Kung Pao Chicken – Slow Cooker + Instant Pot – the perfect easy weeknight meal to curb that takeout craving. Best of all, this popular favorite can be made in the crock-pot or your Instant Pot pressure cooker. Lightened up with the same classic sweet & spicy flavors as your local Chinese restaurant. Plus recipe video.
This time, I’m sharing a healthier Kung Pao Chicken recipe from my cookbook but with gluten free and paleo friendly options.
Kung Pao Chicken is a popular favorite in Chinese restaurants in North America. But did you also know it’s a classic Szechuan dish that everyone loves there? My husband is a huge fan of anything spicy so he would often order it when we visited China a few years ago.
It’s got so many flavors going on: tangy, sweet, and salty with just enough of a fiery kick. The best part about making it at home is that you can totally customize the level of heat.
Plus, you don’t have to worry about any deep frying required.
Just start by coating the chicken in some cornstarch and lightly browning it in a skillet before adding it into the slow cooker. It’s an extra step that you can totally skip if you’re in a pinch — but it definitely makes a HUGE difference in texture!
Then you just combine the sauce ingredients together and toss with the chicken.
Cook on low for about 2-3 hours then add the veggies right near the end for the perfect tender & crisp texture.
I used red peppers and zucchini but you can easily swap in your favorites.
Serve it over some zoodles or cauliflower rice for a lower carb and paleo friendly option.
For those times you want a special treat, serve it with a side of quinoa or your favorite rice or noodles instead.
Allergy Friendly & Paleo Options for Kung Pao Chicken
Kung Pao Chicken usually gets dunked in a breaded coating to get that crispy coating we all love. For this homemade version, there’s no deep frying but to achieve that restaurant quality taste, the chicken gets coated in cornstarch before browning in a little bit of oil.
- Substitute with arrowroot powder for a Paleo-friendly version
- Use coconut, ghee or avocado oil for a Paleo-friendly option
You can also totally skip that step and add them directly into the crock-pot if you prefer. Browning is an additional step but makes a HUGE difference in taste and texture.
The sauce usually calls for low-sodium soy sauce, hoisin sauce and ketchup:
- Gluten-free Tamari and Coconut Aminos (paleo) are great substitutes
- Hoisin sauce comes in a gluten free version or you can make your own paleo-friendly version at home HERE
Meal Prep Tips:
- Delicious for leftovers or make a batch on Sunday meal prep and pack for your weekly school or work lunch bowls
- Serve with your favorite side – Jasmine rice, brown rice, quinoa, cauliflower rice or spiralized vegetables or zoodles
- For easier weekly meal prep – chop all the vegetables ahead of time and store in an airtight container the night before.
- Make lunch the day before and store in an air-tight container – These –> lunch containers are the ones I use
Slow Cooker Kung Pao Chicken (+ Instant Pot) MEAL PREP + VIDEO
Slow Cooker Kung Pao Chicken makes the perfect easy weeknight meal. Best of all, this popular takeout favorite is lightened up with the same classic sweet & spicy flavors as your local restaurant.
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch (use arrowroot powder for paleo)
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 1/8 tsp salt
- 1 - 1 1/4 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2-3 pieces), cut into bite-sized chunks
- 3-4 tablespoon olive oil or avocado oil
- **4 - 6 dried red chili peppers (to taste) found in Asian supermarkets or the International section of a large chain grocery store - see NOTE)
- 2/3 cup roasted cashews (or roasted peanuts)
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped into bite-sized pieces
- 1 zucchini, chopped into halves
- Sesame seeds and chopped green onions, for garnish (optional)
- SAUCE: (If you like this dish saucier - feel free to double the amount and save the rest for another dish)
- 1/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce (use gluten free tamari or coconut aminos if necessary)
- 1/2 cup water
- 4 tablespoons honey (use stevia for low carb)
- 4 Tablespoons hoisin sauce (use gluten free hoisin sauce if necessary)
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
- 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper chili flakes
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch (use arrowroot powder for paleo)
- 3 tablespoons water
- For meal prep
- Cooked rice, quinoa or noodles
- Lunch containers
- In a large bowl or zip-top bag, combine the chicken, cornstarch, salt and black pepper. Shake until well-coated.
- Make the sauce: In a medium bowl, whisk together all the ingredients for the sauce, set aside.
- For Slow Cooker Method:
- Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. (You can skip this stove-top step if you prefer or are in a pinch. Just add chicken directly to slow cooker. Chicken will not have that crispy coating) Cook chicken about 2-3 minutes on each side, until lightly browned. Transfer chicken into the slow cooker and pour sauce over top.
- Cover and cook on LOW for 2.5 - 4 hours or HIGH for 1.5 - 3 hours. (SEE NOTES)
- About 30 minutes before serving, whisk together the cornstarch and water in a small bowl and stir into the slow cooker. Toss in the dried red chili peppers, red bell peppers, zucchini and cashews, stirring to combine. Cover and cook on HIGH for another 20-30 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and the sauce has thickened up. (if your slow cooker is not hot enough to thicken the sauce - pour sauce into a pot and heat on stovetop on high to thicken sauce or you can just skip the cornstarch slurry instead)
- Sprinkle with sesame seeds, green onions and serve over zoodles, cauliflower rice, quinoa or your favorite rice.
For Instant Pot Method:
- Turn Instant Pot to SAUTE (skip steps 1-2 and just cook on MANUAL or PRESSURE COOK (high) for 5 minutes if you are in a pinch or prefer. The chicken won't have that crispy coating.)
- Allow pan to heat up for a few minutes then add oil. Cook chicken in batches (placing the browned chicken on a paper-towel lined plate) about 3-4 minutes on each side, until lightly browned. Once all the chicken is browned, add back to the Instant Pot and pour sauce over top.
- Close and seal Instant Pot and set the valve to sealing.
- Press MANUAL or PRESSURE COOK (high) and set for 3 minutes. Once the 3 minutes is up and the Instant Pot beeps, do a quick release after 5 minutes. Open lid and transfer chicken to a large serving plate or bowl.
- Return inner pot back to the Instant Pot. Press the SAUTE button and add additional oil as needed. Toss in the zucchini, bell peppers and dried red chili peppers. Cook for 2-3 minutes, until tender. Combine the corn starch with water to make a slurry and stir into the Instant Pot. Allow the sauce to bubble and thicken up. Return chicken back to the pot along with the cashews and cook for another 1-2 minutes until everything is heated through.
- Sprinkle with sesame seeds, green onions and serve over rice, quinoa or zoodles, if desired.
- For meal prep
- Cook rice or your favorite side and divide evenly into lunch containers. Add cooked chicken and vegetables, cover and store in fridge for up to 4 days.
**If you can't find dried red chili peppers, add an additional 1 teaspoon red pepper chili flakes
***If your slow cooker runs hot, be sure to check on chicken earlier as it may cook faster than the suggested cooking times.
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More lightened up takeout lunch bowls you might like: