This Panda Express Kung Pao Chicken is a delicious restaurant copycat! The easy stir fry is made with spicy sauce, chicken and mixed veggies.
Ingredients and substitutions
- Soy sauce – coconut aminos or tamari are the best soy sauce substitutes.
- Honey – you could also sweeten the sauce with brown sugar, maple syrup or agave.
- Chili paste – use as much or as little paste as you want based on your spice tolerance.
- Garlic – freshly minced garlic is best but jarred minced garlic will work in a pinch.
- Chicken thighs – feel free to use boneless skinless chicken breasts instead.
- Salt & pepper – to taste.
- Cornstarch – you could also toss the chicken in potato starch or tapioca starch.
- Peanut oil – use any neutral cooking oil such as olive oil or canola oil.
- Red pepper – swap out for another colour bell pepper or another veggie entirely. Frozen vegetables would also work for this recipe.
- Zucchini – feel free to substitute for another vegetable of your choice.
- Green onions – scallions would also be good or you can leave these off.
- Peanuts – this dish is typically garnished with chopped peanuts but you can leave them off if need be.
- Jasmine rice – serve with any rice variety of your choice.
- Butter – margarine would also help make the rice nice and moist.
- Salt – to taste.
How to make kung pao chicken
Step 1: Cut up the chicken and prep the sauce.
In a small bowl, mix together soy sauce, honey, chili paste and garlic. Set aside. Meanwhile, start to cook rice in a rice cooker.
Step 2: Toss in cornstarch.
Toss chicken with salt & pepper and cornstarch in a large bowl.
Step 3: Add to a skillet.
Heat oil over med-high heat in a large skillet.
Step 4: Cook until browned.
Saute chicken for 4-5 min until lightly browned.
Step 5: Add in the veggies and sauce.
Add in red pepper, zucchini, stir fry sauce and peanuts, sauteeing another 4-5 minutes until veggies soften.
Step 6: Serve and enjoy!
Stir in green onions, sauteeing another 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat then serve chicken mixture overtop of cooked rice. Enjoy!
What's the difference between General Tso's and kung pao chicken?
While kung pao chicken and General Tso’s chicken have their similarities, they’re two different but equally as delicious dishes!
Kung pao chicken is made with seared chicken that’s tossed in a sweet and spicy sauce, whereas General Tso’s chicken is battered and deep fried. Kung pao chicken also typically has peanuts on top while General Tso’s does not, and General Tso sauce is sweeter while kung pao sauce is spicier.
There's still a bit of breading with this Panda Express kung pao chicken recipe in the form of cornstarch. This allows for super tender chicken with the traditional Chinese food texture, but you don't need to fry the chicken in a ton of oil like General Tso's.
Frequently Asked Questions
Kung pao chicken is a popular Chinese takeout dish made of chicken, peanuts, vegetables and peppers cooked in a spicy chilli sauce.
This kung pao chicken recipe has the perfect blend of sweet and spicy flavours. You get a bit of sweetness from the honey, and the spiciness from the chili paste! Feel free to adjust the level of spiciness based on your tolerance.
Traditional kung pao chicken sauce is made of soy sauce, sugar, Chinese vinegar, Sichuan peppercorns and dried red chile peppers. For this kung pao chicken Panda Express recipe, I made a few substitutions that are easier to find at the grocery store. All you need to make the sauce is soy sauce, honey, chili paste and garlic!
This recipe tastes just like the kung pao chicken from Panda Express, but it has a fraction of the calories and fat! My version has about 515 calories per serving including the rice, whereas the Panda Express version has 670 calories per serving with steamed rice or 810 calories with fried rice.
Storing and reheating
This Panda Express kung pao chicken recipe is perfect for your weekly meal prep! You can store the leftovers in microwave-safe bowls in the fridge for up to 5 days. Wait until the rice, chicken and veggies have cooled slightly before storing for best results.
To reheat, simply microwave the dish for 2 to 3 minutes, sprinkling a little bit of water over top before reheating. This will help the chicken stay moist and work to eliminate the leftover chicken taste. You can also reheat everything in a skillet on the stovetop, stirring for 4 to 5 minutes or so on medium-high heat.
Freezing this recipe
Unfortunately, this kung pao chicken Panda Express recipe won’t freeze well after it’s been cooked, as the veggies won’t defrost and reheat well. That being said, you can freeze components of this recipe beforehand to cut down on prep time like the raw chicken or the cooked rice.
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Panda Express Kung Pao Chicken
- 3 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tbsp honey
- 1 tbsp chili paste
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 boneless skinless chicken thighs, diced
- 1/2 tsp each salt & pepper
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- 1 tbsp peanut oil (or olive oil)
- 1 red pepper, chopped
- 1 zucchini, chopped
- 1 bunch green onions, chopped into 1-inch pieces
- 1/2 cup peanuts, chopped
- 1 cup jasmine rice
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1 tsp butter
- 1 pinch salt
- In a small bowl, mix together soy sauce, honey, chili paste and garlic. Set aside. Meanwhile, start to cook rice in a rice cooker.
- Toss chicken with salt & pepper and cornstarch in a large bowl. Heat oil over med-high heat in a large skillet then saute chicken for 4-5 min until lightly browned. Add in red pepper, zucchini, stir fry sauce and peanuts, sauteeing another 4-5 minutes until veggies soften.
- Stir in green onions, sauteeing another 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat then serve chicken mixture overtop of cooked rice. Enjoy!