Panda Express Kung Pao Chicken

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Savor the tantalizing flavors of Panda Express Kung Pao Chicken. This popular Chinese dish is a tasty blend of crispy chicken, stir-fried vegetables, crunchy peanuts, and sweet and spicy sauce.

Copycat Panda Express kung pao chicken on a plate.Copycat Panda Express kung pao chicken on a plate.

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What is Kung Pao Chicken at Panda Express?

Kung Pao Chicken is one of the most beloved Chinese dishes in both the US and China. This copycat recipe is based on the version from Panda Express and consists of tender chicken chunks coated in crunchy breading, red bell peppers, and zucchini tossed in a sweet and spicy sauce and then topped with crunchy peanuts and sliced spring onions.

Kung Pao Chicken offers the perfect combination of flavors and textures.

Why you’ll want to try this at home 

Don’t be put off by the thought of making Chinese food at home. Although you may need to look around for some of the less common ingredients, this is a simple dish to make, and it opens up a lot of options.

Check out the suggested recipe variations section below for more ideas. 

Panda Express Kung Pao Chicken ingredients

For the chicken, you’ll need:

  • Boneless skinless chicken thighs 
  • Water
  • Salt
  • Ground white pepper 
  • Baking soda
  • Cornstarch 
  • Vegetable oil 

Using chicken thighs gives this dish a lot of flavor, but if you are trying to avoid extra fat and calories, go with chicken breasts instead. 

White pepper has a unique flavor that is very different from black pepper, so don’t substitute one for the other. 

For the Kung Pao sauce, you’ll need:

  • Soy sauce 
  • Water
  • Shaoxing Wine or dry sherry 
  • Seasoned rice wine vinegar
  • Sugar
  • Ground white pepper 
  • Toasted sesame oil 
  • Cornstarch 

Shaoxing Wine, a popular cooking wine in China, is sweet with a dry finish. You can find it in many Asian grocery stores or online. If you can’t locate it, you can use cheap dry sherry. 

Unlike rice wine vinegar, seasoned rice wine vinegar contains sweeteners and salt. You can find seasoned rice wine vinegar in most larger supermarkets. 

Toasted sesame oil gives a nuttiness to the dish, but you can leave it out if you are worried about nut allergies. 

For finishing this Kung Pao Chicken Panda Express recipe, you’ll need:

  • Red bell pepper
  • Scallions
  • Zucchini 
  • Ginger
  • Garlic 
  • Vegetable oil
  • Marinated chicken pieces
  • Sichuan red chilis 
  • Unsalted dry roasted peanuts

Sichuan red chili peppers have a unique flavor but can be challenging to find. You can substitute dried Sichuan red chilis that are readily available online. Taste the brand you buy before using it in the recipe because spice levels can differ greatly. Adjust the amount you use accordingly.  

Skip the dry-roasted peanuts if you are worried about nut allergies.

Copycat Panda Express kung pao chicken ingredients on a tray.Copycat Panda Express kung pao chicken ingredients on a tray.

How to make Panda Express Kung Pao Chicken at home

To prep the chicken for the Kung Pao:

  1. Dice the chicken into 1-inch pieces and put in a medium mixing bowl.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine the water, salt, ground white pepper, baking soda, and cornstarch. Whisk and pour over the diced chicken. 
  3. Stir well to coat the chicken in the marinade, cover, and chill for at least 30 minutes. 

To make the sauce for the Kung Pao Chicken Panda Express recipe:

  1. While the chicken is marinating, whisk together the soy sauce, water, Shaoxing wine, seasoned rice vinegar, sugar, toasted sesame oil (if using), and cornstarch. 
  2. Cover and reserve for later. 

To finish cooking the copycat Panda Express Kung Pao Chicken:

  1. Dice the red pepper and zucchini and reserve. 
  2. Slice the white part of the scallion on a bias. Keep it for later. 
  3. Grate the ginger and garlic and set aside. 
  4. Heat a wok or a large pan over a medium-high heat.
  5. Add about an inch and a half of vegetable oil. Once it starts to shimmer, test the temperature with a thermometer or by sprinkling in a pinch of cornstarch. If the oil is 350°F or if the cornstarch sizzles, the oil is ready.
  6. Carefully fry the chicken in batches until golden, about two to three minutes. Carefully transfer the cooked chicken to a paper towel-lined plate or tray to drain. Repeat with more chicken, ensuring the oil returns to the proper temperature between batches.
Collage of preparing chicken and sauce for copycat Panda Express kung pao chicken.Collage of preparing chicken and sauce for copycat Panda Express kung pao chicken.
  1. Drain all but about two tablespoons of oil from the pan and return it to the heat. 
  2. Saute the Sichuan red peppers for about 30 seconds before adding the red bell peppers, zucchini, and sliced scallions. Keep the vegetables moving around the pan and cook until tender. 
  3. Add the minced garlic and ginger and stir until fragrant. 
  4. Return the cooked chicken to the pan and add the peanuts, if using.
  5. Whisk the Kung Pao sauce and then pour it into the pan. Stir to coat all the ingredients in the sauce. 
  6. Serve immediately once the sauce thickens slightly.
Collage of making copycat Panda Express kung pao chicken.Collage of making copycat Panda Express kung pao chicken.

Suggested recipe variations

Leaving the cornstarch out of the chicken marinade is an option if you prefer less crispy, but slightly healthier chicken. 

Try swapping out the chicken for beef or shrimp or making the dish vegetarian by using tofu or cauliflower florets instead. 

Use low sodium soy sauce if you are watching your salt intake.

Substitute green onions for scallions.

Copycat Panda Express kung pao chicken on a plate and chopsticks behind it.Copycat Panda Express kung pao chicken on a plate and chopsticks behind it.

What to serve with Kung Pao Chicken?

This Panda Express Kung Pao Chicken recipe goes great with other Asian favorites, like:

  • Rice. Whether you serve white or fried rice, adding some starch helps to complete the meal and fill you up. 
  • Egg rolls. Crunchy and delicious egg rolls are the perfect side dish to go with copycat Panda Express Kung Pao Chicken. 
  • Stir-fried Vegetable. More veggies never hurt anyone, especially when they are as tasty as Panda Express Mixed Vegetables.

How to store and reheat the leftovers

Cool any unserved Kung Pao Chicken to room temperature before transferring it to an airtight container. It will keep fresh in the fridge for up to three days. 

Reheat in a skillet over medium heat. Add some vegetable oil or a few tablespoons of chicken stock to the pan to keep the food from sticking.

Copycat Panda Express kung pao chicken on a plate and chopsticks next to it.Copycat Panda Express kung pao chicken on a plate and chopsticks next to it.

More Panda Express copycat recipes

Favorite Chinese food recipes

Check out more of my easy Chinese food recipes and the best copycat fast food recipes on CopyKat!

Copycat Panda Express kung pao chicken on a plate.Copycat Panda Express kung pao chicken on a plate.

Panda Express Kung Pao Chicken

You can make Kung Pao Chicken like Panda Express with this easy copycat recipe.

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Course: Main Course

Cuisine: Chinese

Keyword: Panda Express Recipes

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Marinate: 30 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour

Servings: 4

Calories: 471kcal

Ingredients

Chicken

  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • ¼ cup water
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • cup cornstarch
  • vegetable oil

Kung Pao Sauce

  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon Shaoxing Wine or Dry Sherry
  • 1 tablespoon seasoned rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch

Stir Fry

  • 8 Sichuan red chilis
  • ½ cup bell pepper large dice
  • cup minced scallions white part only
  • 8 ounces zucchini diced into ½ inch pieces
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh garlic
  • ½ cup unsalted dry roasted peanuts

Instructions

  • In a medium sized bowl combine 1 pound diced chicken thighs, ¼ cup water, ½ teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper,½ teaspoon baking soda, and ⅓ cup of cornstarch. Stir to combine. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

  • While the chicken is marinating prepare the Kung Pao Sauce. In a small bowl combine: 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 tablespoons water, 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine, 1 tablespoon seasoned rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil, and 2 teaspoons cornstarch. Whisk to combine and set aside.

  • Prep the remaining stir fry ingredients.

  • Pour enough oil into a wok so it is about 1 ½ inches deep. Heat the oil to 350°F. When the oil is hot carefully add a portion of the marinated chicken pieces (do not overcrowd the chicken in the oil). Cook for two or three minutes until the chicken is golden. The chicken is done when it is golden and the internal temperature is 165°F. Remove the chicken from the oil and drain on paper towels on a plate. Cook the remaining batches of chicken.

  • Carefully remove all but about two tablespoons of vegetable oil. Then add the chilies and stir. Then add the red bell peppers, scallions, and zucchini, stir constantly, and when the vegetables are tender add the grated garlic and ginger, stir constantly, when the mixture becomes fragrant add the Kung Pao Sauce (quickly give this a whisk just before pouring into the wok.) Stir, and add unsalted dry roasted peanuts. Stir until thickened. Serve immediately.

Nutrition

Calories: 471kcal | Carbohydrates: 31g | Protein: 31g | Fat: 26g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 9g | Monounsaturated Fat: 9g | Trans Fat: 0.1g | Cholesterol: 108mg | Sodium: 1377mg | Potassium: 937mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 11g | Vitamin A: 1664IU | Vitamin C: 165mg | Calcium: 58mg | Iron: 3mg



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