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The Simple Szechuan Chicken That Stole 2000 Hearts (& Counting)

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In 2001, Community member FrancesRenHuang ordered a dish called gong bao ji ding. She was in Beijing, and it was the first day of student orientation. Ten years later, she published her recipe for it on our site, and now, in 2018, we're still nuts about it. (Get it? Because there are peanuts in the dish? Nevermind...)

Think kung pao chicken, but waaay spicier.
Think kung pao chicken, but waaay spicier. Photo by James Ransom

Frances first made this chicken in Argentina, so you can definitely adapt the recipe to what you've got on hand. She uses deboned chicken thighs in this recipe, but to minimize fuss, I've used boneless, skinless thighs and it's worked just as well. According to our cofounders Amanda and Merrill, who've been fans of the recipe since it went live in 2011, "If you can't find Szechuan peppercorns, don't sweat it (you'll just miss out on their mysteriously addictive, numbing quality). Use any small, dried red chiles that suit you."

We got back in touch with Frances, who has two young daughters now, to tell us a bit more about her gong bao ji ding.

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Food52: When was the last time you made this dish?

FrancesRenHuang: It's my husband's favorite dish, so we've rotated it into our biweekly menu for the past eight years! Last time we made it was seven days ago.

Food52: Could you describe the first time you made this dish?

FrancesRenHuang: The first time I made this dish was in Argentina; we moved there after Beijing, and I was craving authentic Chinese food. I had been living in China for eight years. My Chinese medicine professor loved discussing medicine by inviting me to cook with him first; I combined the techniques I learned from him with the ingredients of a few recipes for gong bao ji ding that I'd read in cookbooks.

Tingly Szechuan Tots
Tingly Szechuan Tots

Food52: What about this dish is most comforting to you?

FrancesRenHuang: The smell of the kitchen right after I make it, and seeing my husband scooping the sauce over and over again onto his rice. And the part when I ignite all the aromatics in the wok!

Food52: Any tips for someone making this for the first time?

FrancesRenHuang: Prep everything beforehand and put it in the fridge so you are ready to execute when dinner time comes.

Food52: Any serving recommendations?

FrancesRenHuang: I love pairing this with a cold cucumber salad and steamed bok choy. Obviously, rice is a must.

Gong Bao Ji Ding (Gong Bao Chicken)

Gong Bao Ji Ding (Gong Bao Chicken)

FrancesRenHuang FrancesRenHuang
Serves 3 to 4

To tenderize the meat:

  • 2 chicken thighs, deboned and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (if yours are tiny, you may want to throw in 1-2 more)
  • 1/2 teaspoon beaten egg
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese cooking wine

To stir-fry:

  • 2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese dark vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 6 tablespoons water or stock
  • 1 handful of peanuts (generous amount)
  • 2 green onions, chopped into 1-inch lengths
  • 4 garlic cloves, skin removed, smashed and chopped
  • 6 slices of ginger
  • 8 red dried chiles, chopped
  • 4 teaspoons Szechuan peppercorns
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
Go to Recipe

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Tags: Szechuan, Chicken, Weeknight Cooking, Spicy