Gong Bao Chicken with Cashew Nuts


Have you ever tasted the famous Gong Bao/Kung Pao Chicken? I also thought I did before I prepared it on my own, following the instructions from the excellent Sichuan Cookery by Fuchsia Dunlop (I have already mentioned this fantastic book when I posted Steamed Aubergine with Chili Sauce). While reading the ingredient list I already felt something was wrong with all the dishes bearing the same name, previously tasted in Chinese restaurants, but as soon as I took the first mouthful, inhaling an extraordinary aroma, I realised it was my very first Gong Bao Chicken (or at least something extremely close to the genuine Sichuanese specialty).

Gong Bao or Kung Pao takes its name from a XIXth century governor of Sichuan, whose official title was “gong bao”. The name was banned and modified in the communist China until the 80s, when it started to be accepted once more. Apart from the chicken cubes, this famous dish contains chili peppers, spring onions, garlic, ginger,  Sichuan peppers and most often toasted peanuts, but according to the author cashew nuts are also encountered. It may seem very simple, but the flavours are very unusual and surprising for someone who knows Chinese cuisine from European restaurants. Two things make Gong Bao unique: Sichuanese peppercorns and the very light sour, sweet and hot sauce prepared with black Chinkiang vinegar.

If you have never tasted it, Sichuan pepper is one of the most magical spices in the world. As its name suggests, it is widely used in Sichuan province, but is not similar to any pepper I know. The peppercorns are very dark red-brown and have a characteristic numbing effect on the tongue (I like to call it “paralysing”). Nothing can substitute them here, so unless you know well and dislike Sichuan peppercorns, don’t skip them while preparing this delicacy for the first time.

I haven’t modified the recipe and only slightly changed the amounts of some ingredients. Just like other recipes from Fuchsia Dunlop’s book, this one proved clearly explained and the proportions perfect. Even reading the introduction and the recipes explanations is a real pleasure.

TIPS: As a big cashew nuts fan I was happy to learn that they are also sometimes used by Sichuanese chefs, but the most frequent version includes peanuts.

Unfortunately I had to substitute Sichuanese chili peppers with Hungarian chili. Both are moderately hot, so I hope it was a good choice.

Preparation: about 20 minutes

Ingredients (serves 2):

2 chicken breasts cut into 1,5 cm cubes

5 spring onions (white parts) cut into 1,5 cm pieces (I have used the white and the very light green parts too)

3 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced

3 teaspoons thinly sliced fresh ginger

2 tablespoons oil

minimum 10 dried Sichuanese chilies (I have substituted them with medium hot Hungarian chilies) halved (horizontally)

1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns


1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons light soy sauce

1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine

1 1/2 teaspoon potato flour

1 tablespoon water


3 teaspoons sugar

3/4 teaspoon potato flour

1 teaspoon dark soy sauce

1 teaspoon light soy sauce

3 teaspoons Chinkiang vinegar (black Chinese vinegar)

1 teaspoon sesame oil

3 tablespoons chicken stock or water

20 -30 toasted peanuts or cashew nuts

Combine the sauce ingredients in a small glass.

Pour the marinade ingredients into a small bowl and combine with the chicken.

Heat the oil in a wok.

Stir fry the chili peppers and whole Sichuan peppercorns until they become crispy, but not burnt (you can reduce the heat or take the wok off the stove for a while).

Add the chicken and when it starts becoming white, add the ginger, the garlic slices and the spring onions.

Stir fry until the chicken pieces are thoroughly cooked.

Pour the sauce, continuously stirring and when it becomes thick, add the peanuts or cashew nuts.


53 Replies to “Gong Bao Chicken with Cashew Nuts”

  1. I LOVE Kung Pao chicken, though I’ve not made them with the correct peppercorn, the numbing sensation can get overwhelming, even for someone like me who LOVES spicy food, since it’s a completely different type of feeling…

    I am so itchy to get back into the kitchen to cook some real food, tonight we have to settle for fried dumplings (from the freezer). Seeing all my foodie friends’ postings is making me want some homemade deliciousness!

    1. I had no idea hot food fans can dislike Sichuan pepper… I really love it, but it’s easy to use too much. I really feel for you and hope your fridge will soon be repaired.

  2. I love Szechuan pepper! What got me hooked is the wonderful floral aroma. One of my new favorite ingredients. Delicious!

  3. Hi Sissi! Your Kung Pao chicken looks gooood! I have a picky customer at home in terms of Chinese food so I rarely make it at home. Plus we have very authentic Chinese food here – just finished eating out (and stopping by now for shaved ice). But I’m confident this recipe will work! Thanks for sharing! I will and really will email you soon… Sorry been so busy!!!

    1. Thank you so much, Nami. You are lucky to have real Chinese food… Don’t worry. I have been very busy too some time ago, remember? Have lovely holidays.

  4. I DO wish Szechuan pepper was not called ‘pepper’! That mixes so many people up!! But it surely is one of my very favourite spices 🙂 ! OK: two things I do differently [but then we, here in Oz, do stand on top of our heads 🙂 !] In the marinade, even tho’ light soy is specified, methinks it would have enough salt without adding any? Secondly, potato flour, to me, is a ‘European thing’ and I always use cornflour: don’t think the SE Asians even know what potato flour is ? [big smile!!!!] Anyways, your dish looks delightful!!

    1. Thank you so much, Eha. Actually potato starch is as foreign to the Sichuanese cooking as cornstarch is. They use some pea starch. Since all the three have no taste and are starchy, there is no difference in taste. The only thing (you probably know) is that potato starch is stronger. (Everything is explained in my extraordinary book). Cornstarch is typically American. In Japan potato flour is for example more often used than cornstarch (according to my Japanese friend, who has never used cornstarch in her life), it is available in every Japanese shop here, but again it’s not a traditional thing (the traditional Japanese starch is very expensive and slowly replaced by potato starch and some people use cornstarch too).
      As for the salt and soy sauce, I didn’t find this dish is too salty at all. Since the chicken marinates only for a couple of minutes, salt certainly goes better through the meat than soy sauce. Soy sauce is also in my opinion not always a 100% substitute for salt and I have already cooked Korean recipes also calling for both salt and soy sauce in a marinades. It is salty of course, but salt has even a different taste.
      In both the marinade and the sauce added at the end, salt is required. I don’t think it’s accidental. The author has spent years learning in cookery schools for chefs in Sichuan and I’m sure salt is not a substitute or her invention. The book is really extraordinary especially nowadays when everyone thinks that he or she can edit a cookery book in five minutes, it’s a real jewel.

      1. Thank you for going to all the trouble of writing this: I feel i have had a wonderful lesson 🙂 ! Really must read the book! Please remember most of the recipes I use are of Australian origin, even if written by Asians, as almost all of them are. They all do use cornflour [would you believe I often omit altogether if the sauce surrounding seems of a nice consistency!], and I have to look at our world-famous Kykie Kwong’s book ‘My China’ when I have a chance. Potato flour for most of us seems awfully olde-worldy European and most supermarkets etc would not even keep it. I did not read properly the length of your marinade period, as the minimum for me would be 1-2 hours, but often overnight 🙂 ! Again, what we do here 🙂 ! Reading your and Eva Taylor’s comments I must say I am hugely happy to reside in Oz – yes, we have some kind’of cheap ‘shopfront’ Chinese and other Asian restaurants in outer suburbia and country places, but many are so beautiful in decor and presentation, and the service is more likely to be superpolite in the Chinese places than those of many other nationalities. I live semi-rurally at the moment, with three small townships within reach: of seven places to eat, five are Asian and quite presentable. Ask almost any small Oz child where they want to eat: ‘Chinese, please’ is the likely reply and the food has to be super – otherwise the places simply would not last 🙂 ! Anyways, heaps of thanks!!

        1. 🙂 ! Thank you indeed for my Saturday ‘homework’! Ahead of my work load 🙂 ! But simply had to find out what the specialists thought here: so 11 Chinese cookery books later [some specialist Szechuan] and quite a few phone calls to chefs/sous-chefs getting their mise-en-place ready for Sat lunch, I just have to say we seem to do it slightly differently here. [Am slightly out of focues, as everyone here is eating and cooking Vietnamese, Thai and Keralan etc!]. Kylie Kwong, whose latest book was No1 in the world two years ago, still comes up as the one to emulate. Now her ingredient list has 500gm chicken thigh fillets in 1 cm cubes, 2Tb cornflour, 2 Tb shao hsing wine, 2 Tb peanut oil, 10 small red chiilies, 2 Tb peanut oil as extra, 5 cm piece ginger in thin strips, 1 Tb brown sugar, 1/2 cup roasted unsalted peanuts, 2 Tb light soy, 1 Tb Chinese black vinegar and a pinch only of Szechuan pepper. The marinade is only with cornflour and wine for one hour minimum. The Szechwan pepper is added as a sprinkle in the end. Vive la difference 🙂 !

          1. Thank you so much for yours research! I love to see that I’m not the only one passionate and crazy about cooking 😉 This recipe looks very similar though, but there is no garlic!
            I think the thighs are marinated in wine in this recipe for such a long time because the thigh meat is tougher and has to be tenderised (just my idea). As for the pinch of Sichuan pepper, everything depends on people’s preferences (like with chili). Fuchsia Dunlop’s recipes, when supposed to be hot, are really hot (and of course she says she has reduced the chili contents quite often compared to the original recipe by a Sichuan chef), but I’m sure many people complain about this side of her book… Anyway, I encourage you to buy it one day. It’s a wonderful culinary insight into just one region of China, but not just any region 😉 . Have a lovely weekend and thanks for the fascinating discussion!

        2. Hi, Eha. Thank you for the answer. I had absolutely no intention to give any lessons 😉 I am far from being a specialist of the CHinese cuisine and I have only written what I have read in the wonderful book I’m cooking through.
          As for the potato flour I have even talked to my Japanese friend last night and she confirmed that her family uses potato flour all the time. Have you seen Shuhan’s comment? She said she prefers tapioca starch…
          I think there are many Asian immigrants and people of Asian origins in Australia and maybe it’s not the case of the whole Canada, only some cities have a big Asian populations, hence the problem Eva has described. The quality of restaurants and their food depends also on the clients’ preferences. Even though I sometimes complain about the restaurants in my city, it’s much more difficult to find genuine Asian food in France for example because the French are not as open in general to Asian cuisine as the Swiss are. Not to mention the “hotness” level. Here I can ask very hot and it will be hot, while some bloggers say in France it’s almost impossible to get really hot Indian or Chinese food and in general genuine good Asian food…

  5. This is a classic chinese take out dish that both the chinese and westerners alike can say they like. You did brilliantly sissi, it looks very authentic and packed with punchy flavours.

    Re: flours. I personally prefer tapioca starch, but cornstarch is more common, and yes we do use and know of potato starch, in fact it’s the starch used for thickening tau suan, a sweet mung bean dessert. I think the type of thickening agent used varies according to households and regions, and of course recipes.

    1. Shuhan, I particularly appreciate your approval, so thank you a lot for the compliment. If one is not Chinese it’s difficult to say whether a recipe is genuine or not, but from what I have read in the book’s introduction, the author is crazy for Sichuanese food and lived there for a couple of years just to learn the Sichuan cookery, so I assume her recipes must be more or less original.
      Isn’t tapioca flour used in transparent dumplings? (To make the dough together with wheat flour?) I vaguely recall horribly thick dumplings I made once or twice… (They were good but looked so horrible).
      I have no preferences for thickening starch, I use both potato and corn starch. Here I have followed the ingredients the author advised without asking myself questions. After I have eaten this first Gong Bao I think starch is the last thing that would make it unreal 😉 (I have never had Sichuanese pepper and there was no black vinegar, so characteristic, in any Kung Pao I have ever had in restaurants… not to mention the heat level… non-existent).
      When I prepare desserts I find cornstarch better because it’s somehow lighter than potato flour (for example in pastry cream).

    1. Thank you so much, Robert-Gilles. It’s always so nice to see you here 🙂 I have received a wonderful book about Sichuanese cuisine (it was from my wish list, so I had waited impatiently for it 😉 ) and now I realise that the recipes are so different from the vague idea I have of the Chinese cuisine… I also love hot dishes, so I love most recipes. More Sichuan delights will come soon!

  6. Sissi, you and I have the same ‘love’ for Sichuan cuisine…if we didn’t have our favorite ‘mom and pop’ little Chinese take-out where people drive to from miles to pick up the freshest, and best food, I would be diligently wanting to make my own, but I cannot duplicate their amazing foods.

    Your Sechuan chicken is amazing, with plenty of spices, including the Hungarian chilli peppers (genius) and using potato flour to thicken the sauce (I use kosher potato starch) instead of corn starch to thicken. Love how you adapted the spicy sauce, as well!
    I also wanted to comment on your curry chicken wings the other day; got so distracted and then I forgot to comment. I often leave my wings intact, as you did to assure moistness; not separating them. Love that recipe, as well:D

    1. Thank you so much, Elisabeth. I’m glad you also love Sichuan cuisine. You are also lucky to have this little restaurant. Here I feel that only dim sum are somehow close to the genuine Chinese food and I only go for dim sum now. Actually the potato starch was in this original recipe. (Hungarian peppers obviously not.) What is the difference between kosher potato starch and normal potato starch?
      As for the wings, I hated the fact that they didn’t have the thin tips… It’s often sold like this.

  7. I have never tried this type of chicken, even in a restaurant. To be honest, I am not a huge fan of Chinese food restaurants in North America, the food is usually sub-par, restaurants are usually dirty and service is usually poor. But it is also usually cheap.
    I remember when I started cooking Thai and Indian cuisines how I had to ramp up my pantry to include the basics; sadly I don’t have many of the ingredients on hand and would have to buy them specifically for the dish. I am not familiar with Shaoxing wine or Chinkiang vinegar, but from my experience with your food, I think I would like it and therefore worth the effort of increasing my pantry, yet again! We’re heading into a long weekend here in Ontario so we’re going to the cottage tomorrow (after the traffic dies down) so I will definitely review your ingredient listing on my return on Tuesday. Happy Friday Sissi.

    1. Eva, I understand what you mean and as I said in the post I have never had anything similar in any European Chinese restaurant (but I did have dishes called “Kung Pao” 😉 ). Here Chinese restaurants are not always the cheapest, but the service is usually awful. They are only nice to regular Chinese guests who definitely do not represent the majority of their income… There are exceptions of course, there is one restaurant where I always go for dim sum because it’s particularly good, but service changes.
      Cooking different cuisines might be a problem. This is the reason why I started to cook Japanese very late. Japanese food products are more expensive than Thai, Indian or Chinese, so it was a big risk buying them just for a few experiments.
      It’s funny because when I cooked the steamed aubergine with chili from this cookery book I discovered I had Chinkiang vinegar I must have bought for a Chinese dish at least two years ago! My kitchen is packed with sauces and products from all around the world, as well as my fridge…
      In this dish I wouldn’t advise substituting this vinegar with any other. It has a very characteristic and unusual taste. Shaoxing wine is not that important (apparently can be substituted with sherry). Sichuan pepper is obligatory especially if you haven’t tasted it yet.
      It’s easier with Indian cuisine: dry spices last longer and don’t need to be kept in the fridge 😉 Have a lovely weekend!

  8. Sissi the kung pao looks good but what I really enjoyed is the way you described about it and peppers and origin… Love the way you go deep into the dish, makes it sound so familiar..
    being raised in India in my early childhood days chinese food was one of the first international cuisine I was exposed to. It really old a very special place in my kitchen … I do use sichuan peppers… In many dishes.. love the arty intense flavor of it.

    1. Thank you so much, Reem, for the compliments. I discovered Sichuan pepper only several years ago, but since I didn’t have a good Sichuan cookery book I used it rarely. I love it so I’m happy now I have lots of Sichuanese recipes to discover.

  9. I love Kung Pao chicken, chicken and cashew – anything like that! Interesting history of “gong boa”. I love how words and names for things evolve – so thanks! I love using both fresh and dried chilies, so the finding and using some Sichuanese chilies for this is exciting! This sounds so easy and delicious if you have the right ingredients. I do have the light and dark soy but I still haven’t found the Black Chinese Vinegar. Still on my list! Great recipe!

    1. Thank you so much, MJ. I found Chinkiang vinegar quite easily and actually I have had it for years and never used it… so now I’m happy I haven’t thrown it away.

  10. Dear Sissi,

    Now I’m seriously impressed by your recipe. Gong Bao chicken is one of my all-time favourite Sichuan dishes and the secret is all in the beautiful stock. Being a lover of cashews, this is one dish I always need a nice bowl of steamed white rice to go with. Thanks for the history lesson too and I’m ashamed I didn’t know its origins being Chinese.

    I find the “numbing” effect of Sichuan peppercorns and its flavours a little too strong for many dishes and I have always substituted it with either white or black peppercorns and most of the recipes like Mapo tofu still turns out fantastic.

    1. Thank you so much, Chopinand. I ma really flattered by your compliment. I feel that with this cookery book I start discovering the real Chinese cuisine, and moreover, the hot dishes I love so much. I haven’t posted mapo tofu yet, but I have prepared it according to this book and it was extraordinary! I will post it soon too because I feel as if it had been my first mapo tofu too and I absolutely want to share it.
      Personally I love Sichuan pepper, but it’s very easy to exaggerate with it, much easier than with chili.

  11. This one of my favorite in Szechuan cuisines. It must be the pepper that is pulling me in to this dish. I love the simplicity of your presentation of this delicious dish. Have a good weekend, Sissi! 🙂

    1. Thank you so much, Ray. Simplicity is all I am able to do with my photos 😉 Have a lovely weekend too!

  12. Nicely done! Looks super authentic ….. even more so than what I’d made earlier 🙂
    Now you’ve got me craving for this again. Yum!

    1. Thank you so much, Ping. I remember you were warning everyone it was not a real kung pao, but it still looked luscious.

  13. I should make this Sissi. The ingredients are so appealing… Can you eat with chopsticks? I cannot… though but my hubby can use them with grace. He is a slow eater. 🙂

    1. Thank you so much, Zsuzsa. I think you would love this dish. I do eat with chopsticks a lot (we both do) and must boast that I get better and better at it! I have been practicing for at least a year now and have every single Asian dish with chopsticks (I mean unless it comes from a country where chopsticks aren’t used…). I am practicing and dreaming of a trip to Japan (I have also asked my Japanese friend lots of questions about the chopstick étiquette). Thus I will not feel completely stupid and inelegant with all the food falling down on the table, my clothes… I have discovered that an omelet is easy with chopsticks, but the rice is still the most difficult. Especially when I put too much soy sauce or another sauce. The funny thing is that I find eating green salad much easier with chopsticks than with a fork!

  14. So this is Kung Pao (Gong Bao!) chicken? I’ve only heard of it in movies and sometimes on menus, but have never seen it. I heard it’s REALLY spicy? Is that the case? It looks amazing though – my father would often say “where did you buy that from?” as a joke when I made something, and I’m going to say the same thing! It looks so perfect, just like something from a high quality restaurant. I might break my chicken embargo just to try this Sissi – will need to find some of these peppercorns first though… I guess those can be found in Chinatown though?!

    1. Thank you so much, Charles. Yes, it’s spicy and I think another reason for which I love Fuchsia Dunlop’s book is that even though she probably cuts down on chilies and Sichuan pepper (compared to how they cook in Sichuan) all the dishes which are supposed to be hot, are really hot for me who loves fiery food and supports quite a high level of hotness. I suppose you can try making it with pork or beef too. Sichuan pepper is easily found in all the Asian shops and also in the fancy exotic spice shops (where of course it’s more expensive). It’s dark red-brown and it’s rather a husk than grain.

      1. I had a girlfriend from the Szechuan region of China when I was at University – she’d take great delight in telling me all about the cuisine and eating habits. She told me once that all you can do is just keep eating and eating, and ignoring the pain and tears running down your face because it’s the only way to be able to eat some foods – lol!

        1. Sichuanese girlfriend too?? Wow! I’m not surprised that you know so much about different cuisines. You know, I find chili and hot flavours addictive. Sometimes I go to an Indian restaurant and just say I want a dish but the hottest possible and add “I want to cry”. And I cry and am very happy. I sometimes need such an experience and love it (although I couldn’t do it often). The only thing is that one has to keep on training with hot food regularly, otherwise hotness completely hides the taste of the food. We both have hot food regularly with my husband.
          I remember I saw once a tv program about Sichuanese cuisine. They have shown a very simple restaurant specialising in the famous Sichuan “fondue”. There was a regular guest who brought a… towel (but a big bath towel!) and he kept on using it throughout the meal to wipe the tears and most of all the perspiration, saying he never comes without it. I totally understand him!

  15. There’s just something about the combination of chicken and cashew that gets me all excited… your ingredients sound absolutely mouth-watering Sissi…I’ve never made my own Kung Pao Chicken (nor General Tao chicken for that matter – for shame!) – but have enjoyed it numerous times in restaurants. Our family tends to lean towards the Szechuan side of Chinese cuisine (we like our heat ;-)), and I have a feeling they would just love your preparation. I’m definitely bookmarking this one! Thanks Sissi.

    1. Thank you so much, Kelly. I must check General Tao chicken. I have never had this one. I’m happy to learn you also love the Sichuan cuisine.

  16. I never realised kung pao was that simple to make. I’ve only eaten the peanut version. Also tried kung pao made without peanuts – was utterly disappointed. I will let you know once I’ve tried this recipe
    BTW made your apple cake again yesterday. A success, as you guessed:) Thank you.

    1. Hi Mr. Three-Cookies. I’m happy and flattered your family liked my apple cake once more. It was easy indeed. I think I will learn it by heart if I make it once or twice more. I hope you try it and like it.

  17. Kung Pao is truly like crack to my Sissi and I have a hard time not ordering it whenever I go out to a Chinese restaurant. Thanks for sharing this recipe and it’s bookmarked to make soon!

    Hope you’re having a relaxing Sunday.

  18. I love this dish as it packs quite a punch! My hubby on the other hand doesn’t really like sichuan peppercorns as he can’t taste anything else once it numbs the mouth!

  19. Sissi, I was certain that I had commented on this post as shortly after it was posted I went out and bought both the dark and light soy sauce AND the Shinkiang vinegar in hopes of making this dish.

    However, things went a little crazy with my mom passing, my surgery etc so I haven’t had a chance to check back for the rest of the ingredients etc.
    I also have to get the Shaoxing wine as well as the Sichuan chillis. As soon as I can drive again, I’m going shopping. 🙂

    1. Thank you for your kind comment. I hope you can make this dish soon. In fact, I think you can easily substitute the dried Sichuan chilies with other dried chilies (I use Hungarian chilies because I have never found the Sichuan ones) and Shaoxing wine can be substituted with dry sherry or sake if you have either of those. Good luck! I hope you will enjoy this dish. The vinegar is a very important ingredient, both sauces too, so I hope it will be enough to make this dish flavoursome.

      1. I’m not much of a drinker so no sherry (I’ve only ever bought sweet sherry in any case) or sake in my pantry and AFAIK no Shaoxing wine is sold in LCBOs locally. I’m really going to try to find the Sichuan chillies though.

        1. I hardly ever drink sake or sherry, but I always have the former (the cheapest one) because I use it in Japanese, Korean and other vaguely Asian dishes. It is also excellent to marinate fish or shrimp.

    1. Hi, Mr. Three-Cookies. Thank you very much. I’m really sorry, I’m correcting this error straight away!

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