I love what Trader Joe’s has been doing with all these frozen Asian meals lately. Generally I have found them all to be pretty decent meals and easy to prepare and fairly healthy for you, except the most popular food item in Trader Joe’s the Mandarin Orange Chicken which is essentially fried chicken bits with a sweet, spicy orange sauce on them. I can see why it’s super popular, but not much in the foodie realm for my tastes.
Anyway, I love Kung Pao Chicken! I can’t tell you how many pounds of that stuff I have consumed over the years. My father used to make it out of an old Chinese cookbook from the 1970’s. It was a staple in our house for many years and it’s one of those comfort foods that I can eat way too much of. Traditional Kung Pao chicken is usually a simpler preparation than the westernized version of it that so many of us are used too. I guess the key ingredient of the authentic Chinese version is Sichuan peppercorns, which I’ve cooked with many times but I can’t recall having it in Kung Pao chicken. They other key ingredient is dried hot peppers that have been quickly fried in oil until they are almost black. I have tried to replicate it at home, but I think I really need one of those huge woks and a super hot gas stovetop. Then of course, you need to add peanuts! Can’t forget the peanuts!
The westernized versions of Kung Pao chicken tend to have more stuff in them. More vegetables, more peanuts, more sauce. I’ve had it in many different restaurants and the vegetables they put in it can range from carrots to broccoli to celery. You name it! My local Chinese restaurant puts zucchini in their version. It should be pretty spicy from the hot peppers and IMHO be mostly meat and then stir fried some peanuts in at the last minute. My father made a pretty good version of it through the years. He always tried to tweak it and he always made way more than we could eat at one sitting so we’d have plenty of leftovers!
I couldn’t say that I was too surprised when I saw a big bag of frozen Kung Pao Chicken at my local Trader Joe’s. (I have to say that since the holidays, the turnover of new items has slowed to trickle lately) I immediately grabbed a bag and ran home and cooked it up for lunch! This is a big bag of food. 1lb and 7oz of food. More than enough for a couple to share if you cook up some rice. There was only one method to cook it and that was on the stove top in a skillet. I highly recommend a non-stick pan for this one. In the bigger bag there is are four smaller bags that are surrounded by pieces of chicken that have been pre-cooked and seasoned. The four smaller bags contain, vegetables and hot peppers, sauce and peanuts. You kind of have to dig into the bag and fetch them out or pour everything on a platter or something to retrieve them.
First you fire up the skillet, add oil then the chicken and let that cook for a while. Then you add the vegetables/hot peppers. Then you add the peanuts and then the sauce and let it all cook for a minute and then serve! I thought this was pretty darn good! It was easy to prepare and I think from beginning to end it was about 15 minutes. Get yourself some microwave rice and you have a decent meal in 15 minutes or less. There were a couple of minuses. The vegetables turned to absolute mush, but considering how few of them it wasn’t really and issue. I also thought the sauce was a bit on the sweet side for me. Not sure they needed to add all that sugar to the sauce. I liked the amount of whole hot peppers that were in there and I also thought the chicken was really good. It seems to be mostly dark meat so if that is something that turns you off I would skip this.
One other none food related thing was the amount of packaging involved with this. Four inner bags and 1 out bag. Come on Trader Joe’s you’ve got to figure out something better.
I think this is destined to be a classic at Trader Joe’s and suspect you will see it around for some time to come!
I am going to rate this Trader Joe’s Kung Pao Chicken a solid 8 Bells!