If you don’t usually cook Chinese food, you may need to buy sauces for this dish, but luckily they all have a long shelf life. For protein, Dalton opts for chicken thighs and cuts them into bite-size pieces for easy serving.
Next, you will need a little cornstarch to thicken the sauce. The other ingredients are light and dark soy sauce (the flavor layer for added nuance), Chinese black vinegar, Shaoxing wine (or Chinese cooking wine), brown sugar, sesame oil, and water.
Dalton points out that “the special ingredient here is Chinese black vinegar. It adds a very distinctive sweet and sour note.” You might not guess it, but it’s made with sticky rice, which she explains “has an intensity that adds a significant layer of flavor to this dish.” Look for it in Asian supermarkets or online, and if you really can’t find it, Dalton says balsamic vinegar will work in a pinch.
You will sauté most of the dish in vegetable oil. Chopped garlic, finely chopped ginger and scallions infuse warm aromas, while dry chili peppers add a kick. Dalton warns to remove the seeds if you want a softer result. Don’t forget the Sichuan peppercorns, which Dalton points to as key to the overall taste. She notes, “Be sure to grind them so they get crushed.” Finally, the kung pao chicken is served with unsalted roasted peanuts for a crunchy texture.