Instant Pot Kung Pao Chicken Recipe

You can find kung pao chicken in almost every Chinese restaurant in the world, it seems. And though it may seem to be solely a Chinese-American creation, it actually did originate in the 19th century in China's Sichuan Province. According to the legend related by The World of Chinese, that's where a government official, Ding Baozhan, was served the dish made by the family chef of a friend who had once saved his life. Ding got the recipe from the chef and began cooking it for his own dinner parties. Afterward, the recipe for kung pao chicken spread like wildfire across China. 

Recipe developer and soon-to-be registered dietician Hayley MacLean created her own at-home version that helps you keep things healthy while utilizing the wonder that is the Instant Pot. "This dish is great because it is full of lean proteins, fresh veggies, and the sauce is super simple to make," MacLean told us. "Being able to do all of the cooking in the Instant Pot really cuts down on the amount of dishes to be cleaned afterwards." If you're as much of a fan of Chinese takeout as MacLean is, then you'll want to try this healthier, homemade version of this iconic Chinese dish.

Gather the ingredients for Instant Pot kung pao chicken

There's really nothing unusual about the ingredients for MacLean's recipe. "I am all about foods that are accessible to everyone," she told us. Plus, it's pretty versatile, fitting with a few different dietary needs with only small modifications. "And this dish could fit into many different types of diets and very easily modified to fit specific needs." 

The major protein in this recipe is the chicken, and you'll need 1 ½ pounds of chicken breast.  Alongside that, you will also require 3 tablespoons cornstarch, ¼ teaspoon black pepper, ⅛ teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil, 2 garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, 3 scallions, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 tablespoon mirin, 1 tablespoon hoisin, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon Sriracha, 3 tablespoons soy sauce, ½ tablespoon sesame oil, and 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes. Add to that ¾ cup water, divided, 1 small white onion, roughly chopped 1 red bell pepper, 1 yellow bell pepper, and ⅓ cup peanuts, roasted and unsalted.

Cornstarch is an ingredient that's used a lot in Chinese cooking. It serves as a thickener for sauces, but also, according to The Spruce Eats, it seals in the meat's juices, which yields a light, crispy crust. MacLean prefers grapeseed oil, but it's okay to use any other oil with a high smoke point that can handle the high cooking temperatures used in this recipe. 

Prep the ingredients, then coat the chicken in spices

Prep time is only 15 minutes, and as MacLean does, get all of the slicing and chopping out of the way, since the stir-fry part of the recipe is very quick and it will help immensely to have everything ready to go into the pan at the right moment. Restaurant chefs prep ingredients and apportion them into separate bowls, a step that's called mise en place (translated from French, it means "putting in place"). This ensures you'll have everything ready exactly when you need it. 

To begin the prep, cut up the chicken into 1-inch cubes. Mince two garlic cloves and thinly slice 3 scallions, keeping the white and green parts separate. Then roughly chop one small white onion. Peel a 1-inch piece of fresh ginger and grate it so you have 1 tablespoon of grated ginger.  Cut the stems off one red bell pepper and one yellow bell pepper, then slice them in half. Remove the seeds and membranes from the insides of the peppers and cut them into bite-size pieces. 

Finally, in a mixing bowl, add 1 tablespoon of cornstarch, ¼ teaspoon of black pepper, and ⅛ teaspoon of salt. Whisk them with a fork until combined, then add the cubed chicken. Toss the chicken pieces so they're evenly coated with the cornstarch mixture.

Sauté the aromatics and chicken in the Instant Pot

First, set the Instant Pot to the "sauté" function at medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of grapeseed oil to the pot. When the oil starts to shimmer, it's time to add the minced garlic, grated ginger, and the white parts of the scallions. Sauté the aromatics for one minute until they're fragrant. 

Transfer the cubed chicken to the pot in a single layer and sauté them so they're evenly cooked. Using tongs, turn the chicken cubes over and sauté the other side. 

If you don't own an Instant Pot, you can still make this recipe with a minor adjustment. In place of an Instant Pot, MacLean suggests using a large pot or Dutch oven. You'll have to cook the chicken longer, though, so adjust your cook time accordingly and keep an eye on the chicken pieces to make sure they don't over or undercook.

Prepare the sauce and add it to the Instant Pot

The simplicity of this recipe is that you make the sauce right there in the Instant Pot, alongside the aromatics and chicken that are already cooking inside. 

To make the sauce, simply line up the sauce ingredients and measure them out into the pot. You'll need 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, 1 tablespoon of mirin (a type of rice wine used for cooking), 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce, 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon of Sriracha hot sauce, 3 tablespoons of soy sauce, ½ tablespoon of sesame oil, 1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes, and ¼ cup of water. Stir everything together so it's well-combined into one cohesive sauce that coats the chicken pieces.

Add the vegetables

Now add the chopped onion, red bell pepper, and yellow bell pepper, turning them with a wooden spoon to coat with the sauce. Turn the Instant Pot off and put the lid on, making sure you turn the vent to "sealed." Turn the Instant Pot on with the "pressure cook" function on high and set the time for 3 minutes. 

When the 3 minutes are up, turn the Instant Pot off and carefully do a quick release of the pressure valve. It's a good idea to turn the pot away from you so you don't get a blast of hot steam in your face! Once the steam valve drops, it's safe to unseal and remove the lid.

Make a cornstarch slurry and thicken the sauce

To finish the sauce, you'll need to make a cornstarch slurry. It's easy to do and will make the texture of your final dish just the right consistency. To make the slurry, measure out 2 tablespoons of cornstarch into a measuring cup or small bowl. Whisk in ¼ cup of cold water until the mixture has emulsified. Cornstarch tends to settle to the bottom, so keep whisking it and gathering up the cornstarch until it's fully mixed. 

Once your slurry is blended together, set the Instant Pot to the "sauté" function again on medium heat. Pour the slurry into the Instant Pot and use a wooden spoon to stir it into the sauce so it's fully combined with the rest of the ingredients inside.

Add peanuts and serve the Instant Pot kung pao chicken

When the sauce begins to thicken, stir in the peanuts and the green parts of the sliced scallions. The kung pao chicken is now ready to serve with rice or any other grain you prefer, like some protein-rich quinoa or some nutty farro

Garnish each portion with 1 teaspoon of toasted sesame seeds, if you decide to use them, and some more sliced scallions. The end result is a savory and sweet dish with just a touch of heat. It's one that you already know and love from Chinese restaurants or takeout, but made in the comfort of your very own home kitchen! In fact, as MacLean suggests, you could even "throw it in a to-go box and no one would be the wiser!"

Instant Pot Kung Pao Chicken Recipe
4.9 from 11 ratings
You can find kung pao chicken in almost every Chinese restaurant. This at-home Instant Pot version helps you keep things healthy, tasty, and easy to prepare.
Prep Time
15
minutes
Cook Time
15
minutes
Servings
4
servings
Instant Pot kung pao chicken
Total time: 30 minutes
Ingredients
  • 1 ½ pounds chicken breast, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch, divided
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 3 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon mirin
  • 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon Sriracha
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • ½ tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • ¾ cup water, divided
  • 1 small white onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, stemmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, stemmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • ⅓ cup peanuts, roasted and unsalted
Optional Ingredients
  • 1 teaspoon sesame seeds, toasted
Directions
  1. In a mixing bowl, combine the cubed chicken, 1 tablespoon of cornstarch, ¼ teaspoon of black pepper, and ⅛ teaspoon of salts until the chicken is coated.
  2. Set the Instant Pot to "sauté" on medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon of grapeseed oil to the Instant Pot and heat until the oil is shimmering. Add the 2 minced garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon of freshly grated ginger, and the white parts of the 3 sliced scallions, and cook for one minute until fragrant.
  3. Add the chicken pieces to the Instant Pot and sauté until the chicken is cooked, turning once to ensure even cooking.
  4. Add the sauce ingredients to the Instant Pot: 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, 1 tablespoon of mirin, 1 tablespoon of hoisin sauce, 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon of Sriracha, 3 tablespoons of soy sauce, ½ tablespoon of sesame oil, 1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes, and ¼ cup of water. Stir to combine.
  5. Add the chopped white onion, red bell pepper, and yellow bell pepper to the Instant Pot. Mix to incorporate.
  6. Turn the Instant Pot off and put the lid on, making sure to turn the vent to "sealed."
  7. Turn the Instant Pot to "pressure cook" on high for 3 minutes. When done cooking, turn off the Instant Pot and do a quick release. Once the steam valve drops, it is safe to remove the lid.
  8. Mix together ¼ cup of water and 2 tablespoons of cornstarch to make a slurry.
  9. Set the Instant Pot to "sauté" to medium heat and stir in the cornstarch slurry.
  10. Once the sauce has thickened slightly, stir in ⅓ cup of roasted, unsalted peanuts and the green parts from the scallions.
  11. Serve with rice or another grain of your choice. Garnish with 1 teaspoon of toasted sesame seeds or more sliced scallion, if desired.
Nutrition
Calories per Serving 507
Total Fat 27.3 g
Saturated Fat 5.9 g
Trans Fat 0.2 g
Cholesterol 109.0 mg
Total Carbohydrates 23.3 g
Dietary Fiber 3.1 g
Total Sugars 9.1 g
Sodium 870.5 mg
Protein 41.1 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
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