Panda Express Kung Pao Chicken Recipe (Copycat) is moist, tender cubed chicken stir-fried in a perfect blend of sweet, spicy, savory sauce with vegetables and roasted peanuts.
Kung Pao Chicken originated in the Sichuan Province of China typically uses chili peppers and Sichuan peppercorns.
Chili peppers add heat while the Sichuan peppercorns neutralizes the spiciness of the chili peppers. Both are briefly fried in oil in high temperature before stir-frying the ingredients creating a numbing spiciness.
There are many variants of this dish depending on the region that are less spicy. This Panda Express Kung Pao Chicken recipe is one way Westerners prepare it.
Panda Express has tweaked the recipe and added vegetables with a little bit of sauce that is less spicy and delicious.
This shows you that you can always tweak the recipe to your liking and I prefer it with vegetables. It doesn’t have to be the “Authentic Recipe”.
We have taken some shortcuts in making the Western version. In China, they use fresh ingredients like chili peppers, Sichuan peppercorns and unroasted peanuts. They use fresh peanuts that are deep fried in hot oil until brown instead of pre-roasted peanuts.
We use dried chili peppers, chili paste and pre-roasted peanuts which cut some of the work to make this flavorful dish. Sichaun peppercorns are not easy to find, so Westerners have eliminated this ingredient.
Anyway, it is a healthy, easy dish to make even on busy weeknights. You can have this dish ready in less than an hour that the whole family will love.
Boneless chicken thighs or chicken breast is great to use with this spicy dish.
When I was working and craving for something Asian, I frequented Panda Express. I am not one to drive long distance during work days just for food. I prefer something quick and delicious that I can pickup on my way home.
My house is situated in an area surrounded by restaurants which I love. It is so convenient especially after a long day at work. At the same time, I was supporting restaurants in my community.
Depending on what I’m craving for, I usually placed my order before leaving work.
Anyway, when I go to Panda Express, Kung Pao Chicken is always one of the entrée I choose with white or fried rice and lo mein.
Their food is always fresh plus I get a good portion of 4 dishes with enough leftover for the following day.
Now that I am not working, this simple delicious dish is so easy to make. It is bursting in flavor plus I can control the spiciness or add any vegetables I have on hand.
If you are still wary about ordering food during this crazy time and craving for Panda Express Kung Pao Chicken, try this recipe. It will satisfy your craving and you’ll be surprise how easy it is to make.
Eat it on its own or in a bed of white jasmine rice or noodles. It can fill you up if you load it with vegetables.
Tips in Making Kung Pao Chicken
Authentic Kung Pao Chicken does not have vegetables which is one of the reason why I prefer Panda Express. I enjoy it better with vegetables.
(1) I prefer to use boneless chicken thighs if I have it on hand but chicken breast works too. Chicken thighs is much tender and used in most Chinese dishes than chicken breast plus it is cheaper.
(2) Marinate chicken for at least 30 minutes for a tender and tastier meat. Have you noticed when having Chinese food, their meat is tender with a silky texture.
They add cornstarch diluted in water to keep it tender and moist. This cooking technique is called velveting.
Meat is lightly coated with marinate before stir-frying keeping it moist. It serves as a protective barrier so meat does not over cook.
Note: My marinade mix is enough to coat a 1 pound chicken. I don’t like the chicken swimming in marinade. It is much easier when stir-frying when you have a drier marinade, just enough to flavor each cube of chicken.
Again, you want the chicken to fry when it hits the wok instead of steamed.
(3) Get wok or skillet “hot” before stir frying chicken. If wok is not hot, chicken will steam instead of frying. Have you seen Chinese cooks stir-frying in hot smoking wok, it adds fragrance and flavor to food plus meat will not stick to wok or skillet.
(4) Chicken will cook fast as it is cut into small cubes so don’t over cook it.
(5) Vegetables are cut the same sizes so they cook evenly. Half cook the veggies and push it to the sides before pouring the sauce.
(6) While simmering the sauce, veggies will continue to cook. It doesn’t take long to thicken the sauce so it will not make veggies soggy. It will stay crisp.
Note: You can also remove it from skillet before pouring the sauce, it’s up to you if you prefer to do it this way, then add it together with the chicken.
(7) If you like sauce to be thicker, mix another 1 teaspoon of cornstarch and 1 teaspoon water.
(8) I used dark soy sauce in my marinade to give chicken a darker color but this is optional. Use whatever soy sauce you have.
(9) Add dried hot chili peppers if you like. If you have kids, it is probably better not to add it. For a spicer hot dish, break 1 or 2 of the chili peppers. I am warning you, it will be very hot if you do!
(10) If you like it saucy, double the sauce recipe. Traditional Kung Pao Chicken recipe only has enough sauce to coat chicken and vegetables.
Kung Pao Chicken Ingredients Substitute
(1) Shaoxing Rice Wine – can be substituted with rice wine vinegar, dry sherry or apple cider vinegar.
(2) Chili Paste – use Sriracha, chili garlic sauce or a combination of Sriracha and chili garlic sauce.
(3) Hoisin Sauce – it is optional, instead add 1 teaspoon brown sugar in sauce.
(4) Dried Hot Chili Peppers – You can use pepper flakes or cayenne pepper powder.
(5) This is the best time to clean up your vegetable bin. This is a versatile recipe. Get creative, use your favorite vegetables like broccoli, garbanzos, mushroom, carrots or cauliflower.
More Stir-Fry Chicken Recipes to Try
How to Cook Panda Express Kung Pao Chicken Recipe (Copycat)
Panda Express Kung Pao Chicken Recipe (Copycat)
Kung Pao Chicken Marinate
- 1 pound chicken breast or boneless chicken thighs cubed
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine
- 1 ½ tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch diluted in 1 teaspoon water
Kung Pao Chicken Sauce
- ½ cup chicken broth or water
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon hot chili paste or ½ tablespoon Sriracha and ½ tablespoon chili garlic sauce
- 1 ½ tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine
- 2 teaspoon hoisin sauce optional
- 1 - 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch diluted in 1 teaspoon water
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- ½ teaspoon ginger minced
- ¼ cup yellow onion chopped
- ¾ cup green bell pepper diced
- ¾ cup red bell pepper diced
- 1 small zuchinni diced
- 6 dried hot chili peppers optional
- 3 tablespoons oil
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- salt to taste
- Marinate chicken in Shaoxing rice wine, soy sauce, cornstarch diluted in teaspoon water. Place it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes or longer.
- Meanwhile, make the Kung Pao Chicken sauce. In a small bowl, add chicken broth or water, soy sauce, Shaoxing rice wine, hoisin sauce, brown sugar and cornstarch diluted in water.
- In a hot wok or skillet, add oil over medium-high heat. Make sure skillet is hot, stir fry chicken for a minute or until light brown and cooked through. Remove and set aside.
- Add 1 teaspoon sesame oil in skillet. If needed, add 1 tablespoon of oil.
- Saute onion until soft.
- Stir-in ginger. Cook for a minute.
- Add garlic. Cook until golden.
- Toss-in red and green bell peppers and zuchinni. Cook for 1 minute.
- Add peanuts and green onion. Cook for a minute.
- Push the ingredients to the sides leaving the center of skillet empty. This will keep the veggies stay crisp. Note: You can transfer the vegetables to a bowl before pouring the sauce, if you like. If you do, add it in the skillet with the chicken.
- Pour sauce at the center and stir constantly. Simmer over medium-low heat for 2 minutes or until slightly thicken.
- Stir-in chicken until well coated with sauce. Continue cooking for a couple of minutes.
- Salt to taste. Turn off heat and transfer to serving bowl right away.
- My marinade is enough to coat a 1 pound chicken. I tend to make a drier marinade instead of more. So when you stir-fry, you don’t have to worry about the extra liquid. You want chicken to fry instead of steamed.
- Double the sauce if you like it saucy. My sauce is just enough to coat the chicken and vegetables.
- I prepare an extra 1 teaspoon cornstarch/1 teaspoon water mixture incase I need to add more to sauce. This will depend on your preference, if you like sauce to be thicker.
- If you like it sweeter, add more brown sugar.
- If you don’t have chicken broth, you can add ½ teaspoon Knorr chicken bouillon powder to sauce.
- I used dark soy sauce in my marinade but not necessary. It keeps the chicken darker in color.
- If not using hoisin sauce, add 1 teaspoon brown sugar.
- Soy sauce is salty, so before seasoning with salt, taste the sauce first.