Trader Joe’s Kung Pao Chicken Review

Trader Joe's Kung Pao Chicken
Trader Joe’s Kung Pao Chicken

Trader Joe’s Kung Pao Chicken Review – 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 1970s. 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 to. 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. The 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!

What's in the bag for Trader Joe's Kung Pao chicken
What’s in the bag for Trader Joe’s Kung Pao chicken

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 in 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 a 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 stovetop in a skillet. I highly recommend a non-stick pan for this one. In the bigger bag, there 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.

 

Trader Joe's Kung Pao Chicken cooked
Trader Joe’s Kung Pao Chicken cooked

First, you fire up the skillet, add oil then the chicken, and let the chicken cook for a while. It will take quite a while for the chicken pieces to thaw and cook through. Sometimes I give it an assist in the microwave. You want to get the outside of the chicken kind of crispy but heated all the way through. When you get the chicken heated, then you add the vegetables/hot peppers and toss until wilted a couple of minutes. Then you add the peanuts and the sauce let it all cook for a minute and then serve! 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.

 

Trader Joe's Kung Pao Chicken Nutrition
Trader Joe’s Kung Pao Chicken Nutrition

The only downside is that the vegetables turned to absolute mush but considering how few of them it wasn’t really an issue. I also thought the sauce was a bit on the sweet side for me. I usually only one of the packets and add some soy sauce. Not sure they needed to add all that sugar to the sauce. I liked the amount of whole hot peppers that were included 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 non-food related issue was the amount of packaging involved with this food. Four inner bags and 1 outer bag. Come on Trader Joe’s you’ve got to figure out something better. So much plastic.

Final Verdict on Trader Joe’s Kung Pao Chicken

You know you all have one of those items at Trader Joe’s that you buy on repeat every time you go because you love it so much. Even thought it’s not the best representation of that type of product in the world, it’s good and it’s cheap and easy to make and better than what you can do on your own. This is that for me. Trader Joe’s has had this product in the stores longer than I have been doing reviews (over 10 years) and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Having said that I should buy a couple extra bags and stick it in the deep freezer just in case they discontinue it! I really like the ease of preparation. I like the flavors. The chicken stands out for me. The vegetables could be better and more but many times I will just cut up some green onions and a pepper and add it extra. Sometimes even more peanuts.

I think this is destined to be a classic at Trader Joe’s and suspect you will see it around for many years! 

I am going to rate this Trader Joe’s Kung Pao Chicken a solid 8 Bells!

INGREDIENTS:

chicken dark meat chunks: chicken dark meat chunks, whole eggs, soybean oil, water, cornstarch, chili powder, salt, white pepper, ginger, garlic, and green onion. vegetable packet: green bell pepper, red bell pepper, brown onion, fried dry chili and water chestnut. peanuts packet: fried peanuts (peanuts, peanut oil) sauce packet: water, sugar, soy sauce (soy, wheat), vinegar, modified corn starch, lime juice, salt, ginger, garlic and green onion

 

15 Comments

  1. I made this tonight and found it delicious. A few thoughts:
    1) I did mine in a cast iron skillet. I used somewhat more oil than the recipe suggested, which I think is important. Got the pan really hot and made sure the chicken got nice and brown.
    2) The veggies were crisp. Just make sure you don’t over cook them. The instructutions probably suggest cooking too long.
    3) I used just ONE of the sauce packets and found it perfect. Unless you want something really sweet and gloppy. For my taste, there should be just enough sauce to coat the stir fry, it shouldn’t be swimming in sauce.

    Overall– DELICIOUS. Better than most restaurants.

  2. I cooked kun Paolo chicken and was very easy and fast. After taste it. Looks better than a restaurant and the portion enough and good price. I’ll buy this again, good Asian food.

  3. Excellent out-of-the-bag meal. We use one sauce packet and saute a bunch of fresh veggies to add to the finished bagged product to add freshness and nutrition – and to stretch it into a 4 person meal when adding rice. A family favorite.

  4. I think this is my favorite of all the TJ frozen Chinese meals I’ve tried. Good quality chicken, nice hot sauce, crisp veggies, it’s amazing. And the hot pepper is in one big piece, so I can adjust the spiciness accordingly.

  5. this is a good trader joes meal. best if you cut up a full onion and sauté first, adding fresh minced garlic and the bag chilis chopped/minced as the onions are almost done browning. then after desired garlic cooking, dump in the chicken, adding sauce at very end when chicken is heated through. it will be hot from the chilis, garlic-y, and sweet from the sauce and onion. the onion and green/red peppers in the bag are not very good.

    • I think this is a meat heavy dish and to extend it and give it more good stuff, I would definitely add more veggies. Celery and peppers and onions are the usual trio for Kung Pao and maybe some chopped green onion at the end if you want to get fancy.

  6. Looked closely at the meat in the package I was preparing…as it was cooking in my pan I saw actual tiny chick embryos. I nearly puked. It went straight down the disposal. I should have taken photos but I was too shocked and disgusted. NEVER AGAIN.

  7. The Kung Pao chicken has microwave directions that make it the easiest stir fry meal I make. You need a large casserole and heat just the frozen meat for five minutes covered by a paper towel. Then add the enclosed frozen veggie packet and add your own frozen stir fry veggies, at least a cup. Cover with paper towel and cook another six minutes. Then add the sauce packets, the peanuts and your own extra peanuts and cook an extra minute. To make certain everything is cooked I put it on reheat. Serve with TJ’s 3 minute frozen microwaved rice. This makes enough for two generous meals for two people.

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