Good Cooking since 1995
Is it Gong Bao Ji Ding, Kung Pao or Gong Bao Chicken?
The dish is believed to be named after Ding Baozhen (1820-1886), a late Qing Dynasty official, and governor of Sichuan Province. His title was Gongbao the Palace Guardian, the name "Kung Pao" chicken is derived from this title.
Ding Baozhen was born in 1820, the 25th year in
the Jiaqing Reign in the Qing Dynasty, in Guizhou. In 1854, he was
appointed a government official. He had been the head of Shandong
Province for ten years, and then the governor of Sichuan Province for
another ten years. In 1886, Ding died in Chengdu. He is remembered as an
outstanding government official, contributing a great deal to the
society and much admired by the Chinese people.
Fact or Fiction---"One day Ding arrived home with a bunch of friends but his chef hadn't expected anyone other than Ding. Ding asked him to prepare something in their honor. The chef had only a chicken and some vegetables. So to work he went dicing the chicken meat in small cubes and fried it up with cucumber, peanuts, dried chilis, sugar, scallions, garlic and ginger. Ding and his guests enjoyed the dish so much that it became a regular item the chef prepared. When Ding became Governor General, his chef went with him to Chengdu where he experimented with local ingredients. Soon he perfected the dish as it still is prepared today with broad beans in chili sauce and Sichuan Chili Peppers. It was served at every banquet that Ding hosted and soon became all the rage in the provinces. The dish simple became known as Gongbao Jiding, as his title was, Gongbao the Palace Guardian's Cubed Chicken."
An original version was made with diced dark meat, marinated in Shaoxing wine and then wok fried chili peppers and Sichuan peppercorns, garlic and ginger. In Sichuan, Sichuan-style chili peppers such as seven stars peppers are used and may be either fresh green or dried red ones, sometimes both. The most important component of the dish is Sichuan peppercorns. It is these peppercorns that give authentic Kung Pao chicken its distinctive numbing flavor. Then the chicken is stir-fried and vegetables, along with peanuts, are added. Kung Pao chicken starts off with fresh, moist, unroasted peanuts or cashew nuts although cashews are not native to China. Raw peanuts or cashew nuts are dropped into the hot oil on the bottom of the wok first, then deep-fried until golden brown before the other ingredients are added.
During modern times
after Mao and during the Cultural Revolution, the dish's name became
politically incorrect because of its association with Ding. In China the
dish was renamed Gongbao Jiding or Hongbao Jiding or Gong Bao Ji Ding.
In Shanghai today its the latter or Gongbao Jiding on most menus.
Meanwhile in the United States and around the world as Chinese immigrated to other countries along with them came their recipes. Recipes soon morphed into variations of the original because of the lack of some ingredients. In restaurants chefs altered recipes to appeal to western tastes and in some cases the recipe now is nothing like the original. Sichuan Pepper was banned in the US from 1968 to 2005 for fear it could spread a canker to citrus trees. Some say they are a must in this dish to be authentic and I agree!
Just like any recipe there are variations on it that have happened over time either through translation, not having all the ingredients available, or just wanting to tweak it. I know that American Chinese restaurants at some point replaced the cucumber with celery and the white meat with dark meat. The cucumber thing may have been because of availability and probably entered the dish in the 1920's. Celery distribution became mainstream in most US cities around then, it was no longer locally produced and distributed because of refrigerated truck transport. I'm sure the dark meat replacement was because it was less expensive to use and thus Chinese restaurant owners made more money on each dish. Another possible reason was that dark meat is actually moister and to many Chinese they would rather cook and eat it more that white meat. Probably a chef made it for his kitchen meal one day, everyone liked it so they changed the recipe. As word spread other Chinese Restaurants did the same so now you may often have it served this way more often than not.
People's Daily Online; www.people.cn