It’s easy to spot a tze char dish of gōng bǎo jī dīng (宫保鸡丁), or kung pao chicken as it’s popularly referred to in the West. There’s just so much to appreciate in this Chinese stir-fry, and I love absolutely everything about it -the fiery heat of fried Sichuan peppercorns and dried chillies, the nutty flavour and crunch of toasted (or fried) peanuts or cashew nuts, chunks of juicy, tender chicken with garlic and onion slivers, all tossed together in a fragrant and flavourful gōng bǎo sauce.
The key to a worthy gōng bǎo dish is a good gōng bǎo sauce. Gōng bǎo sauce is incredibly full-bodied – it’s spicy and salty with sweet and sour undertones, which makes it so deliciously appetising, I could lap this up with nothing else but plain cooked rice!
Preparing an authentic gōng bǎo sauce you can be proud of takes very little effort, and is fairly easy with just a handful of everyday ingredients or condiments you’re likely to have around in your pantry or larder. Once you’ve nailed down a good gōng bǎo sauce, you can easily cook up a gōng bǎo meat dish (with chicken being the popular choice) or a gōng bǎo seafood version with squid or shrimps.
It is said that to be true to the authenticity of this dish which originated in Sichuan province of China, Sichuan peppercorns are a must. The deep aroma, heat and characteristic flavour of Sichuan peppercorns are best released into the oils when fried gradually over low heat (as Sichuan peppercorns burn easily over high heat, turning bitter).
For a more intense flavour, you can leave some or even all the Sichuan peppercorns in the dish, for that extra spiced-up zing! There’s nothing quite like Sichuan peppercorns to give you that fiery, tongue numbing sensation which, rather than being off-putting, can become interestingly addictive! In the same oil, dried red chillies are also fried till fragrant, intensifying the heat and spicy flavour of the oils.
Traditionally, raw peanuts or cashew nuts which are almost always included in gōng bǎo chicken, are also fried in oil separately, but toasted, unsalted nuts are, in my humble opinion, just as good (and it helps me cut down on one more cooking step!). Raw peanuts or cashew nuts can be easily popped into your toaster oven, or dry fried in a wok or skillet until just fragrant and lightly browned, taking only a matter of minutes.
All that’s left for me to say is, a great gōng bǎo dish is simply irresistible and pleasurable to all who love delicate, yet bold flavours. Do have a go at this recipe and tell me what you think!