Kung pao sauce is one of the popular home-style stir-fry sauces in Szechuan cuisine. In order to achieve the best flavor, we will need to find a balance among all the ingredients. And we will also explore how we can use kung pao sauce for different types of ingredients, either protein or vegetables.
What's Kung Pao
Kung pao dishes are derived from the representative Sichuan dish kung pao chicken. Kung pao chicken is cooked with diced chicken breast and fried peanuts and paired with a savory kung pao sauce. Covered evenly by the thick kung pao sauce, kung pao dishes appear glistering and attractive. Unlike most strong-flavored Sichuan dishes with a pungent smell and hot and spicy flavor, kung pao dishes offer a sweet and sour taste with a slight spiciness. The deliciousness and fragrance of the kung pao flavor make kung pao dishes become popular among diners at home and abroad. Making perfect kung pao sauce at home is simple but not an easy task. This is a detailed guide about how to prepare a kung pao sauce and apply it to your preferred vegetables and ingredients.
History of Kung Pao sauce
The original kung pao chicken dates back about two hundred years. The legend has it that the dish was invented by Ding Baozhen, who was born in 1820 and was an incorruptible official of the Qing Dynasty. Besides his excellent achievements on his duties, he also enjoyed studying gastronomy. When he served as governor of Shandong Province, Ding requested his chef to improve a dish of Shandong cuisine, which was the diced chicken with bean paste sauce. Ding was born in Guizhou Province, an area keen on spicy food in daily life. Without exception, Ding was quite fond of chili peppers and his other favorite food was peanuts. He asked his chef to add the two essential ingredients to the Shandong dish and to improve the flavor of the dish alongside. There came out kung pao chicken under Ding’s creation.
Kung pao chicken became well-known in Sichuan Province where Ding held the post of governor-general. After he died, in recognition of his merits he was accorded the posthumous rank of taizi taibao, generally called kung pao at that time. Kung pao is the transliteration of the Chinese character “宫保”, which was the honorary title of officials in the Ming and Qing Dynasties. And to honor his memory, people began to name the tasty delicacy created by him as Kung bao chicken.
What does Kung Pao sauce taste like
Kung pao sauce has two layers of flavor, one is from spices and the other one is from a balance of soy sauce, vinegar, and sugar. Firstly, we fry garlic, ginger, and scallion with dried red pepper. This taste is called “胡辣味”， which means fried chili pepper taste. To get this unique taste, the dried chili pepper should be fried until dark red. Some restaurants add un-fried red chili pepper to add some red color but they cannot bring the right flavor.
The second layer is a balanced sauce made from sugar, vinegar, and soy sauce with starch. Starch works as a thickener and helps the sauce attach to the ingredient.
Ingredients for Kung Pao Sauce
Chinese large scallion (大葱)
Chinese large green onion (大葱) or large scallion is a thick, large scallion- It has a much larger white portion at the base. You may find they look similar to leeks but it is much more tender and juicy. You can use scallions to replace it but remember only use the white part.
Sichuan peppercorn is a unique spice used in Sichuan cuisine. It should be slightly numbing with a gentle touch of hotness. In all Sichuan-style dishes, we usually use red Sichuan peppercorns.
Dried chili pepper
The lychee flavor is created by the combination of Sichuan peppercorn and dried chili peppers. So it is another essential ingredient for Kung Pao sauce.
crispy peanuts give a crunchy texture to the kung pao chicken dish. The peanuts can be deep-fried or fried with salt. Or you can simply use store-bought crispy peanuts.
Aromatics- garlic and ginger
Garlic and ginger - garlic and ginger give kung pao dishes a strong and rich aroma.
Vinegar - I use black vinegar. You can mix with two types of vinegar or replace this with other vinegar on hand to create a flavor with more layers of flavor.
Light soy sauce
Light soy sauce - light soy sauce is used for enhancing the flavor, adding some unami taste, and providing a savory flavor basement.
Dark soy sauce
Unlike light soy sauce, dark soy sauce is mainly used for darkening the color of the dish, making it more appealing.
to thicken the sauce so it can wrap on the ingredients
How much sugar needed
The mischievous factor of this sauce sometimes lay in the amount of sugar. I usually recommend adding more sugar to protein dishes like chicken, beef, or pork. But for vegetables and mushrooms, or lotus root, the amount of sugar can be slightly reduced.
Stir the kung pao sauce before using
One of the key tips for using kung pao sauce is to prepare it first in a bowl, so you can add them directly without searching for ingredients in the stir-frying process because there is no time. Another more important tip is to stir the sauce just before using it. This is because the starch will sink to the bottom of the bowl after the setting.
How to use Kung Pao Sauce in cooking
Kung Pao Sauce can be used to cook lots of ingredients. Following are some of the inspirations.
- Kung pao chicken - Chicken is the most popular ingredient in kung pao sauce. Kung pao chicken enjoys super high popularity.
- Kung Pao shrimp - shrimp is another great portion that can go super well with kung pao sauce. Just like chicken, shrimp is also tender meat and can be super quick to cook.
- Kung Pao tofu - tofu is a great option for vegan lovers. It can absorb the flavors from the kung pao sauce deeply after fried. You can also add some extra veggies to this one.
- Kung pao mushrooms - King oyster mushroom with kung pao sauce is brilliant. This is my top first choice.
- Kung Pao Cauliflower - Cauliflower can work super great with kung pao sauce.
- Kung Pao Lotus Root - Lotus root has a lovely crunchy texture and when coated with kung pao sauce, the natural sweetness of the lotus root can form a lovely comparison.
Kung Pao Sauce
- 3 tbsp. cooking oil
- 6-9 dried chili pepper
- 1 tsp. Sichuan peppercorn
- 1 thumb ginger , minced
- 2 cloves garlic , minced
- 2 large scallion or 4 scallions , white part only
- Cut the white part of leek onion into small circles, around 1cm in thickness.
- Heat wok or pan until hot firstly and then pour in oil. Then add Sichuan pepeprcorn in and fry until aroma. If necessary, remove the Sichuan peppercorn and let the oil cool down for 1 minute.
- Place dried red pepper sections, keep small fire and heat until slightly dark red. Then add garlic, ginger and green onion, fry for 20- 30 seconds until fragrant.
- Then fry any pre-prepared raw ingredients.
- Turn up the fire and stir in stir fry sauce. Fry until the ingredients are well coated.