What Is Kung Bo Chicken?

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Kung bo chicken is a traditional Chinese meal made with chicken, sauces, peanuts and vegetables. It’s a delicious meal that originates from southwestern China. Other names for this same dish are Gung bo gai ding and kung po.

Kung Bo 

Kung bo chicken is very closely related to kung pao chicken. The difference is only in the ways that each meal is prepared. 

When cooking kung bo chicken, Sichuan peppercorns, chili peppers and sesame oil are all used to infuse the dish with heat. 

Sichuan Peppercorns

The story of Sichuan peppercorns as part of kung bo is fascinating. The USDA banned these delectable peppercorns from 1968 to 2005, due to the fear that it could cause a fungus among other citrus crops (the peppercorn is actually part of the citrus family).

The ban on Sichuan peppercorns made it next to impossible to enjoy the authentic kung bo experience, as the spice is considered to be as essential an ingredient to Szechuan cuisine as salt and pepper are to American cuisine. Without it, Americans would simply be eating the more bland kung pao version. 

The peppercorn spice is said to be hot, but without the heat. And it’s also said to be spicy, but without a heavy spiciness. 

Chinese foods were growing in popularity in the early 1970s, due to thawing political conditions between the U.S. and China. But due to peppercorn’s ban, Gung bo gai ding became a less spicy dish over the decades. After 2005, the U.S. relented, allowing Sichuan peppercorns into the country, but only after being heat treated at 140 degrees for at least 10 minutes to rid the peppercorn of any possible contaminants. 

More recently, in 2018, the USDA finally allowed peppercorns into the U.S. without the heat treatment. Now, lovers of the original kung bo chicken can finally taste it the way it was meant to be. 

Cooking with a Wok

Before you start to make kung bo, it’s important to have a wok. It’s the best cooking tool for a stir-fry meal. You can find quality woks for under $40. Make sure to use a non-stick, aluminum wok for best results. 

Making Kung Bo

Kung Bo is made by dicing and marinating your chicken, then cooking it in sesame oil in the wok. Once it’s browned and nearly cooked, set it aside. Then, mix chili peppers, ginger, garlic and Sichuan peppercorns, which will open up new flavors in the mix. Next, toss in the sliced vegetables (spring onion, carrots), and re-add the chicken pieces. Let it cook for a few minutes, throw in peanuts near the end and serve over rice. 

Making Kung Pao

Kung pao chicken is a more global version of kung bo chicken. Although it’s still hot, it’s often a less spicy version of kung bo. Kung pao is very similar to kung bo. You start by frying cashews or peanuts first in hot oil. Once golden, add in chicken and vegetables on top. For extra flavors, add in ginger, garlic and a splash of orange juice. Serve over rice or noodles.