Recipe 13: Kung Pao Chicken


Garnish with green onion and red chili slivers.
Garnish with green onion and red chili slivers.

 

If it isn’t apparent yet, I love spicy things. I love how you can take an ordinary dish and add a completely new, nose-running, facet to it. There are many types of heat as well as many degrees. In chili paste like the one I use here, the main element of heat is a compound named capsaicin. This compound is hydrophobic, which means that it shuns away from water. This is why no matter how much you try, drinking water won’t make your mouth stop burning. Capsaicin is soluble in fats/oils, so such is why drinking milk can soothe your burning mouth. Now, this is also why including a little fat can completely augment the heat of a recipe. When soups are too spicy, sometimes it helps to add cream to take up some of that heat.

Like many other spicy dishes, Kung Pao Chicken relies on oil to dissolve the spiciness from the chili paste and deposit it on your tongue. But enough of the chemistry lesson, lets get cooking.

Recipe 13: Kung Pao Chicken

Note: This recipe is an adaptation of this version, on Allrecipes.com, with some changes due to my laziness to go to the store.

Ingredients:

  • 0.5 lb boneless, skinless chicken tenders/breasts, cubed
  • 2 tbsp white wine
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp olive oil (I had some garlic olive oil handy, but sesame oil works just as well)
  • 2 tbsp cornstarch dissolved in 2 tbsp water
  • 1 oz chili garlic sauce (about 2 tbsp+)
  • 1 tsp distilled vinegar (white)
  • 2 tsp brown sugar
  • 4 green onions, chopped
  • 4 oz sliced almonds (this came out to about 1.5 cups, I buy mine in bulk, and you can use any nut you like)

Process:

First thing you want to do is thaw your chicken. If it’s fresh, cube it and place it into a bowl. Next, get two small (1-cup) bowls and mix the following:

Chicken marinade:

  • 1 tbsp wine
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • half of the cornstarch/water mixture

Sauce:

  • 1 tbsp wine
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • other half of cornstarch/water mixture
  • chili garlic sauce
  • vinegar
  • brown sugar
  • green onion
  • almonds/nuts

You want to pour your marinade mixture over the chicken and give it a toss to coat the pieces. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes. At this point, if you’re going to make rice, you can add your rice to a bowl and cover with cool water to soak at the same time.

Once the chicken is ready, add your sauce mixture to a skillet and saute on medium heat until aromatic. Add your chicken and cup of water and reduce the heat to a simmer. Put a lid on it and let it cook for 5 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Remove the lid and ramp up the heat to medium again until the sauce thickens. Add your rice to the rice cooker (or to your pot on the stove) and cook it as well.

Once done, remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes to thicken further and then serve atop your rice.

If you want to add vegetables, such as a frozen stir fry mix, add them with the chicken. You can garnish it with some sliced green onion and if you can find them, either some slivers of dried red chili (Asian markets will have them) or a pinch or red pepper flakes (think those packets that come with a pizza delivery).

Additional Science Nerdity:

Cornstarch and water is the classic mixture to exemplify the theory of a Non-Newtonian Fluid. If you’re wondering what the heck I mean, check it out:

The basic idea is that this mixture behaves weirdly. If you took a hammer to water, well, you’d just make a splash and pass though. If you take a hammer to a mixture of cornstarch and water, it momentarily turns to a solid and can be seen to “crack” under the pressure. Just another excuse to make a mess in the kitchen. Enjoy!

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