Do you have a go-to sauce to use whenever you're in the mood for a quick stir-fry?
I was recently asked that question on a phone interview and, after a few seconds of thinking, realized that I often make my kung pao chicken sauce or some variation of it for meals, without thinking twice about it.
I mean, it's just so easy and tasty. The mixture of sweet, savory, tangy, and smoky sauce with a tinge of spiciness takes just 1 minute to mix together. And it's versatile. In addition to chicken, I've used it for shrimp, tofu, and brussels sprouts. My friend Dave even made Kung Pao Fiddleheads when fiddlehead ferns were in season last month.
A few weeks ago I went to Mission Chinese for lunch and ordered a plate of their Kung Pao Pastrami, a great mix of thickly cut pastrami, potato, celery, and dried chilis. Inspired to try out different cuts of meat, I made Kung Pao Bacon a few days later. Here, I relax a bit on my idea that kung pao anything should have a limited amount of vegetables in order for the protein, chilis, and peanuts to shine through. Lightly cooked red bell peppers actually works really well here in contrast to the crisp bacon. And the advantage of using bacon is that you don't need any oil to start off the cooking process, though you should remember to drain out most of it before cooking the rest of the ingredients.
What other proteins have you tried, or would like to try, with kung pao sauce?
Kung Pao Bacon
- 12 ounces bacon, cut into large bite-sized pieces
- 8 to 10 dried red chilis
- 5 scallions
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon minced or grated ginger
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- ¼ cup unsalted dry-roasted peanuts
- 1 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar, or substitute good-quality balsamic vinegar
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon hoisin sauce
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon ground Sichuan pepper
- Prepare the sauce: In another bowl, combine the vinegar, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, sesame oil, sugar, cornstarch, and Sichuan pepper. Stir until the sugar and cornstarch is dissolved and set aside.
- Heat a wok or large skillet over high heat until a bead of water sizzles and evaporates on contact. Add the bacon and cook until crisp on the outside and cooked through, about 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels.
- Drain all but 1 tablespoon of bacon grease from the pan. Add the chilis and stir-fry for about 30 seconds, until the chilis have just begun to blacken and the oil is slightly fragrant.
- Add the scallion whites, garlic, and ginger, and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add the red bell pepper and stir-fry for another 30 seconds. Return the bacon to the pan. Pour in the sauce and mix to coat the other ingredients. Stir in the peanuts. Transfer to a serving plate, sprinkle the scallion greens on top, and serve.