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Nov 19, 2009 06:54 AM

Restaurant style Kung Pao

I'm craving restaurant style Kung Pao Chicken- you know the greasy, salty spicy kind that you get at an americanized chinese restaurant.
Unfortunately the new household austerity plan is making me reluctant to call for takeout. Additionally the "best" KPC I've found nearby is very inconsistent in spice levels- sometimes just right, but more often a bit wimpy.

I've found, and tried "authentic" Kung Pao recipes, but they're just not scratching the itch...

Anyone got a suggestion, other than make the authentic one with more oil and some MSG?

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  1. The single largest barrier to getting restaurant flavor in any Asian stirfry dish at home is inability to get the wok hot enough, a function of both wok quality and burner strength. Using a larger propane burner may get you somewhere, but that's kind of a PITA

    3 Replies
    1. re: wallyz

      I disagree. If you work with a heavy enough pan, preheat the daylights out of it, use plenty of oil and split up the stir fry into batches (meat, then veggies, then sauce, combine, serve), you can get restaurant quality results. It's all about the mise en place and not overcrowding your pan.

      I don't think many restaurants velvet meat any more, but, if you were entertaining, you could velvet prior to the event and save yourself a little bit of stress during the stir fry. It's also important to blanch all your veggies before hand.

      1. re: scott123

        I use a cast iron skillet for stir fry.

      2. re: wallyz

        I agree with the high heat. My FIL owned a few restaurants and he and his brothers fire up the propane wok when they want to do a real stir fry. It's kind of scary and fascinating to watch. Velvetting the meat is also important. When they don't want to use the propane, they do it on the stove but the results aren't nearly the same.

      3. I agree with Scott, extremely pre-heat wok, work in small batches (something that's not necessary in restaurants with big BTU's) allow the wok to come up to temp again before proceeding, no overcrowding. I do alot of Chinese at home (Chinese, not stir-fry) and get very similar results to my local takeout, better actually, no MSG.
        Are you velveting and deep-frying the chicken? Dried red chilis and Szechuan peppercorns? Ginger and hoisin sauce? Scallions and deep fried peanuts? Dark soy sauce for the marinade?--Just some seasoning suggestions.

        1. Some tips on Kung Pao Chicken from a Chinese restaurant owner:

          - *always* velvetize the chicken in corn starch, water and egg white before cooking it
          - use boneless thigh and leg meat for texture/flavor
          - *even if you buy "roasted" peanuts, be sure to toss them in a hot pan with a little soy oil until they're fragrant (you don't have to wash the pan, just proceed with the first step of the recipe.
          - fill the pan with soy oil and cook the meat first; (you're indeed deep-frying it) reserve it to a plate (or better, a colander, like we do) when the meat's *almost* done
          - Empty the wok/frying pan out and wipe it clean. Fire the thing up until it issues forth a whole lot of black smoke. Need I recommend putting the fan on *and* opening a window?
          - place 3 Tbs. of soy oil in the pan, followed immediately by your mixture of vegetables, which should include onions, celery, water chestnut, wood ear mushrooms, regular mushrooms, carrot, and sliced winter bamboo shoots.
          - the intense heat in the pan when the oil and veggies hits will put a lovely "burn" on the vegetables -- and give your dish that delicious "restaurant smoky-wok" flavor.
          - add chicken stock that's been strained, put through cheesecloth and reduced until it's a syrupy, slippery consistency. To this, add a Tbs. of oyster sauce (Hoisen sauce), as much minced garlic as you can tolerate, just a little bit of mushroom (thick) soy sauce, chili paste to taste, minced ginger, scallions, rice wine, and a half a teaspoon of molasses or sugar (we use Maltose, malt sugar). Boil this stuff up, add the meat and the peanuts, (finish now with a little dark amber sesame oil; no more than a scant tsp.) heat through and serve immediately with plenty of sticky white rice.

          Some people may question why I don't recommend including the garlic/ginger/scallions in the veggie (fiery) stir-fry. The reason is because this is a garlic sauce, and the flavor should be a little bit edgy. Rather than mellow the garlic by sauteeing it (and risking browning it, which makes garlic bitter) the garlic's only slightly mellowed, in this recipe, by the boiling of the sauce at the very end.

          This all being said, some of the nicest Kung Pao chicken I've had is made with a very heavily reduced *combination* of chicken and (de-fatted) pork stock. It's essential that the sauce for Kung Pao (or Cashew) Chicken be supple, slippery and sticky.

          3 Replies
          1. re: shaogo

            Great tips. Just a note: I don't think hoisin sauce and oyster sauce are the same thing. Are you sure? If wikipedia is to be believed, it doesn't even contain seafood:

            1. re: ChristinaMason

              For years I've been using Hoisen sauce and Oyster sauce interchangeably (with the exception of using only Hoisen for the pancakes for moo-shu pork).

              Wikipedia's articles about Hoisin and Oyster sauce point out the differences.

              For the Kung Pao above, I'd use "Oyster Sauce."

              1. re: ChristinaMason

                I find oyster sauce to be saltier with a slightly briney edge. Hoisin always seems sweet, a lot like tian mian jiang, or sweet noodle sauce.

            2. I've tried a lot of Kung Pao recipes, and this one from internet cooking maven Barbara Fisher is the BEST I have made...!

              Kung Pao Chicken
              (Barbara Fisher)

              Sauce Ingredients:
              2 tsp. raw or brown sugar
              1 tsp. cornstarch
              1 tsp. dark soy sauce

              1 tsp. light soy sauce

              3 tsp. Chinkiang black rice vinegar

              1 tsp. hoisin sauce

              1 tsp. toasted sesame oil

              1 tbsp. chicken broth

              2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into 1/2″ cubes

              2 tsp. light soy sauce

              1 1/2 tbsp. Shao Hsing wine or dry sherry

              2 1/2 tsp. cornstarch
Peanut oil or canola oil for stir frying

              1 tsp. freshly ground Sichuan peppercorns

              6-10 dried red Chinese peppers*

              4 cloves of garlic and an equal amount of fresh ginger, both peeled and thinly sliced
3 scallions, white and light green parts, sliced into chunks as long as their diameter (to match the chicken cubes)

              1 or 2 jalapenos, cut into thick slices about the size of the chicken cubes
handful of baby carrots cut into round thick slices to match chicken cubes

              2/3 cups dry roasted unsalted peanuts

              Mix together sauce ingredients well and set aside. I like to use a small measuring cup for this, so I can tell how well mixed it is, and so it is easily poured into the wok when the time comes.
              Mix together chicken and next three ingredients–set aside to marinate while you are cutting up vegetables.
              Heat oil in the wok, and when it is nearly smoking, add Sichuan peppercorns and chiles. Stir and fry until very fragrant. Add chicken, and settle into a single layer on the bottom of the wok. Allow to begin browning without stirring–about 30 seconds to one minute. Stir and fry. Add garlic and ginger, and jalapenos if you are using them. Stir and fry until the chicken is nearly done.
              Add carrots and stir and fry until chicken is done. Pour in sauce ingredients, bring to a boil, and cook until it clings to all ingredients. Add peanuts and toss to coat.

              * I use Tien Tsin dried chilis from Penzey’s. They are wickedly hot little buggers, and I love them. To keep them fairly mild, use them whole. To make them a little hotter, snip them and sprinkle the seeds out, but expose the placental membranes where most of the capsaicin lives. For the hottest effect, snip them open and let the seeds fall into the wok and carry their heat all over the dish. If you are using fresh chiles as well, cut down on the number of the dried chiles. That is, unless you want to hurt your guests, in which case, use the maximum number of dried chiles with the seeds running loose and throw in four or five sliced jalapenos.