Kopy Kat Kung Pao, Pei Wei-Style!

I love Pei Wei.  Before we left Texas one of my favorite date nights was a quick dinner at Pei Wei followed by a couple of hours rummaging through $1.00 vinyl records at Half Price Books.  My very favorite dish at Pei Wei is the Mandarin Kung Pao Chicken (or Tofu).  It’s very different from most Kung Pao recipes, which are generally over or under cooked and swimming in sauce.

In the age of vast internet information, I was surprised to not find a close copy cat recipe.  Even those I found that reference Pei Wei were not really the same.  So I set out on a mission to create a similar Kung Pao.  I thought it would be a perfect recipe for home.  Quick and inexpensive (once you have a collection of basic Asian ingredients) and oh so delicious.

First I took the time to assess what I really love about Pei Wei’s Kung Pao.  First of all, the chicken. Pei Wei uses fairly large dices of chicken breast – unlike others I’ve that make use of the inexpensive thigh meat.  The chicken has a very nice, defined texture, which has a lot to do with the cut and the cooking method.

The second thing I love about it is that there are no undercooked pieces of green bell peppers.  Instead, they use the far superior sugar snap peas and carrot rounds.  I was surprised that no recipes I came across took this into account.  Those peas are perhaps the most lovely thing about the dish.

The third thing that sets Pei Wei’s Kung Pao apart in my mind is the amount of sauce – it’s low and not at all soupy as some Kung Paos are.  I had a friend at Le Cordon Bleu who worked at Pei Wei.  He said that they only use about 3 oz. of sauce per recipe.  This allows the other amazing flavors to stand out instead of being drowned in the sweet gooey sauce.

Fourth, water chestnuts.  Honestly, I can’t remember if Pei Wei uses them or not but I love those things.  And so they made the recipe.  I love the texture.  If you don’t, just omit them, it won’t hurt my feelings at all.

And so this is what I came up with, and it was good.  Very very good.  Maybe not exact but close enough to count.  It was also easy.  So enjoy and you’re welcome.

A NOTE ON SALT:  I made this to not be very salty and then adjusted once on the plate by adding low-sodium soy sauce to taste.  If you’d prefer to have the dish a bit more seasoned before serving, a little salt can be added to the chicken before cooking.

Kung Pao Chicken

MAKE THE SAUCE:

Combine, whisk together and then set aside:

1 teaspoon red chile paste

2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

1 tablespoon Mirin

1 teaspoon seasoned rice wine vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

1/4 cup chicken broth

1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon dark sesame oil

FOR THE STIR FRY

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

1 egg, whisked

1/4 cup cornstarch

4 tablespoons canola oil

1/2 cup frozen crinkle-cut carrots

1 cup sugar snap peas

1/2 cup dry-roasted peanuts

10 dried red chile peppers (if you want a bit more spice you can also add a dash of red pepper flakes)

4 green onions, sliced, including green parts

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 cup water chestnuts

Dip chicken in egg and then coat with cornstarch.  In a wok or large skillet over medium high heat, heat the canola oil and brown the chicken on all sides until cooked through.  Remove to bowl and set aside.

Add a little more oil to the pan and saute sugar snap peas and carrots. This will go fast – just a minute or so.  Remove peas and carrots and add to chicken.

Add more oil, if needed and saute peanuts and chile peppers, just until peanuts turn dark (very, very fast).  Add peppers and peanuts to chicken mixture.

Add a bit more oil if needed and saute green onions and garlic just until you smell the garlic.  DO NOT LET GARLIC BURN.

Then add all of the previously sauteed ingredients back to the pan and add the water chestnuts, if you’re using them.  Add the sauce and continue cooking until the sauce thickens.  Serve over brown (or fried) rice.

About 4 servings.

 

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