It is a bewildering thing in human life that the thing that causes the greatest fear
is the source of the greatest wisdom.
This flavorful recipe for Kung Pao Noodles can be made with chicken, shrimp, tofu or my very favorite….roasted cauliflower! A few years back, while visiting China, Brian and I took a couple wok cooking classes and got a feel for authentic Kung Pao which is the perfect balance between spicy, tangy, sweet and umami flavors. This is my own simplified version that I like to serve with noodles instead of traditional rice. Keep it vegetarian or add meat — it’s up to you.
A couple of tips: when cooking with a wok, always prep the ingredients first and have them close to the stove. Wok cooking is a very fast process using high heat. You don’t want to be prepping at the same time you are stir-frying, or you may burn your food. Peanut oil adds another layer of flavor, so I prefer using it in the wok.
In traditional Kung Pao, the meat or tofu is typically seasoned with salt, sugar, pepper and cornstarch and then fried. A way to cut back on the fat and frying in this recipe to use roasted chicken (like rotisserie chicken) or my favorite, roasted cauliflower. Then simply make the flavorful sauce in the wok, adding in and tossing the ingredients to it. Some veggies cook very quickly in a wok, like thin asparagus, thinly sliced bell pepper, mushrooms, snap peas and green beans, and I gravitate towards using these because they only need a few minutes of heat, and you can get away with using only a little oil. But veggies like cauliflower or broccoli which take longer to cook, I either quickly steam or roast first.
Once the ingredients are prepped, the cooking part goes very quickly. The first thing I do is set a pot of pasta water to boil, or rice to cook. Then I prep the ingredients, combine the sauce ingredients and cook the chicken first. Brian likes his chicken crispy, so the corn starch gives it a little crispy crust. Once the chicken is cooked, set it aside and drain on paper towels.
Then add the veggies you want to quickly sear.
Then it’s really just a matter of making the flavorful sauce in the wok and tossing the rest of the ingredients you have into it. At the very end toss the cooked noodles right into the wok, or serve the Kung Pao overtop or over rice, your choice.
Once you get the hang of it, it’s a fast meal that is full of great flavor.
Garnish the dish with green onions, sliced on the diagonal and roasted peanuts for added texture.
- 1 lb chicken (or sub roasted cauliflower, see notes below)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- 1 ½ tablespoon corn starch
- 1-3 tablespoons peanut oil or vegetable oil for frying - optional, see notes.
- one red bell pepper - or handful dry red Chinese chilies (see notes)
- Kung Pao Sauce:
- 1 ½ tablespoons chopped ginger
- 1 ½ tablespoon chopped garlic
- 2 tablespoons water
- 2 teaspoons fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
- 1 tablespoon vinegar (black vinegar if you have it, or use rice or white)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon garlic chili paste (Sambal chili paste)
- Garnish: roasted peanuts, green onion (sliced at a diagonal)
- Cooked noodles (2-3 servings), rice noodle or rice
- If making noodles or rice, start it cooking on the stove.
- Cut chicken into ¾ inch cubes and place in a bowl. Add the salt, pepper, sugar and cornstarch to the chicken and toss.
- (Alternately -- if using cauliflower, roast cauliflower florets in a 450 F oven for 25-30 minutes, with olive oil, salt and pepper)
- Chop ginger, garlic and thinly slice red bell pepper into thin strips.
- Measure all the condiments and place in a small bowl (water, soy, fish sauce, oyster, vinegar, sugar and garlic chili paste) and give a quick stir.
- Heat oil in a wok over medium high heat, and when its hot, brown the chicken, turning, tossing and cooking through about 5 minutes. (I use a metal mesh splatter guard to prevent oil from going every where.)
- Turn heat off and place crispy chicken on a plate lined with paper towels, blot.
- Wipe out wok, add 1 tablespoon oil and heat over medium heat.
- Add the red bell pepper and sear over medium heat until tender and just slightly charred in places, about 3-4 minutes. Make a well in the center of the bell peppers, add the ginger and garlic and sear (keeping them in the center), cooking and stirring 2 minutes until they are fragrant and golden. You may need to add a few more drops of oil.
- Add the small bowl of mixed sauces to the wok and bring to a simmer, lower heat, then place the cooked chicken (or roasted cauliflower) back into the sauce and toss well, coating it and heating it back up. Serve over rice, noodles, or add the cooked noodles directly into the wok and sear them for a minute or two. Serve immediately.
- Garnish with roasted peanuts and sliced scallions.
- Notes: If subbing with crispy tofu, prepare it in the same way as the chicken, blot, cut into small cubes, coat with salt, pepper, sugar and cornstarch (you may want to use a little more cornstarch) , and fry in the wok until crispy. Then set aside. (Alternatively, you could use "baked tofu" and not fry it, adding it at the end into to the sauce.)
- *For a lighter version, use roasted cauliflower instead of chicken and add it to the wok with the sauce (at the very end). You, of course, can also add other cooked veggies, tossing with the flavorful sauce. You can sub another sweetener for the sugar, like agave, maple or honey, but flavors won't be balanced if you leave it out altogether.
- *If you use the whole head of cauliflower, you may want to increase the Kung Pao sauce by half so make 1 ½ times the recipe).
- *Traditional Kung Pao also includes a handful of red, dried Chinese chilies (Thai red chilies are too spicy) . I usually toss these in at the end with the garlic and ginger, but in this recipe you don't really don't need to because of the chili garlic paste. If you do choose to use the dried chilies, add them in right after the the ginger and garlic, and decrease the garlic chili sauce in the recipe.