Gongbao Jiding, known as Kung Pow Chicken in the West, is closely related with its eponymous official Ding Baozhen (1820- 1886), governor of Shandong Province.Ding rose to fame after executing powerful eunuch An Dehai, who, under the aegis of Empress Dowager Cixi, intervened in state affairs and abused his powers. Ding’s action was acclaimed by An’s opponents, including the emperor. Ding went on to have an illustrious career during which he won the good will of the people for his leadership over the flood control of the Yellow River, the Bohai Sea coastal defenses, and the establishment of the Shandong Machinery Bureau.
In 1876 he was transferred to Sichuan as governor and in that capacity he established the Sichuan Machinery Bureau, repaired the Dujiangyan irrigation system, and reformed the bureaucratic system. In 1885 when British troops occupied Burma and invaded Tibet, Ding was appointed head of the defense of the Southwest. It is during this period that he was given the honorary title Gongbao (guardian of the heir apparent), from which Kung Pow Chicken’s name is derived.
While it bears his title, creation of the dish is not actually attributed to Ding himself but to his favorite cook. The story has it that one day Ding returned home very late without having eaten. The cook hastily grabbed a few handfuls of diced chicken, chili peppers and peanuts and stir-fried them. Though preparation was slapdash, Ding ate the dish with relish.
Ding brought the cook with him from Shandong when he headed for his new office in Sichuan. Peanuts produced in Sichuan were as good as in Shandong, but as there was no sweet bean paste the cook had to substitute local ingredients. He used spicy bean sauce instead and a dash of sugar, which made the taste even better.
The dish became a staple when Ding entertained colleagues in Sichuan and soon became popular.
Cut chicken crosswise into small cubes, marinate with soy sauce, salt, cooking wine, and eggwhite, and then add corn flour. Mix soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, MSG, clear chicken soup, watered bean flour together into a thick sauce. Remove the tops and seeds of the dried red chili and fry the peanuts until crisp.
Heat oil in a wok, add dried chili, pepper, diced chicken, stir- fry briefly before removing. Leave a little oil in the wok and stir-fry the dried chili, pepper and bean sauce. Add fried chicken and stir-fry for a few seconds. Add sliced ginger, onions, and the thick sauce prepared earlier. Finally add peanuts and stir again before serving.
Gongbao Chicken is popular in China for its taste and bright colors. It is also the Chinese dish that has been embraced most enthusiastically in the West, and can be found in every city in Britain and the U.S. Like spaghetti from Italy and sauerkraut from Germany, Gongbao Chicken has almost become a synonym for Chinese cuisine.