I am not sure when it happened but at some point when I was growing up we started to get more American sitcoms on our TV. And maybe it is a befuddled memory but at one stage the TV mainly seemed to be British and Australian shows and then American shows started to seep in to my consciousness. Maybe it is that the children’s shows that were mainly British and Australian and the American shows were aimed at adults and on at a later time and I only started seeming them as my parents let me stay up later.
One of the things I thought looked so cool about living in America is that the takeaway came in these groovy shaped cardboard boxes and people ate directly out of the boxes. Here in Canberra, our takeaway came in boring plastic containers and I can tell you my Mum would not have approved of eating directly out of the box. Of course now we have those groovy boxes in Australia and they are nowhere near as practical for saving leftovers in as the boring plastic containers and the idea of sharing food straight from the box seems a bit unhygienic. What is that saying about the grass is always greener?
Aside from the boxes, the other thing that sounded amazing on the American sitcoms was Kung Pao chicken. This was definitely not on the menu at our local Chinese and it sounded so exotic. I have now had it a couple of times and unlike the boxes, it is as good as it sounds. Chinese people may not agree with me if this article is true but I love the spiciness of the dish and the fact it normally comes with a generous amount of sauce.
I have been looking for a good recipe to make this at home. I have tried a few so far and this recipe is my favourite to date but it still isn’t quite as good as the best I have had in restaurants so I will be trying some other recipes. But in the interim, this is pretty good attempt. Plus the dried chillis look wonderful if you are serving this up to guests.
To make this for one I used the following ingredients:
For the marinade:
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- ½ tsp of dry sherry
- ½ tsp (or just slightly under) of cornflour (corn starch)
- 130g boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into 1 inch cubes
For the sauce
- 1 tsp of balsamic vinegar
- ¼ tsp of soy sauce
- ¼ tsp of hoisin sauce
- ¼ tsp of sesame oil
- ½ tsp of sugar
- ¼ tsp of cornflour (corn starch)
- 1/8 tsp of ground Sichuan pepper (I ground mine in my mortar and pestle)
- ½ tbs of peanut oil
- 2 dried red chillis
- 1 spring onion (scallion), thinly slice and white and green parts separated
- ½ tsp of minced garlic (equal to half a clove)
- ¼ tsp of minced ginger
I skipped the peanuts and maybe that was why the dish wasn’t quite up to restaurant standard. I have since done more reading on Kung Pao chicken and the peanuts do seem important.
The first time I made this I only had dried chillis that I don’t normally associate with Chinese food including ancho chile and smoky chipotle chillis. The second time around I used dried red chillis from the local Asian supermarket. The second version was more authentic but I preferred the flavours in the first attempt. Go figure. They were just a bit sweeter. Of course it could just be the quality of the different chillis. I wasn’t sure which brand to buy at the supermarket to went for the packaging that most appealed – not necessarily the best way to find the best produce. Having said that I haven’t done badly picking wine this way. Love a good label on a wine bottle.
I followed the recipe aside from the skipping of the peanuts. The preparation time was about 10 minutes, mainly because there is a bit to get out of the pantry. There is not much chopping if you use pre minced garlic and ginger as I did. The cooking time is only 8 minutes depending on how quickly your stove heats up. There are about 310 calories in this dish and I served it with rice. The ingredients are all single serve friendly, though some of them like the Sichuan pepper are often only available in bigger bags than you really want.