This Panda Express Kung Pao Chicken copycat has tender chicken, zucchini, peppers, peanuts & chilis stir fried in a spicy, sweet & savory kung pao sauce!
If you're craving Panda Express Kung Pao Chicken, look no further. This copycat recipe is ready in under 20 minutes and will have you ready for dinner in less time than it takes to get takeout!
This dish has tender pan seared chicken breast that's been marinated so it stays juicy and moist. Next is a flavorful kung pao sauce that's spicy, sweet & sour, and savory. Then it's all tossed together with crunchy chopped vegetables and served with freshly steamed rice.
What Does Panda Express Kung Pao Chicken Taste Like?
Kung pao chicken is a balance of sweet & sour, salty, savory, and spicy flavors. Traditionally, kung pao chicken was made with just chicken, leeks, chilis, and peanuts. Western versions have started to include other vegetables such as zucchini and bell peppers like this version. The chicken and vegetables are all stir fried with a flavorful kung pao sauce that brings everything together. The spiciness can come from fresh or dried chili peppers.
What is Kung Pao sauce made of?
Kung Pao sauce is a soy sauce based sauce with added sweet and sour flavors. The main ingredients in kung pao sauce are:
- soy sauce
What type of pepper is in Kung Pao Chicken?
This recipe calls for dried Szechuan chili peppers with the option to add Lao Gan Ma, which is a Szechuan chili oil. The dried Szechuan chili peppers can vary in spice from mild to moderate depending on what the packaging states. Note: this is not to be confused with Szechuan peppercorns, which add a numbing spice but are generally mild.
What's the difference between Kung Pao Chicken and General Tso's Chicken?
Kung pao chicken is generally not deep fried and has a spicier sauce. General Tso's chicken is usually deep fried and has a sweeter, less spicy sauce compared to kung pao chicken.
Is Kung Pao chicken healthy?
This version of kung pao chicken is healthier than the restaurant version as it's made with lean chicken breast and you can control how much of the sauce you'd like to add. Kung pao chicken can be made with a variety of fresh vegetables which add fiber and vitamins, and the chicken breast is a great source for lean protein. To keep this dish on the lighter side, reduce the amount of sauce by half. It will still taste amazing and you can cut back on some calories as the sauce contains some sugar and oil.
In my home, we have stir fries for dinner about twice a week because of how easy and versatile they are to make. This Panda Express kung pao chicken copycat is the perfect meal for using up vegetables and protein sitting in your fridge. For this recipe, feel free to switch up your protein and vegetables and create your own kung pao stir fry based on what you have available to you.
Other Protein Options:
Other Vegetables Options:
- water chestnuts
- bamboo shoots
- baby corn
How to Make Panda Express Kung Pao Chicken Copycat
Marinate the Chicken Breast
Marinating your chicken will help keep it tender and moist, and it will impart a lot of flavor in the meat. Also, the brown sugar and cornstarch help the chicken get a nice golden brown sear in your pan or wok. This is a simple four ingredient marinade I use on all my chicken stir fries. The ingredients are:
- low sodium soy sauce
- Shaoxing wine
- brown sugar
You can see above how the marinade helped brown the chicken breast and gave it a nice sear.
Start Stir Frying the Vegetables
Next, you want to add your vegetables, dried chilis, and peanuts to the pan. Stir fry your vegetables together for a couple minutes before adding back in the chicken breast and the kung pao sauce.
Add the Kung Pao Sauce and You're Done!
The kung pao sauce should thicken up after about 1 to 2 minutes in the pan. The cornstarch should thicken up the sauce and create a syrupy sauce that clings to the chicken and vegetables.
And there you have it! Panda Express kung pao chicken ready in no time!
If you're a fan of spicy food like I am, I recommend adding a dollop of chili oil, extra chili pepper flakes, and some white pepper powder into the sauce as listed in the recipe. It really makes a big difference, especially the chili oil.
Store any leftovers in an airtight container. These make wonderful leftovers and reheat nicely the next day.
I hope you make this Panda Express Kung Pao Chicken Copycat! Please share, rate, and comment below. I’d love to hear from you!
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Panda Express Kung Pao Chicken Copycat
- 1 lb chicken breast - thinly sliced, about ¼ inch thick
- 1 medium zucchini - sliced in half cirlces
- ½ medium red bell pepper - cut into 1 inch pieces
- 10 dried red chilis
- ¼ cup roasted peanuts
- 2 stalks scallions - chopped
- 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
Kung Pao Sauce
- 3 Tablespoons chicken stock - can substitute with water
- 1⅓ Tablespoons Chinese black vinegar
- 1 Tablespoon dark soy sauce
- 1 Tablespoon oyster sauce
- 1 Tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon corn starch
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 3 cloves garlic - minced
- ¾ teaspoon ginger - grated
- 1 Tablespoon Lao Gan Ma Spicy Chili Crisp - optional for spice
- ½ teaspoon white pepper powder - optional for spice
- ¼ teaspoon dried chili pepper flakes - optional for spice
- In a medium size bowl, combine the ingredients for the marinade and add in the thinly sliced chicken breast. I recommend letting this marinate in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to overnight. Otherwise, let this sit while you prep the other ingredients.
- Add all the ingredients for the kung pao sauce in a bowl and set aside.
- Heat a wok or pan over high heat and add the oil. Wait until the pan is hot and then lay the chicken pieces flat in a single layer – leave out the marinade. In order to get a good sear, don't crowd the pan and leave the chicken pieces alone until you get a golden brown color, anywhere from 30 seconds to 1 minute. Flip over the chicken and repeat. Remove the chicken from the pan.
- Add the zucchini, red bell pepper, dried red chilis, and peanuts to the pan and saute for 2 - 3 minutes. Lower the heat to medium and add the chicken back in.
- Next add in the sauce (stir the sauce before adding it as the cornstarch will settle). Saute everything together for 1 - 2 minutes until the sauce has thickened. Top with chopped scallions. Serve immediately.
✎ Recipe Notes
*Nutritional information is an estimate, calculated using online tools.