This classic Kung Pao Chicken stir fry is easy to make and a Chinese takeout sensation that nobody can resist the sweet and spicy goodness of. This Asian-inspired dinner is even healthier and tastier when you make it from scratch – and it only takes 20 minutes! Gluten-free, dairy-free and refined sugar-free with paleo, Whole30 and keto options included.
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Updated June 2022
Spicy Kung Pao Chicken Stir Fry
Juicy chicken, tender-crisp veggies and crunchy nuts make this quick-fix stir fry a seriously satisfying meal. Once everything starts to simmer in that tangy, sweet, salty and spicy kung pao sauce, your mouth will be watering like crazy. Spending money on takeout is no longer necessary!
It’s so nice to be able to control the spiciness to achieve your ideal level of heat. In fact, you can customize the whole stir fry however you’d like! Whether you use different veggies or swap the chicken for tofu to turn it into a meatless meal, you only need one pan and 20 minutes to make it happen.
Want another stellar chicken stir fry? This Teriyaki Chicken Stir Fry is definitely a top favorite of ours.
What is Kung Pao Chicken?
Kung pao (宫保鸡丁 Gong Bao Ji Ding and also spelled kung po) chicken is a traditional Chinese stir fry from the Szechuan (or Sichuan) province. It’s known for its sweet, salty and spicy flavor profile, and the sauce is usually made with soy sauce and granulated sugar. This recipe stays true to that classic kung-pao flavor with healthier ingredients that suit your dietary needs.
First off, it uses gluten-free tamari instead of soy sauce. Coconut aminos is another good option, as well as low-sodium soy sauce if it works with your diet. Instead of processed sugar, this dish is sweetened with honey, coconut sugar, or any low-carb sweetener of your choice.
Let’s discuss what else goes into this healthier-than-takeout meal. The quantities are included in the recipe card near the bottom of this post.
For the Kung Pao Sauce
- Gluten-Free Tamari: Or low-sodium soy sauce. Use coconut aminos for a paleo-friendly dish.
- Gluten-Free Hoisin Sauce: Leave this out altogether if you’re on the paleo diet or keto diet and add a little bit of fish sauce.
- Honey: Or maple syrup or coconut sugar (or a low-carb sweetener such as Lakanto Sugar-free Maple Syrup or liquid monk fruit if needed).
- Arrowroot starch / Tapioca Starch: Helps to thicken the sauce in place of corn starch. Omit this or use 1 teaspoon xanthan gum for low-carb/keto.
- Red Pepper Flakes: Added to taste.
- Ginger: Freshly minced.
- Garlic: Freshly minced.
- Water: As needed to thin out the kung pao sauce.
For the Chicken Stir Fry
- Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts: Cut into 1-inch pieces.
- Salt & Pepper: To taste.
- Arrowroot starch / Tapioca Starch: To give your chicken a delightfully crispy coating. Use almond flour for a low-carb and keto stir fry.
- Olive Oil: Avocado oil works well too.
- Red Bell Pepper: Chopped into bite-sized pieces.
- Zucchini: Sliced and chopped into half-moons.
- Red Chilis (Optional): For those of you who like things extra spicy.
- Roasted Cashews: Or roasted peanuts.
- Sesame Seeds & Chopped Green Onions (Optional): For the garnish
How to Make Kung Pao Chicken
I strongly recommend preparing all of your ingredients before you fire up the stove and start stir-frying. This way, everything will be ready to go as soon as you need it.
- Make Sauce: Combine all of the sauce ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Set the sauce aside.
- Cube the Chicken: Use a sharp knife to cut the chicken into 1-inch chunks.
- Season Chicken: Season your prepared chicken with salt, pepper, cornstarch and 1 tablespoon of the kung pao sauce.
- Heat Oil: Add the oil to a wok or a large nonstick skillet and set it over medium-high heat
- Cook Chicken & Set Aside: Add the chicken and stir-fry it for 5-6 minutes, or until the meat has browned. Transfer the cooked chicken to a plate and set it aside.
- Cook Veggies: Return the pan to medium heat and add more oil as needed. Toss in the zucchini, bell peppers and dried chili peppers (if using). Cook the vegetables for 2-3 minutes, or until they’re crisp-tender.
- Add Sauce, Nuts & Cooked Chicken: Pour in the remaining sauce, then add the cashews and return the cooked chicken to the pan. Toss everything together and allow the sauce to bubble and thicken.
- Season: Season the stir fry with salt, pepper and additional red pepper flakes as needed.
- Enjoy! Remove your stir fry from the heat and serve it warm over rice, quinoa, zucchini noodles, etc. Garnish the dish with sesame seeds and chopped green onions if desired.
Tips & Tricks
Want to know some secrets that will make this recipe even easier? We’re happy to share!
- Cut the Chicken Evenly: We like to cut our chicken into 1-inch pieces. You can make your chunks a bit bigger or smaller if you’d like, but they should all be around the same size so they cook at an even rate.
- Cornstarch (Or Alternative) is Key: Don’t forget to include the cornstarch, arrowroot starch or almond flour in your seasoning blend. This doesn’t just give the chicken a crispy coating – it also locks in the moisture so that every morsel stays juicy as can be.
- Is This Dish Make-Ahead Friendly? Yes! Feel free to chop up all the veggies a day in advance and refrigerate them in a shallow airtight container. Additionally, the rice/quinoa/noodles for your base can be cooked in advance, cooled, then kept in an airtight container in the fridge.
In the mood for an adaptation of kung pao chicken? Go ahead and tweak the ingredient lineup to fit your vision.
- Make It Vegetarian: Swap out the chicken for pressed and drained tofu if you need a meatless stir fry. Easy peasy!
- Use Another Kind of Meat: For those of you who do eat meat, other protein options include beef, shrimp and pork.
- Make It Nut-Free: If you have a nut allergy, definitely omit the cashews. You can replace them with some extra sesame seeds or even pepitas if you’d like.
- Use Different Veggies: Not too fond of the vegetables in this stir fry? You can use whatever veggies are in season – asparagus, green beans, broccoli – anything that’s sturdy enough to endure higher heat cooking.
We frequently serve our kung pao stir fries over this easy Homemade Cauliflower Rice, which happens to be both low-carb and paleo-friendly! Other times, we’ll opt for jasmine rice, brown rice, zoodles or quinoa.
In terms of sides and appetizers, it’s pretty hard to make a wrong move. We especially love pairing this stir fry with Authentic Chinese Spring Rolls, crispy Miso Brussels Sprouts or fresh Cabbage Salad. Asian cuisine for the win!
How to Store and Reheat Leftovers
Once your stir fry has cooled to room temperature, refrigerate it in an airtight container for up to 4 days. Reheat it on the stove over low heat or microwave single servings for 20 seconds at a time. Add a splash of chicken broth or water before reheating to prevent the dish from drying out.
Can I Freeze This Stir Fry?
You can! Transfer the cooled stir fry to a freezer-safe container and press a sheet of plastic wrap onto the surface of the stir fry. Close the container and freeze it for up to 3 months.
Alternatively, you can freeze your stir fry in a heavy-duty storage bag with all the air squeezed out. Thaw it out in the fridge before you reheat it.
More Easy Chicken Dinner Ideas
Need more healthy chicken dinners that will feed your whole family? I know the perfect recipes.
Nobody can resist the sweet and spicy goodness of a classic Kung Pao Chicken stir fry. This takeout sensation is even tastier when you make it from scratch – and it only takes 20 minutes! Gluten-free, dairy-free and refined sugar-free with paleo, Whole30 and keto options included.
- 3/4 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into 1 inch pieces
- sea salt and black pepper to taste
- 1 tbsp arrowroot / tapioca starch , use almond flour for low carb. Cornstarch works too if there are not dietary concerns.
- 3 tbsp olive oil or avocado oil
- 1 medium red bell pepper chopped into bite-sized pieces
- 1 medium zucchini chopped into halves
- 2 dried red chilis optional (add more to increase spice level)
- 2/3 cup roasted cashews or roasted peanuts
- Sesame seeds and chopped green onions for garnish (optional)
- 6 Tablespoons gluten free tamari sub with coconut aminos for paleo / Whole30 version or use low-sodium soy sauce if there are no dietary concerns
- 1 Tablespoon hoisin sauce , use gluten free if necessary or leave out for Whole30, keto or paleo and sub with 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- 2 Tablespoons honey , sub with maple syrup, coconut sugar or low carb sweetener of choice such as Lakanto sugar-free maple syrup or liquid monk fruit etc. Omit for Whole30 or add in homemade date paste.
- 2-1/2 Tablespoons arrowroot / tapioca starch , helps to thicken up the sauce. Sub with 1 teaspoon of xanthan gum for low carb or omit altogether if desired.
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (more or less, to taste)
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh minced ginger
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1/2 cup water plus more as needed to thin out sauce
- Cooked rice of choice (cauliflower, Jasmine) or zucchini noodles or noodles of choice
- Lunch containers
- In a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients for the sauce. Set aside.
Cut the chicken into 1-inch chunks. Season chicken with salt, pepper, cornstarch and 1 tablespoon of sauce/marinade.
Add oil to a wok or a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.
Add the chicken and stir-fry for 5-6 minutes, or until brown. Transfer to plate and set aside.
Return the pan back to medium heat and add more oil as needed. Toss in the zucchini, bell peppers and dried chili peppers (if using) and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the vegetables are crisp-tender.
Pour in the remaining sauce and add the cashews along with the cooked chicken. Toss everything together and allow sauce to bubble and thicken. Season with salt, pepper or additional red pepper chili flakes as needed.
Remove from heat and serve warm on a large platter or over zoodles, cauliflower rice( paleo), quinoa or regular rice or noodles. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and green onions if desired.
- For Meal Prep/Storage: Cook rice/noodles/quinoa and divide evenly into lunch containers. Add cooled stir fry, cover and store in fridge for up to 4 days.
- Reheating: Reheat stir fry over low heat or microwave single servings for 20 seconds at a time. Add a splash of chicken broth or water before reheating to re-hydrate dish.
- Freezing: Transfer cooled stir fry to a heavy-duty freezer bag and squeeze out all the air. Seal bag and freeze stir fry for up to 3 months. Thaw in the fridge before reheating.
The preparation of Kung Pao Chicken is my favorite and when I got the recipe in hand, I immediately planned to try it. Thanks for the detailing in the recipe narration. However, I have used grass-fed ghee here instead of olive oil because for frying, I prefer ghee more than olive oil. The taste was awesome.
My husband and I loved this, thank you!
This is a favorite take-out dish around my house too and so much better than take-out 🙂