Better than take-out kung pao chicken

Kung Pao Chicken (GF, low carb)

Better than Chinese take-out, this gluten-free and low carb version of Kung Pao Chicken features chicken thighs with zucchini, red peppers, and onions in a slightly sweet and spicy sauce.

Eating low carb, gluten-free, and sugar-free basically insinuates that going out to a Chinese restaurant means you leave hungry. Not because of the age-old joke that eating Chinese food leaves you hungry an hour later, but because there isn’t much on that menu that you can have. Authentic Chinese food, while absolutely delicious and hands-down my favorite cuisine, is neither gluten nor sugar-free. It definitely isn’t low carb either.

Consequently, Chinese food has been my Achilles heel. When I first started on this eating journey, I would constantly cave into going out for Asian food. It was something I loved and, darn it, I was not about to give it up that easily. Until one day after eating at my favorite Dim Sum spot, my hands started to itch and turn red and splotchy. Awesome, another food aversion to add to the list. Zaijian, Chinese food.

Luckily, paleo food bloggers like Nom Nom Paleo and I Heart Umami have helped me find ways to keep enjoying Asian dishes but without the potential issues that might arise from soy, wheat, or whatever the heck it is to which I have an insensitivity. If either of you ever read this post: thanks, friends. You’re changing the game for people like me. In fact, the little trick in the recipe with the chicken marinade, adding baking soda, is something I learned from ChihYu at I Heart Umami.

This Kung Pao Chicken recipe is my first real attempt to break into the Chinese food sphere, unless you count my brussels sprouts recipe, but that’s a side dish and not so much a stand alone meal. I am by no means an expert with at-home Chinese cooking, and I recognize that. However, this is what came about of my playing around. I opted to add zucchini to the vegetable mix, which, if you’ve ever been to Panda Express is straight out of their book. I do not love Panda Express, but I do love the idea of zucchini in my stir fry, so I’m keeping it. This version does not taste anything like their soggy, sweet, and sickening recipe.

The best part about Kung Pao Chicken that you don’t need to go buy any crazy ingredients. If you keep sherry vinegar, coconut aminos, and sesame oil in your pantry, you should ideally have most everything else. The Kung Pao sauce incorporates my Homemade Healthier Hoisin sauce which is super easy to make. You could use store-bought hoisin, but ask yourself, should you really? You’ve done all this work to avoid gluten and sugar, why stop now? You can get more bang-for-your-buck by trying my Kung Pao Brussels Sprouts with the remaining sauce.

gluten-free and low carb kung pao chicken
Serve over cauliflower rice and garnish with remaining green onions, sesame seeds, and additional peanuts. A quick and easy dinner!

Serve this over cauliflower rice if eating low carb or white rice if you aren’t watching your intake. This dish is still yummy the next day; one of the few Chinese take-out items that doesn’t get weird overnight in the refrigerator. Enjoy!

A note about adjusting the spiciness:

Making this recipe as written will give you what I consider to be spicy on the American scale. Dried Chinese chilies have this amazing power to pack a punch and give you this numbing level of spiciness. I normally use about 8 whole dried chilies. Feel free to cut down if you aren’t ready to go there. My husband still puts sriracha on this dish, but he can handle the heat. When we go out for Thai, he’s the kind of guy that orders things “thai spicy”. The owner always asks if he’s sure about that decision. If you are worried, go with about half of the chilies to start.

gluten-free kung pao chicken
Yield: 4 servings

Kung Pao Chicken

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes

Better than take-out, this Kung Pao Chicken is spicy, slightly sweet and packed with zucchini, red peppers, and peanuts. 

Ingredients

Marinade

  • 1.25 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
  • 2 tbsp coconut aminos
  • 1 tsp aged dry sherry vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda

Sauce

  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp coconut aminos
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tsp Homeade Healthier Hoisin sauce
  • 1/2 tsp szechuan pepper

Stir Fry

  • 3 tbsp neutral tasting oil (avocado, refined coconut)
  • 6-8 dried whole Chinese red chilies
  • 3 green onions
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
  • 1/2 yellow onion, sliced thin
  • 1 cup red pepper, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
  • 1 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
  • 1 rib celery, chopped
  • 1/4 cup dry roasted peanuts
  • toasted sesame seeds (garnish)

Instructions

  1. Combine chicken and all marinade ingredients in a medium bowl. Stir to combine and set aside for 15-20 minutes.
  2. In a small bowl, combine ingredients for kung pao sauce. Stir to combine and set aside.
  3. Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a large heavy skillet over high heat. Add Chinese dried chilies and saute in the oil until chilies begin to brown and flavor the oil, about 1 minute. Add chicken in a single layer or small batches until lightly browned, about 1-2 minutes. Be careful not to let burn as the baking soda will help chicken to brown quickly. Stir and continue to cook until all sides are browned and just cooked through. 3-5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon and set aside. 
  4. Heat remaining oil over high heat. Add green onions (white portion only, reserve green for garnish), ginger, and garlic and cook for 30 seconds until fragrant. Add bell peppers, celery, and zucchini. Cook, stirring occasionally, until brightly colored and brown in some spots. Add peanuts and stir to combine.
  5. Return chicken to the pan and add the kung pao sauce. Stir to coat ingredients and heat sauce, about 1 minute. Garnish with additional green onions and sesame seeds. Serve immediately as is or over cauliflower rice.
  6. Store leftovers in an air tight container in the refrigerator. Unlike some take-out, this dish still tastes delicious the next day!

Notes

Recipe adapted from J. Kenji Lopez-Alt's Takeout-Style Kung Pao Chicken

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