Gong bao chicken is an iconic Szechuan dish. The dried red chiilies, Szechuan peppercorns and authentic gong bao sauce makes this a fiery dish boasting bold and distinctive flavours.
It’s easy to spot a tze char dish of gōng bǎo jī dīng (宫保鸡丁) or gong bao chicken. There’s just so much to appreciate in this classic Chinese Sichuan stir-fry.
From the fragrant spice of fried Sichuan peppercorns, to the fiery heat of dried chillies. Chunks of juicy, tender chicken bites fried with aromatic garlic and onion slivers. Then, there’s the nutty flavour and crunch of fried peanuts or cashew nuts. But best of all, is the bold and authentic flavour of gong bao sauce which melds these tastes and textures altogether.
About this gong bao sauce recipe
It’s hard to say if there’s a perfect gong bao sauce, only because there are numerous variations and interpretations of this dish in Chinese cuisine across China and South East Asia. For a while now, I’ve been trying to nail down a gong bao sauce that I can be proud of. And I’m really excited to say that I think I’ve finally hit the spot.
The recipe that I’m sharing here is, in my humble opinion, as close to the gong bao flavours I tasted when I visited Sichuan. The dish truly delivers the signature taste and texture of gong bao chicken.
The gong bao sauce I’ve created is incredibly piquant and full-bodied. It’s sweet and salty with sour-tangy notes, which makes this sauce so deliciously appetising. Thickened to a sticky glaze when cooked, this tantalising sauce should coat everything!
This gong bao chicken has enough of the sought-after spicy kick and characteristic pungency. In my opinion, it’s not overwhelmingly fiery but you can reduce the amount of red chillies. I’m hoping you’ll find this gong bao sauce so good that you’ll be disappointed there isn’t enough to go around!
About the ingredients for gong bao chicken
Gong bao sauce
So now we know that the key to a worthy gong bao chicken is a good gong bao sauce. But, did you know that gong bao sauce is one of the simplest sauces to put together?
Since making gong bao sauce from scratch, I haven’t been reaching for ready-made ones at the supermarket. Don’t get me wrong though, I do appreciate and love the convenience of quick and easy ready-made stuff for days when I need to whip up meals in a snap.
But here, I’m sharing a homemade gong bao sauce that you can be proud of. In fact, preparing an authentic version is simple. It’s just a mix of the right sauces in the right proportions.
This gong bao sauce is made with:
- Chinese black vinegar (this is not balsamic vinegar)
- Light soy sauce
- Sesame oil
- Thickening agent such as corn starch or tapioca starch solution
Best cuts of poultry for gong bao chicken
Once you’ve nailed down a good gong bao sauce, you can easily cook up your favourite gong bao version. Chicken is the popular and favourite choice. The best parts to use would be boneless chicken thighs or breasts. Though less commonly heard of, you can also easily cook a seafood gong bao dish with squid and shrimps.
I feel that to be true to the authenticity of this Sichuan dish, Sichuan peppercorns are a must. If you live outside of Asia, you are likely to be able to get these at Asian supermarkets.
Sichuan peppercorns have a unique aroma and has a slight lemony nuance in its flavour. But what is most memorable and distinct about Sichuan peppercorns is the tingly numbness it leaves in your mouth. Their heat and flavour is best released into the oils when fried gradually over low heat. Do be aware that these peppercorns burn easily over high heat, and will taste bitter.
For a more intense flavour, you can leave some or even all the Sichuan peppercorns in the dish for that extra spicy 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!
Fried dried red chillies
In the same oil, dried red chillies are also fried till fragrant, thus intensifying the heat and spicy flavour of the oils. You can reduce the amount of chillies to reduce the heat. If you’re wondering whether these chillies in the dish are eaten, as a die-hard chilli lover, I do!
Peanuts or cashew nuts
Traditionally, raw peanuts or cashew nuts are almost always included in gong bao chicken. These are also fried in oil separately. But toasted and unsalted nuts are, in my humble opinion, just as good too.
Raw peanuts or cashew nuts can be easily popped into your toaster oven, or dry fried in a wok or skillet. Getting the nuts fragrant and lightly browned takes only a matter of minutes.
All that’s left for me to say is, a great gong bao chicken 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!
Here are more delicious ideas to inspire your next meal:
- Chicken in Spicy Tomato Sauce (Ayam Masak Merah)
- Chilli Paprika Chicken with Garlic in Olive Oil
- Soy Sauce Chicken
- Prawn Paste Chicken
- Kapitan Soy Sauce Chicken