and budget-friendly version at home!
One-Pan Kung Pao Chicken
This kung pao chicken recipe is the ultimate skillet dinner that has everything you want in Chinese kung pao chicken. Tender pieces of chicken, crispy tender veggies, and salty crunchy peanuts all stir-fried in a sweet, salty, and spicy kung pao sauce. It has all of the flavors of the famous Panda Express kung pao chicken without the added sodium and is made with ingredients you’ve already got at home.
No need to run out to specialty food stores, unless you want to. It’s a healthy, delicious, easy one-pot dinner you can make in the comforts of your own home, saving you time and money!
What is Kung Pao Chicken?
Even if you’ve never had it before, you’ve probably heard of it. So, what exactly is it? Get excited because it’s amazing! It’s a stir fry spicy dish made with chicken, vegetables, peanuts, and chili peppers, in an extremely flavorful saucy combination that can only be described as sweet, tangy, salty, and pleasantly spicy.
Kung Pao chicken is a dish that, despite the Americanized version we’ve all come to know and love, originated in the Sichuan province of China which then took off in popularity in various regions, each adding its flare. It’s still quite as popular in Chinese restaurants as much as it is on American take-out menus and soon you’ll know why.
An Easy Stir Fry
It’s super easy to recreate this take-out dish in a few easy steps. You’ll do a quick marinate of the chicken, known as velveting. In traditional Chinese cooking, using this type of marinade is a way to protect the chicken’s moisture from the high heat. Then you’ll sauté the chicken and veggies and make the sauce. Once you combine everything together it’s other worldly. An easy way to a popular dish your entire family will devour!
This recipe is easily adaptable to whatever your taste preferences are. It’s made even easier by taking a few shortcuts as mentioned below. Serve on a bed of white rice or chow mein noodles and you’ve got a scrumptious dinner that everyone will want more of!
Tips & Variations
- While your chicken is marinating, prep your veggies and your sauce. A stir fry moves quickly, so having things ready to go early on makes it much easier to move through the recipe.
- Roast the nuts ahead of time, even before you marinate the chicken. It will add a deeper nuttier flavor as well as a crunchier bite. Just a bonus!
- Use 1/2 cup of pre-made Kung Pao or stir fry sauce for a shortcut.
- Used pre-chopped stir fry vegetables. If you have them available, for convenience you can add them.
- Swap the fresh garlic or ginger for 1 teaspoon of ground if that’s what you have.
- Play around with the level of heat. The chili peppers are optional!
- Nut allergy? Omit the nuts if you’re concerned about a peanut allergy and make sure not to use peanut oil.
- If you have leftover chicken breast or rotisserie chicken, add the cooked chicken in at the end.
A quick guide on how to cook rice on the stove will allow you to have some ready by the time you’re stir fry is done. Brown or white rice is traditional as are chow mein noodles which the kids find especially fun to eat.
Pick up some take-out containers and some chopsticks and make a fun night of celebrating Chinese cuisine!
More Easy Asian Dinners:
- Chicken and Vegetable Stir Fry
- Sweet and Sour Chicken
- General Tso’s Chicken
- Instant Pot Orange Chicken
- PF Chang’s Lettuce Wraps
Kung Pao Chicken
Kung Pao Sauce
- 2 to 3 Tablespoons oil , you can use vegetable, peanut or olive
- 1 Tablespoon sesame oil , can sub for another oil if needed
- 2 bell peppers , sliced into bite sized pieces
- 1 small zucchini , cut unto bite sized pieces
- 1 bunch green onions , sliced thin
- 1 Tablespoon minced garlic , about 4 cloves
- 1/2 Tablespoon minced ginger
- 8 dried chili peppers , optional
- red pepper flakes , to taste
- 1/2 cup dry roasted peanuts
For serving (optional): Rice or noodles
- Combine the chicken, soy sauce, salt and corn starch in a large bowl. Set aside.
- Prep the vegetables and then prep the Kung Pao Sauce. For the sauce combine the soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, water and cornstarch in a small bowl. Whisk until smooth.
- Next heat a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add 2 Tablespoons oil and allow to heat up for 30 seconds. Then add the chicken to the skillet in a single layer. Allow to cook for 1 to 2 minutes and then flip. Cook an additional 1 to 2 minutes or until edges are lightly browned and the center is cooked through (160°F). Then remove chicken and place on a large plate. Quickly run the pan under hot water and carefully wipe down with a paper towel.
- Next add another Tablespoon of oil to the pan. Cook the bell peppers and zucchini over medium high heat for 3 to 4 minutes, or until tender. Then remove the vegetables onto the plate.
- Add a Tablespoon of sesame oil to the pan if needed. Then add the garlic, ginger, red pepper flakes (I start with about 1/2 teaspoon), green onions, peanuts and chili peppers if desired. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes or until fragrant. Then pour in the Kung Pao Sauce and simmer until thickened.
- Add the chicken and vegetables back to the sauce. Toss until combined. Taste and add more salt and red pepper flakes to taste. Serve while hot.
- Use 1/2 cup of a pre-made Kung Pao or Stir Fry Sauce.
- You could also use pre chopped stir fry vegetables.
- If you don’t have fresh garlic or ginger you can use 1 teaspoon ground.
- If you want to use leftover or rotisserie chicken, you can skip step 1 and 3. Then just add the chicken in at the end.