John D. Finley: Kung Pao Chicken needs wine contrast
Pairings

John D. Finley: Kung Pao Chicken needs wine contrast

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Kung Pao Chicken first originated in central-western China and has become very popular in the United States. This Chinese-American standard is the westernized version of Kung Pao Chicken consisting of wok fried chicken pieces, roasted peanuts, scallions and a spicy sauce. Some versions of Kung Pao Chicken use vegetables – I like red bell peppers.

Pairing wine with hot and spicy foods can be a real challenge. I would recommend pairing for contrast with fruity, crisp, lighter off-dry wines like a Riesling or Gewurztraminer. An unoaked Viognier can also work quite well.

Kung Pao Chicken

Marinade:

1/4c soy sauce

2Tbl rice vinegar

1Tbl peanut oil

1tsp sesame oil

1/4tsp white pepper

1Tbl cornstarch

1lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, sliced into ¾” chunks

Sauce:

1/4c soy sauce

2Tbl rice vinegar

1Tbl peanut oil

1Tbl sugar

Stir Fry:

2Tbl peanut oil

1 red bell pepper cut into 3/4” dice

1Tbl fresh grated ginger

3 cloves, minced

1/2tsp crushed red pepper flakes

1 bunch green onions, cut the white part into 1/2 -inch pieces, julienne the green parts

1/2c cocktail peanuts

2Tbl water plus 1Tbl cornstarch, mixed together to make slurry

For the Marinade:

Combine the soy sauce, rice vinegar, peanut oil, sesame oil, white pepper and cornstarch. Stir in the chicken pieces, cover in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 20 to 30 minutes.

Sauce:

In a small bowl, combine the ingredients for the sauce. Set aside.

Stir Fry:

Over high heat, in a wok, bring the peanut oil to almost smoking temperature. Stir-fry the red bell pepper for about 1 minute.

Add the ginger, garlic, red pepper flakes, and the white part of the green onions for 30 to 40 seconds or the garlic begins to brown.

Add the chicken and stir-fry for 1 to 2 minutes, until golden in color.

Add the sauce and bring to a boil. Add the peanuts. Thicken with the slurry and continue to cook until glossy. Transfer to a serving plate and garnish with julienne green onions. Serve on top of white rice.

Pair this with Lucas and Lewellen’s 2018 Santa Barbara County Viognier. Earning a Double Gold Medal from the 2019 Central Coast Wine Competition, the hand-harvested grapes for this Viognier, farmed in their Los Alamos Vineyard and Santa Ynez Valley vineyards, create a rich and exhilarating wine with hints of melon, stone fruit and citrus. With fragrant aromas of pear and apricots, the palate is softly textured with creamy stone fruit intensity, honeysuckle notes and a satisfying long finish.

Or try it with Santa Barbara Winery’s 2016 Lafond Vineyard Dry Riesling - one of their highest awarded wines of Spring 2019! This Dry Riesling is pale gold with orange reflections and has aromas of lemon zest, honeysuckle and coastal breeze. Flavors of bright lemon, early peach, and wet stone complete the palate. Enjoy!

John David Finley is a free-lance writer and author of the cookbook, Sacred Meals from our Family Table, which features Santa Barbara County wines. He can be reached at jdfinley53@outlook.com

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