I made this dish for the inaugural evening of what I hope will become a monthly or bimonthly game night. Tonight’s menu: Carcassonne.
And also Kung Pao Chicken (p. 113)! The evening started off with the intention of a quick stir-fry dinner so we could get to the gaming as soon as possible. Given the common wisdom about good intentions, you’ve probably guessed that the cooking didn’t go 100% according to plan.
First was the rice. I brought a new bag of white rice that nobody was familiar with. The idea was to get the rice cooked first and then proceed with the stir-fry. My hosts were also planning to prepare sauteed chard from their garden to go along with it. Needless to say, the new rice provided a sticking point. Wrong rice-to-water ratios and a failure to wash the rice ahead of time resulted in a botched first go. Wet and gummy. No bueno.
This wasn’t the only do-over of the evening. Cooking in an unfamiliar kitchen can sometimes be an adventure. Sometimes that adventure involves pepper-spraying your hosts. With the best of intentions, of course.
This particular recipe calls for dried red peppers and crushed szechuan peppercorns. When it came time to begin the stir-fry, I heated the wok on the burner as per usual. Upon adding the peanut oil there was a great deal of smoke. I moved forward anyway, adding the pepper and szechuan peppercorn to the smoking oil. This created a great plume of peppery smoke within the kitchen, choking all those within, including myself. It was basically pepper spray.
I immediately removed this from the burner and into the sink. The peppers were charred black after just 5+ seconds in the wok. The heat potential of this stove was clearly far greater than what I had gotten used to at home.
The lesson here: If your oil smokes, your wok is too hot. Apparently this is possible.
And so, with irritated eyes and heavy hearts, we began again. This time with much better results.
I’ve never been a huge fan of Kung Pao Chicken. I think it’s the peanuts. And also that I’ve only ever had it from heavily Americanized Chinese take-out restaurants. This recipe was different. The peanuts seemed much more subtle, adding just a bit of texture without overpowering everything. The flavor balance of the dish itself was great. We all really enjoyed it. And the chard was an excellent side. I’d go into more detail on that, but I drank too much wine and frankly forget what they did. I think some garlic was involved.
I will absolutely be trying this again. This recipe has won me over to Kung Pao Chicken… as long as I’m the one making it.
What I Would Do Differently
- Try not to burn the hell out of everything.
- More spice. I couldn’t make it to the asian market, so I substituted chile de arbol for the dried peppers. Most of the chiles sold in market here are of the Southwest or Mexican varieties. I’m not sure these carried the same amount of spicy kick. Next time I make this I’ll be sure to get the real deal so I can achieve the level of heat I crave. Or just double down on the recommended dosage.
Next on the Menu: Chinese Trinidadian Stir-Fried Shrimp with Rum