Panda Express Kung Pao Chicken has an incredible sweet and spicy flavor and crunch, and it’s so simple to make at home with my Panda Express™ copycat recipe! Go ahead and skip the drive-thru, you can have this chicken stir fry for dinner in less than an hour!
If you love great Asian stir fry dishes but you want to make them yourself, this copycat recipe is perfect for you!! We also have a fabulous ginger beef stir fry that is a perfect balance of flavors.
Panda Express Kung Pao Chicken
What does Kung Pao chicken taste like?
This stir fry, just like Asian food in general, has a lot of flavors going on at once! Sweet, spicy, peppery, and tangy, plus the peanuts add a great crunch and nuttiness.
The vegetables help to tone down some of that heat while actually adding a lot of body to the dish.
And the chicken—it’s so moist and flavorful, thanks to a quick marinade.
A simple marinade works wonders on even the plainest protein and plate of veggies!
If the Kung Pao Chicken from Panda Express isn’t enough to convince you, you should try my incredibly simple honey grilled chicken – it’ll blow your mind!
Ingredient Notes and Substitutions
- Chicken Breast – You’ll need boneless skinless chicken breast, or if you like dark meat better, get some boneless chicken thighs.
If you’re looking for a meatless option, tofu is a great substitute.
- Shaoxing Wine – Dry sherry works well in its place, but it’s just a tad sweeter.
- Mirin – Rice vinegar can be used instead, but your dish won’t be as sweet. Add a bit more light brown sugar to taste at the end!
- Zucchini, Red Bell Pepper, and Scallions – Any squash or bell pepper really works just fine in this recipe – actually, most veggies are perfect for this dish!
Bulk up with some mushrooms and eggplant, especially if you’re going meatless.
- Chiles de Arbol – This tiny chile has a huge personality – and by that, I mean it’s super spicy! Red chile paste is also pretty spicy and will work as a substitute.
- Peanuts – Toasted cashews are a good substitute if you’re not a fan of peanuts. And if you have a nut allergy, you can leave them out altogether.
- Sichuan Peppercorns – This spice is made with dried berries.
Use crushed red pepper flakes if you can’t find the peppercorns, but you’ll lose the signature lemony aroma that this chicken stir fry has.
Kung Pao Chicken Panda Express Recipe Tips
- Control the Heat – A slightly longer saute on the chiles and peppercorns will really enhance the heat!
Alternatively, if you’re seeking less spice, you can always use less of each or opt for a milder pepper and spice – jalapenos and paprika, for example.
But you’ll lose what really makes Kung Pao chicken special!
- Be Mindful of the Meat – Cook the meat in batches if you can’t fit all of the chicken in your pan at once without piling up.
You want one layer of meat, with space in between pieces, to help it cook evenly and get that tasty, crispy exterior!
- Use the Right Tools – A nonstick skillet is your best bet for browning the meat without stripping away the marinade – a common mistake made with stainless steel or unseasoned woks.
If you have a seasoned wok, that would be even better!
Storing and Reheating Leftovers
Cooked chicken will last for up to 3 days in the fridge.
To reheat, throw everything back into your skillet or wok and fry over medium until everything is warmed through.
Panda Express Kung Pao Chicken actually freezes really well! Transfer to a freezer bag and enjoy within 3 months. Thaw in the fridge before reheating!
Panda Express Kung Pao Chicken FAQ
Orange chicken is made with, well, oranges! A combination of orange juice and zest, to be exact. It’s certainly stickier and sweeter than Kung Pao chicken!
The meat in orange chicken usually has a crust. Additionally, it isn’t usually served alongside vegetables like with Kung Pao chicken.
Traditionally, spicy Chinese dishes are commonly made with Tien Tsin chiles. They’re pretty hot!
In my recipe, I use chiles de arbol. They’re much easier to find and aren’t quite as abrasive. They have a similar earthy flavor to the tien tsin chiles, but with an added smokiness that I just love!
Of course, don’t hesitate to use tien tsin chiles if you can get your hands on them!
With love, from our simple kitchen to yours.
Other Fantastic Copycat Chicken Recipes
Kung Pao Chicken Panda Express Copycat
- 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 4 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
- 2 tablespoon Shaoxing wine, or cooking sherry, divided
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch, divided
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil, divided
- 1/4 cup light brown sugar
- 1/4 cup mirin, or rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more as needed
- 1 medium zucchini, cut into bite-sized chunks
- 1 red bell pepper, cut into bite-sized chunks
- 4 scallions, divided (reserve 1 for garnish)
- 8 dried chiles de árbol
- 1 tablespoon finely minced ginger
- 1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon sichuan peppercorns
- 1/2 cup peanuts
- Use paper towels to pat chicken dry; Place chicken into a large zip top bag or bowl.
- To a small bowl, add the marinade ingredients: 1 tablespoon soy sauce,1 tablespoon wine (or sherry), 1 tablespoon cornstarch, and the baking soda. Whisk to combine.
- Pour marinade over the chicken pieces. Seal or cover the bag/bowl and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, chop the vegetables and gather the seasonings so that everything is prepared before you start cooking.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together remaining 1 tablespoon wine/sherry, 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon sesame oil, sugar, rice vinegar, and cornstarch. Set aside.
- After 30 minutes, remove chicken from the marinade, then immediately discard the marinade.
- Heat 1-2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large skillet or work over medium high heat. Add chicken and cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring to brown on all sides. Ensure that chicken is cooked through (no pink should remain and internal temperature of chicken should be 165°F.) Transfer chicken from the pan onto a plate and set aside. ** You may need to cook chicken in batches so the chicken can cook in a single layer with space between each piece.
- Add the remaining tablespoon of sesame oil to the skillet, along with the ginger, garlic, and peppercorns. Saute for 1-2 minutes, until the garlic and ginger are fragrant.
- Add the bell peppers, zucchini, scallion (reserve some for garnish), and dried chile peppers. Saute for another 1-2 minutes. The vegetables should be tender-crisp, not soggy.
- Add the sauce mixture to the skillet, stirring and cooking until it thickens. Add the chicken and peanuts to the pan and heat all ingredients through, tossing to coat the chicken and vegetables with sauce.
- Serve hot, garnished with reserved scallion. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or freeze for up to 3 months.
All nutritional information is based on third party calculations and is only an estimate. Each recipe’s nutritional value will vary depending on the ingredients used, measuring methods, and portion sizes.
Originally published October 2022
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