Gong bao ji ding (宫保鸡丁 – literally ‘The Palace Guardian’s Diced Chicken’) is a Sichuan dish hugely popular around China, but most well known outside China as the origins of the Westernised classics kungpao chicken and chicken with cashew nuts.
Westernised versions – commonly using the old Wade-Giles romanisation of ‘kung pao’ instead of the pinyin ‘gong bao’ – often use capsicum/peppers instead of dried chillies, leave out Sichuan peppercorns (Sichuan peppercorn imports were banned in the US for a period) and incorporate more Cantonese ingredients and techniques (as the majority of Chinese chefs in the US and Australia are of Cantonese origin rather than Sichuanese) such as hoisin sauce.
This is an authentic Sichuanese version of the dish.
1 large chicken breast , cut into 1.5cm cubes
3 tbsp vegetable oil
12-15 large dried chillies, seeds removed, snipped into 1cm lengths
1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 tsp grated ginger
6 thick spring onions (about 1cm in diameter), cut into 1cm pieces
½ cup unsalted roasted peanuts
a little cornflour mixed with cold water, to thicken
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp Shaoxing wine
1 tsp cornflour
Gong bao sauce
1 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp Chinkiang black vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp dark soy sauce
1 tsp soy sauce
Combine the chicken with the chicken marinade and set aside. Heat a wok over high heat until very hot, add the oil and then add the dried chillies and Sichuan peppercorns. When fragrant (this will just take a few seconds), add the chicken and toss well for a minute or two until the chicken is separated and browned. Add the garlic, ginger and spring onions and continue to toss over heat until the chicken is nearly cooked through. Add the sauce and toss to coat, adding a little cornflour mixed with water if needed to thicken the mixture so that it coats the chicken well. Stir through the peanuts and serve immediately.
Top Tips for Gong Bao Ji Ding
- You don’t have to eat all of the chillies and peppercorns in the dish. They are included to flavour the oil that coats the chicken. That said, many people (myself included) love crunching on a bit of chilli and Sichuan pepper when eating this dish.
- Sichuanese cuisine is known for its ‘ma-la’ – the hot and numbing sensation of the combination of Sichuan pepper and chilli, but you also need to pay attention to the balance of tastes in the dish. The taste profile of Sichuanese food is sweeter than many give it credit for, so make sure the sugar and vinegar in the sauce are well balanced.