Craving Kung Pao chicken for supper tonight? Skip take out, make it at home, and save some money when you use our copycat Panda Express Kung Pao chicken recipe.
This American Chinese dish is full of bold flavors with its spicy, nutty, savory sauce and tender marinated chicken. Red bell peppers and zucchini are stir fried until crisp tender, and then green onions and peanuts are tossed in. You'll get some heat from the whole dried red chilies. It's the perfect weeknight dinner, as it cooks in 12 minutes!
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The ingredients for this Panda Express Kung Pao copycat recipe uses pantry staples, along with ingredients you can find in the Asian section of your grocery store. The only ingredients you might have to order online are the whole dried chilies and the Shoaxing wine.
- Meat: We used boneless, skinless chicken breast, but boneless, skinless thigh would also work well.
- Vegetables: We used fresh red bell pepper and zucchini for our produce and also whole dried red chili peppers.
- Aromatics: We used fresh garlic and ginger along with the white part of some green onions.
- Nuts: Use either raw or dry roasted and lightly salted peanuts. If allergic, use almonds or cashews.
- Wine: Choose between Shoaxing wine or cooking sherry. (We used cooking sherry.)
- Oil: high smoke point oil for the stir fry and toasted sesame oil for the sauce
- Acid: We used rice vinegar, but Chinese black vinegar or balsamic vinegar can be substituted in the marinade.
- Thickener: We used cornstarch in the marinade and in the sauce.
- Soy: We used reduced sodium soy sauce in the marinade and in the sauce. (This can be replaced with liquid aminos or tamari.)
- Sweetener: We used brown sugar in the marinade. (It is important that there is some sweetener in the marinade, so don't leave it out.)
- Asian Condiments: We used gluten free Hoisin and oyster sauce.
How to Make
Gather all the ingredients for the marinade for Kung Pao then whisk it together in a bowl. Pour it over the thinly sliced bite sized chicken pieces. Stir it with a fork to make sure the marinade is well distributed. Cover and refrigerate for 20 minutes to overnight.
Next, gather the ingredients for the homemade Kung Pao sauce. Whisk them together, except the cornstarch and water, and set it aside. Just before using, make the cornstarch slurry and add it to the sauce.
Gather the ingredients for the Kung Pao stir fry. The marinaded chicken is also part of the ingredients.
To start the stir fry, heat up 1 tablespoon of oil and cook the whole dried chilies until they turn darker. This will take 15 to 30 seconds. Remove them from the wok and place in a small bowl.
To cook the meat, heat up 2 tablespoons of oil. Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon from the marinade as you want only the meat to reduce the liquid when cooking. Spread it out in an even layer and let it cook for 2 minutes then flip and cook for another 2 minutes. Remove from the wok and place in a bowl. It should be roughly 80% cooked at this stage.
Cook the aromatics next for the Kung Pao stir fry - the garlic and ginger should be stir fried for 15 seconds or until fragrant then add the Sambal oelek (1 teaspoon for mild, 2 teaspoon for medium heat). Stir until together for 15 seconds then remove and place in the bowl of whole dried red chilies.
Add 2 tablespoons of oil and over medium high heat, stir fry the red bell pepper and the zucchini ( 2 cups of veggies) for 2 minutes then remove and place in a bowl.
Add the cornstarch slurry to the homemade Kung Pao sauce and pour it into the wok. Stir and let the Kung Pao sauce thicken for about a minute.
Stir the meat in with the Kung Pao sauce so it's well coated then add in the aromatics and vegetables. Add in the white part of the green onion and the peanuts. Stir until well mixed and cook for a couple of minutes until the ingredients are heated through and the chicken has finished cooking.
Remove the wok from the heat and stir in 1 tablespoon of red pepper flakes. Garnish with sesame seeds and green onion, if desired. Serve with other Panda Express side dishes like steamed rice, super greens, chow mein or fried rice.
What is in Panda Express' Kung Pao chicken?
The Panda Express website states this entree is, "a Szechwan-inspired dish with chicken, peanuts and vegetables, finished with chili peppers." The vegetables they use in this entree are red bell peppers, zucchini, and green onions.
How many calories are in this Kung Pao recipe?
For a serving size of 6.2 ounces, the Panda Express Kung Pao chicken has 290 calories, 14 g of carbs, 19 g of fat, 6 g of sugar, 16 g of protein, and 970 mg of sodium.
For a 1 cup serving size of our copycat recipe, it has 466 calories, 19.1 g of carbs, 29.7 g of fat, 6.6 g of sugar, 33 g of protein and 848 mg of sodium. For more nutritional information, please scroll to the end of the recipe card.
Do you eat the peppers in Kung Pao chicken?
The dried whole red chili peppers can be eaten if you like your food spicy, or you can choose to leave them on your plate. From our personal experience, some of the dried red chili peppers are mild, but some are very spicy.
You can also choose to cut off the top of the chilies and shake out the seeds before cooking. We kept them whole for the photo shoot because that is how Panda Express serves them.
Which dish is hotter at Panda Express, Kung Pao chicken or Firecracker chicken?
Kung Pao chicken is definitely more spicy than other Panda Express dishes including the Firecracker chicken, so we also made our copycat recipe spicy, too. If you want to tone it down for small children, use 1 teaspoon of sambal oelek in the stir fry, and don't sprinkle any red pepper flakes on their serving. You can choose to have their two red chili peppers as decoration on their plate and just tell them not eat them.
- Need this gluten free? Use liquid aminos or tamari instead of soy sauce and replace the cornstarch with arrowroot. Use gluten free Hoisin sauce.
- Need this vegan? Replace the meat with tofu cubes or cauliflower florets, and use vegan Hoisin and oyster sauce.
- Need more vegetables? Increase the vegetables from 2 ½ cups to 6 cups. Also add broccoli and yellow bell pepper.
- Want a different meat? Use pork tenderloin.
- Need this keto? Leave out the cornstarch. Use monkfruit as your sweetener and ½ teaspoon xanthan gum as the thickener. Increase zucchini and use liquid aminos.
- Want to use Szechuan peppercorns? Swap out the red pepper flakes for the ground Szechuan peppercorns for a tongue tingling experience. (No, they aren't spicy.)
- Have everything ready as this dish cooks really fast.
- Take the time to marinade the chicken. It will be more tender if you do.
- Need to control the heat? Use 1 teaspoon of Sambal oelek for mild, 2 for medium.
- Use whole dried red chilies imported from China and not Mexico.
- Need this Gluten free? Use liquid aminos, arrowroot and GF Hoisin sauce.
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Our copycat Panda Express Kung Pao chicken recipe is the perfect weeknight dinner, as it cooks in only 12 minutes. Marinated chicken, peanuts, and crisp tender vegetables coated with a spicy, savory sauce will have you saying it tastes better than takeout!
For the Marinade
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce (30 ml)
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar (30 ml)
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar, packed (15g)
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch (10g)
- 1 tablespoon water (15 ml)
For the Kung Pao Sauce
- 2 tablespoons Shoaxing wine or cooking sherry (30 ml)
- ¼ cup soy sauce (60 ml)
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil (15 ml)
- 2 tablespoons Hoisin sauce (30 ml)
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce (15 ml)
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch (10g)
- 1 tablespoon water (15 ml)
For the Stir Fry
- 4 tablespoons olive oil (60 ml)
- 8 dried whole red chilies (9g)
- 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast, thinly sliced and cut into bite-sized chunks (453g)
- 1 cup red bell pepper, cut in ½-inch squares (113g)
- 1 cup zucchini, cut in half lengthwise and sliced into ½-inch semicircles (123g)
- 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons ginger, grated
- 2 teaspoons sambal oelek
- ½ cup green onion, white part only, cut in ½-inch pieces (48g)
- ½ cup raw or dry roasted peanuts (67g)
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, for garnish
- ⅓ cup sliced green onion, for garnish (18g)
- Marinade: Stir all the ingredients to together in a bowl, then pour it over the meat. Toss the chicken pieces until they are well coated in the marinade, then cover then refrigerate for 20 minutes up to overnight.
- Sauce: Whisk all the ingredients together, except the cornstarch and water, then set aside.
- Stir Fry: Heat up 1 tablespoon of oil in a large wok over medium-high heat, add the dried red chili peppers and cook until they start to turn black, roughly 15 to 30 seconds. Remove from the wok and place in a bowl.
- Meat: Heat up 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the meat (discard the marinade to reduce moisture) and quickly spread it out so it is in one layer. Allow it to cook for 2 minutes, then flip and cook the other side. The chicken should be 80% cooked. Remove from the wok and place in a bowl.
- Veggies: Heat up 2 tablespoons of oil, then add the red bell pepper and the zucchini. Stir fry for 1 ½ to 2 minutes over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Remove from the wok and place in a bowl.
- Aromatics: Add the garlic and ginger and stir constantly until fragrant, roughly 15 seconds, then add the sambal oelek and cook for 15 seconds. Remove from the wok and place in a bowl with the red chilies.
- Sauce: Whisk the cornstarch and water to form a slurry, then mix it into the sauce. Pour it into the wok and stir until it thickens, roughly a minute.
- Heat Through: Add the chicken to the wok and stir until each piece is well coated in the sauce. Add the veggies and the dried whole red chilies, then mix in the sliced green onion and the peanuts. Stir and cook for 2 minutes, or until the meat is fully cooked (no longer pink in the center).
- Finish: Remove from the heat and stir in 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes.
- Serve: with your favorite Panda Express side dish: super greens, steamed rice, fried rice, or chow mein. Garnish the Kung Pao chicken with sesame seeds and green onion, if desired.
- This cooks fast, so have everything ready before you start cooking.
- Want tender chicken? Marinade it for at least 20 minutes.
- Need this less spicy? Use 1 teaspoon of Sambal oelek for mild, 2 for medium.
- Skip the chilies from Mexico, use the imported ones from China.
- Want a Gluten free version? Use liquid aminos, arrowroot and GF Hoisin sauce.
- Prep Time: 30 minutes
- Cook Time: 12 minutes
- Category: Dinner
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: Chinese
Keywords: Kung Pao Chicken Panda Express Recipe, Calories