Kung Pao Chicken

Today is day three of 12 Days of Oscar and today’s film is the 1992 movie A Few Good Men.  A Few Good Men tells the story of Lance Corporal Dawson (Wolfgang Bodison) and Private Downey (James Marshall) who are accused of killing Private Santiago (Michael DeLorenzo) while stationed at Guantanamo Bay.  Lieutenant Kaffee (Tom Cruise) is assigned to defend Dawson and Downey and plans to arrange a plea bargain until Lieutenant Commander JoAnne Galloway (Demi Moore) interferes, believing that Dawson and Downey were following an order issued by Colonel Jessup (Jack Nicholson).  A Few Good Men was nominated for four Oscars: Best Picture (lost to Unforgiven), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Jack Nicholson, who lost to Gene Hackman for Unforgiven), Best Sound (lost to Last of the Mohicans), and Best Film Editing (lost to Unforgiven).

There is a scene where Lieutenant Kaffee and Lieutenant Weinberg (Kevin Pollack) discuss whether or not Kaffee still needs Weinberg on the case now that Lieutenant Commander Galloway is involved.  Kaffee and Weinberg are heatedly discussing whether or not Downey and Dawson could have or should have refused the orders they were given.  Galloway enters and says “I have medical reports and Chinese food.  I say we eat first.”  Weinberg ponders for a moment and then asks “You got any Kung Pao chicken?”  indicating he’s going to stick around.

Kung Pao chicken is incredibly easy to make at home.  To get that Chinese takeout similarity the chicken needs to sit in a mixture of corn starch, vinegar, and sherry while you prep the other ingredients.  This process softens the chicken so it has the same texture.  Kung Pao chicken is kind of known for being on the spicy side and making it at home means you control how spicy it is.  Omitting the red pepper flakes still results in a tasty dish.  If you like it hot, feel free to add more.  The amount in the original recipe is just enough for our family but if it was just the grown-ups we could have added more spice.  All it takes is a few minutes in the wok (or a large skillet) and dinner’s ready.  We had this over brown rice and there were zero leftovers.

kung pao chicken

Kung Pao Chicken


  • 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts thinly sliced into about 1/2 inch pieces
  • 5 Tbsp. soy sauce, divided
  • 2 Tbsp. sherry
  • 1 Tbsp. plus 2 tsp. cornstarch
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. white-wine or rice vinegar
  • 2 tsp. sesame oil
  • 1/3 C. water
  • 2 Tbsp. cooking oil
  • 1/2 C. peanuts (I suggest using unsalted)
  • 4 scallions, white bulbs and green tops cut separately into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1/4 tsp. dried red pepper flakes (use more or less to taste)


In a medium bowl, whisk to combine 1 Tbsp. of the soy sauce, 1 Tbsp. of the sherry and 1 Tbsp. of the cornstarch.

Add the chicken to the mixture and stir to coat the chicken.  Set aside while you complete the next steps.

In a small bowl, whisk together the sugar, vinegar, sesame oil, water, remaining 4 Tbsp. of soy sauce, remaining 1 Tbsp. of sherry, and the 2 tsp. of cornstarch.

Heat 1 Tbsp. of the cooking oil over moderately high heat.

Add the peanuts and stir-fry for 30 seconds until light brown and remove from the pan.

Add the remaining 1 Tbsp. of oil to the pan and heat over moderately high heat.

Add the white parts of the scallions and the red pepper flakes to the oil and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds.

Add the chicken with its marinade and cook, stirring constantly, for 2-3 minutes until the chicken is almost cooked.

Add the soy sauce mixture and the scallion tops to the wok and stir to combine.

Simmer until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce slightly thickens, about 2-3 minutes.

Stir in the peanuts.

Makes 4 servings.

Source: adapted slightly from Food & Wine


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