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Gong Bao Ji Ding: A Recipe for Kung Pao Chicken and the History of the Legendary Chinese Dish.
Gongbao Ji Ding (Kung Pao Chicken)
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Kung Pao Chicken
In this hub article I will show you a basic recipe for Kung Pao Chicken. For many Americans this is a favorite among Chinese dishes. The recipe I will give you is as authentic as possible. I learned how to cook this in China with the help of a Chinese friend. The recipe that I'm giving you here is actually the second of two recipes that I've learned for this dish. The first was a little complicated and included more ingredients. This one is much easier to follow and produces a dish that is every bit as good. The final product should look like the above picture.
Chinese Culinary Culture by Du Fuxiang
While there are no clearly written recipes in Du Fuxiang's book, Chinese Culinary Culture describes the four major schools of Chinese cuisine, about a dozen minor schools and their histories. Du Fuxiang also gives information surrounding local legends and and stories about specific dishes. I believe the book was originally written in Chinese and later translated into English. Because of this some of the wording is awkward but overall it is a good translation that is readable. It also provides plenty of fascinating pictures of various Chinese dishes.
The History of Kung Pao Chicken
In China Kung Poa Chicken is called Gongbao Ji Ding. The word ji means Chicken. The word ding means cut into small cubes or diced.
Though Gongbao Ji Ding is a favorite dish served though out most of China it is considered a traditional example of Sichuan Cuisine. According to Du Fuxiang in his book Chinese Culinary Culture the dish originated in the late Qing Dynasty and was first prepared by the family chef of a man Ding Baozhen. While Gongbao Ji Ding is strongly associated with Sichuan cuisine, In Chinese Culinary Culture Du Fuxiang listed it as an example of Shandong cuisine. There is a good reason for this.
Ding Baozhen was originally from the province of Guizhou which is south of Sichuan. He was a public official who served for a number of years as governor of the Shandong province which is on the east coast of China just south of Beijing. He was later appointed governor over Sichuan province.
Du Fuxiang states that the dish in it's original form was always served at family banquets during the time that Ding Baozhen served as governor in Shandong. When Ding Baozhen was made governor of Sichuan he introduced the dish there. In Sichuan, Ding Baozhen modified the dish by adding peppers in order to please local people who enjoyed spicy foods.
The word Gongbao was a tittle that was given to Ding Baozhen by the Qing court during the time that he served them. Gong was a tittle given by royal families to men who served as governors of provinces. Essentially if you were to translate the name of the dish Gongboa Ji Ding literally you would have "Governor Bao's Diced Chicken."
Gongbao Ji Ding quickly became a favorite among the people of Sichuan province. From there it spread all over China. Like many popular Chinese dishes it was introduced to North America in the 1800s by Chinese emigrants who worked on the construction of Central Pacific portion of the American transcontinental railroad. Most of the Chinese railroad workers were brought from the province of Guangdong which is populated by Cantonese people. The Cantonese people who introduced this dish to America would have altered the dish to their own tastes as well as to ingredients that they could easily find in America. The version of Kung Pao Chicken that is served in most of the Chinese restaurants across America reflects the changes that were made during this time.
Gongbao Ji Ding from a Restaurant in Wuhan, China
When I first arrived in China one of the things that I was most interested in concerning food was being able to try truly authentic Chinese dishes. After a few months here I became aware of the fact that many dishes change depending on which restaurant you go to. This led to my asking an important question.
What is authentic?
What I've found is that often recipes change from one restaurant to another. There are many reasons for this. One is that often the cooks in each restaurant use family recipes that they were taught at home by their parents. Many restaurants are family owned. Sometimes they use recipes that were taught to them by other cooks. Also, it is common for restaurants to want to create special dishes and to make things their own. A restaurant may change a recipe slightly in order to differentiate themselves from others. Variations of a dish are also created due to regional differences.
This last reason means that if you order Gongbao Ji Ding in Sichuan province you will be served a dish that has chicken, peanuts, carrots and red peppers. If you order this same dish in Guangdong province the dish will likely be served with cucumber instead of carrots.
Knowing these factors makes the question of authenticity somewhat less relevant because on the one hand none of it is truly authentic and on the other all of it is authentic. If you think about it this means that the Americanized version of Kung Pao Chicken is just as authentic as the original Sichuan variation of the dish or the even more original Shandong version.
With these thoughts in mind I have gradually become less concerned with authenticity and more concerned with what I enjoy. The recipe given here is authentically Chinese in that it comes from China and was given to me by Chinese people. I have changed nothing other than writing it down in English and giving measurements to quantities of ingredients that are often listed without measurements. Aside from it's authenticity it is a recipe that I enjoy cooking and I hope that you enjoy it as well.
Also with these thoughts in mind I believe that modifying the dish is part of the tradition of preparing gongbao ji ding. Since change is part of this grand tradition then we should always change the dish to suit our own purposes and predilections. Cook, create, change and enjoy.
Another Variation of Gongbao Ji Ding
Things to Know Before you Start Cooking
You will notice that the cooking time is very short. The actual cooking of this dish happens very rapidly. I strongly recommend that all of the preparation of the ingredients is done before you start cooking. Once you start cooking the chicken you will not have time to cut the carrots. Chop everything first.
In the ingredients I've listed la jiao, dry red peppers and Sichuan peppers. All three of these are hot. If you don't enjoy spicy food you can omit any one or all of them.
La jiao simply means spicy sauce. It is a kind of sauce that you should easily be able to find in the Asian part of a grocery store. It looks like a thick, red paste made from what looks like seeds of hot peppers. You've probably seen this before and just didn't know what it was. I've seen this on the tables of several Chinese restaurants in America.
Sichuan peppers you've also probably seen but may not have known what they were. They are little round things that you often see in spicy Chinese dishes. They aren't hot exactly. Rather, they make your lips and tongue tingle. For me, I find this an enjoyable experience. If you don't like it leave them out. Again you should be able to find this in any good grocery store with an Asian section.
Any kind of dried red peppers should do fine in this dish.
Ingredients for Kung Pao Chicken
- 1/2 cup chicken, diced
- 1/2 cup carrots, diced
- 1/2 cup cucumber, diced
- 1/3 cup peanuts
- 1 tbs cooking wine
- 1 tbs soy sauce
- 1 tsp la jiao
- 8-10 dried red peppers, chopped
- 1 tsp Sichuan peppers
- 3 tbs cooking oil
- First, chop all of the ingredients that need chopping; carrots, cucumber and chicken. You want all three of these to be about the same size. There will of course be some odd shaped pieces but chicken should look mostly like little cubes. Also cut the dried red peppers. I find it easiest to do this with scissors, ancient Chinese secret.
- Add the oil to the wok (or frying pan but preferably a wok) and turn the heat up high.
- Add the dried red peppers and the Sichuan peppers. Let them sizzle for about 30 seconds.
- Add the chicken and start stirring it around. Let it cook for about three minutes. Stir the whole time. Cook until all of the chicken has turned white.
- Add all of the wet ingredients; cooking wine, soy sauce, and la jiao sauce. Stir and let it cook for another minute.
- Add the carrots. Cook stirring for about one minute.
- Add the cucumber. Continue to stir cooking for one minute.
- Stir in the peanuts. Allow the dish to cook for another three to four minutes. Continue stirring the whole time.
- Remove from fire and serve with rice.
Kung Pao Chicken.
© Copyright 2012. Wesley Meacham- This article is copyright protected and is the property of Wesley Meacham. All images in this article, unless otherwise stated, are the property of Wesley Meacham. Please do not copy this article in whole or in part without giving credit to the original author.