When doing Whole30, there aren’t really options for eating Chinese food from restaurants, even if you are careful. Soy sauce is in practically everything, a lot of foods are fried, and the sauces are sweetened. I missed not having Chinese food, and knew there had to be a way to make some of my favorite dishes Whole30 compliant. I made this Whole30 Kung Pao Chicken for a Whole30 Chinese New Year potluck, and this won best dish for the evening. It even won a bag of kale! What better award is there to win than a bag of kale? I made kale chips, and patted myself on the back while I ate them.
Growing up, we ate a lot of Chinese food. When I think of comfort food, I think of Chinese food. Our favorite Chinese restaurant had many Sichuan dishes, and those were my favorites. Moving to DC, I had trouble finding good Chinese food. There were no good options in my neighborhood, and I was having trouble finding a good place in the city. Sure, there are a couple, but they are few and far between–far being the operative word for me, without a car. Having bad Chinese food was not an option for me.
How did I resolve this? I taught myself to cook Sichuan dishes! After buying Fuchsia Dunlop’s Land of Plenty, I enthusiastically jumped into learning how to cook some of my favorite classic dishes, and discovering new favorites. I really enjoyed trying new recipes, and one of my favorite dishes was her Gong Bao (Kung Pao) Chicken. This was not one of the dishes I had liked previously. When I would order it at restaurants, the sauce would be very syrupy and sweet, with not much actual flavor. In Fuchsia Dunlop’s version, I got Kung Pao Chicken with depth of flavor, that was spicy, sour, and sweet. This was a new level! Luckily, this flavor complexity is preserved in my version of Whole30 Kung Pao Chicken.
One of the things I love about Chinese cooking is the importance of how the food feels in your mouth, particularly the uniformity of shape of the different components. Since the cashews are hard and won’t be cut, the size of the other ingredients will be based off the size of the cashews. For this Paleo Kung Pao Chicken, cut the chicken breasts into 1 inch cubes to match the size of the cashews. I have a habit of cutting things too large, so I aim for 1/2 inch cubes to end up with the right size. I recommend cutting the chicken first so it can marinate while you prepare the other ingredients.
The same size rule goes for the garlic, ginger, and scallions. You’ll want to have these be able 1 inch long. The ginger and the garlic should be very thinly sliced using a sharp knife. While I think this helps maximize the flavor of the ingredients, the bigger benefit is that slicing them thinly will allow them to cook quickly, resulting in soft garlic and ginger. There’s nothing more distracting than biting into a thick piece of fibrous ginger!
The end result is a sweet and sour chicken dish with a good amount of spice. It isn’t too spicy, but definitely has some heat to it! If you’re a spice fiend like me, go ahead and add some more chiles, to taste. This is one of my favorite high-protein Whole30 meals!
Let’s talk substitutions to make this Kung Pao Chicken Whole30-compliant and Paleo-compliant.
- I think that every time I’ve had Kung Pao Chicken, its been with peanuts; however, cashews are also used in the dish in Sichuan, so I use them for the Whole30 Kung Pao Chicken.
- Instead of the typical peanut oil for cooking, I use refined coconut oil. When coconut oil is refined (instead of virgin), it doesn’t impart a coconut taste. However, one drawback is that coconut oil does have a lower smoke point than peanut oil, so you will need to watch to make sure it doesn’t start to smoke.
- Coconut aminos are a pretty standard Whole30 substitute for soy sauce, though you may have to go to a specialty or health food story to find them.
- Chinese black vinegar (Zhenjiang or Chinkiang vinegar) will often have malt or sugar, and I use balsamic vinegar to replace the complex Chinese version.
- Replacing Shaoxing rice wine with apple cider vinegar works well.
- Instead of potato flour or corn starch, I was able to find green banana flour, but arrowroot powder also works well. I chose green banana flour over arrowroot because the banana flour was cheaper and available at Safeway.
- Typically the sauce includes sugar, but the banana flour and almond butter do impart a good amount of sweetness.
* Yes, I am counting the bag of kale as the award this dish won. I now know what Roger Federer felt like when he won his first grand slam.
|Prep Time||30 minutes|
|Cook Time||15 minutes|
- 1.75 lb chicken breasts about 3 large
- 6 cloves garlic thinly sliced
- 3 inches ginger thinly sliced
- 6 scallions white and light green parts
- 3 tbsp refined cocount oil
- 2 handfuls dried Tianjin chiles about 20
- 2 tsp whole sichuan peppercorn
- 1.5 cups cashews
- 1 tsp banana powder
- 1.5 tbsp cocounut aminos
- 2 tsp sesame oil
- 2 tsp chicken bone broth
- 1 tsp almond butter optional
- Trim chicken of any extra fat, Cut into one inch cubes. In a large bowl, combine the marinade ingredients. Add the chicken and mix to coat with marinade. Peel and thinly slice the garlic. Peel the ginger, and slice an equivalent amount to match the garlic. Snip chiles into one inch lengths, discarding any extra seeds. Cut off the green parts of the spring onion and discard, leaving the white and light green parts. Cut the remaining parts of the spring onion into one inch pieces. In a small bowl, mix together the sauce ingredients. Heat wok over a high flame. Add coconut oil, and watch to make sure it doesn't start smoking, Add the chiles and Sichuan peppercorn, and stir fry until the chiles have turned a dark brown color. Add the chicken to the wok, and stirring and tossing continually. Once the chicken has separated, add the garlic, ginger, and scallions and continue to stir fry until you can smell the garlic and ginger and the chicken is cooked through. Add the sauce, and stir fry with the chicken and vegetables. Once the sauce thickens, stir in the cashews. Serve warm with your favorite side dishes.
For a richer taste, buy the cashews raw and roast them yourself in the wok before starting this recipe.