Kung pao what? In the last few years, I’ve realized the kung pao game has gone way beyond takeout chicken. There were kung pao brussels sprouts in Boston, kung pao pastrami in San Francisco, and of course, chickpeas on probably every vegan blog under the sun. Claire told me she even tried it with cauliflower.
I’ve found these new takes to be mixed results. The brussels sprouts were perfection, but the pastrami was probably the least successful. It was gloriously decadent, but felt like it took two days to recover from the salt overload. If it isn’t going to be chicken, I think I want it to be either center stage as a vegetable main or as a way to dress up an otherwise plain side dish.
I wouldn’t normally think of potatoes as a stir fry ingredient, and I don’t think I’ve ever encountered them on a Chinese menu. But I’m not at pretending at authenticity here and so I think they should be! If you treat them right, the potatoes can soak up a ton of the flavors of the sauce and still be fried to golden, crispy perfection. Add in some bell peppers and it feels like a kung pao take on home fries. Not a bad thing at all.
It took me a few tries to get a recipe I was happy with. I wanted the spiciest, most tongue-numbing version, calling for too many sichuan peppercorns and a generous amount of heat. I wanted crispy potatoes and crunchy veggies all together. Thanks to all that experimenting done for me over at Serious Eats, I think I nailed it.
This recipe has a lot going on, but if you prep everything in advance and cook in batches as needed, you should be good! Turn on your stove fan and open the windows, and in 10 minutes you can have piping hot, crispy potatoes crowned in tingly, sichuan pepper glory. These go perfectly as a side paired with some sautéed bok choy or other green stuff and white rice underneath because of course.
Kung Pao Potatoes
Adapted from Serious Eats
For the sauce:
- 2 tbs soy sauce, divided
- 2 tbs dry sherry, divided
- 1 tbs chinkiang vinegar
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp cornstarch, divided
- 1 tbs chili garlic sauce
For the potatoes:
- 1 1/2 lbs small marble potatoes
- 1/3 cup neutral oil, like grapeseed
- 12 small dried red chiles (arbol)
- 2 tbs sichuan peppercorns, toasted until fragrant
- 4 tsp minced garlic
- 1 tbs minced ginger
- 1 red bell pepper cut into 1/2" pieces
- 1 green bell pepper cut into 1/2" pieces
- 3 scallions, whites minced, greens sliced thin
- 1/2 cup roasted, unsalted peanuts or cashews
- cooked rice, for serving
- Parboil potatoes until just soft enough to be pierced with a knife. While potatoes are boiling, combine 2 tsp soy sauce, 2 tsp sherry, and 1 tsp cornstarch in a large bowl and whisk until corn starch dissolves. When potatoes are done, drain and slice into quarters or halves. Toss with the marinade and let sit for 30 minutes.
- While potatoes are marinating continue prepping ingredients. Grind half of the sichuan peppercorns and combine with the scallion greens and set aside. Mix together scallion whites, garlic, and ginger and set aside. Combine the remaining soy sauce, sherry, corn starch, vinegar, chili-garlic sauce and sugar and whisk until the corn starch dissolves.
- Set a mesh strainer over a bowl. Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet (or a wok if you have one) over high heat until it shimmers. Add the remaining unground peppercorns and the dried chiles and fry for 15 seconds, until fragrant. Pour the oil through the strainer, then pick out and reserve dried chiles for later.
- Return the skillet to high heat until slightly smoking. Add 1/4 of the oil and add the bell peppers. Fry until browned and crisp tender, about 1-2 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to a plate.
- Add another 1/4 of the oil to the pan and add the potatoes. Fry until crisp, about 1-2 minutes. Add potatoes to the plate with the peppers.
- Add the celery to the hot skillet and cook 2 minutes. To the celery, add the peanuts, reserved chiles, potatoes and peppers and more oil if needed. Push the ingredients to the sides of the pan and add the garlic and ginger mixture to the center and cook about 15 seconds. Toss everything together and add the sauce. Cook until the sauce thickens and coats everything, then stir in the scallion peppercorn mixture. Remove from heat and serve immediately, with rice if desired.