Friday, March 22, 2013

Kung Pao Chicken

Ruth had a garden club meeting on Thursday, so I went to the Szechuan House in Lutherville for dinner to satisfy my craving for some good Kung Pao chicken. Uncle Lee’s at 33rd and Greenmount Avenue in Baltimore used to be my favorite spot to get this dish until it closed many years ago.  Szechuan House, at least to me, now makes the best in town!  I learned to make this dish at home out of necessity because the closest Chinese place is over 10 miles away. I prefer to make it with chicken thighs rather than breasts, because the dark meat has a much richer flavor and is less likely to dry out. You can substitute plain rice vinegar for the black rice vinegar (available in Asian markets), but the black vinegar adds complexity to the dish. By the way, do not eat the charred whole chiles in the finished dish!


1     lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs , trimmed of fat and cut into 1-inch pieces
1     Tbs dry sherry or rice wine
2     tsp soy sauce
3     medium cloves garlic , minced (about 1 tablespoon)
1/2     inch piece fresh ginger , peeled and minced (about 2 teaspoons)
3     Tbs peanut oil
1/2     cup roasted unsalted peanuts
6     small whole dried red chiles (each about 1 3/4 to 2 inches long)
3/4     cup low-sodium chicken broth
2     tsp black rice vinegar or plain rice vinegar (available at Asian market)
2     tsp toasted sesame oil
1     Tbs oyster sauce (available at Asian market)
1     Tbs hoisin sauce (available at Asian market)
1 1/2     tsp cornstarch
1     medium bell pepper , cut into 3/4-inch dice
3     medium scallions , sliced thin


Toss the chicken thigh pieces with the sherry and soy sauce in medium bowl and marinate until they have absorbed flavors, about 10 minutes. Mix the garlic, minced ginger, and 1 tablespoon of the oil in small bowl and set aside. Combine the peanuts and chiles in small bowl and set aside. Mix the chicken broth, vinegar, sesame oil, oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, and cornstarch in small bowl or measuring cup; set aside.  Heat a tablespoon of oil in a 12-inch skillet over high heat until just beginning to smoke. Add the dried chiles and cook until they darken. Add the chicken and cook without stirring for 2 minutes, allowing chicken to brown on one side; stir and cook about 2 minutes more, until no longer pink. Stir the peanuts into chicken and continue cooking until peanuts have darkened slightly, 30 to 40 seconds longer. Transfer chicken, peanuts, and chiles to a bowl and set aside.  Return the skillet to the burner and reheat about 15 to 30 seconds. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil, then add the bell pepper; cooking until slightly softened, about 45 seconds. Clear center of pan, add garlic-ginger mixture, mash into pan with spoon or spatula, and cook until fragrant, 10 to 15 seconds; stir into peppers until combined. Stir broth mixture to recombine, then add to skillet along with reserved chicken, peanuts, and chiles; cook, stirring and scraping up browned bits on bottom of pan, until sauce has thickened to syrupy consistency, about 45 seconds. Stir in the chopped scallions and serve the dish with steamed rice.

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