Gluten Free Kung Pao Chicken

If you’ve never tasted kung pao chicken, you’re in for a really neat experience. Kung pao is not gluten free because it contains Chinese black vinegar and Chinese wine, which both contain gluten. However, these simple substitutes make a delicious version. Just as in the traditional version, this gluten free kung pao chicken contains Szechuan peppercorns. These magical peppercorns counteract the heat of the hot and spicy red peppers. It turns out that Szechuan peppercorns are not a pepper at all. They cool the mouth so that you can tolerate the heat of the peppers. It’s something you just have to try at least once in your life. Some people get hooked! We are! You can make this version sweet, savory, spicy, or mild.


After eating your kung pao chicken, liquids may not taste like they usually do. Water, for example, tastes a little like Alka Seltzer or seltzer water, baking soda and water is another example of the flavor the peppercorns create. I suggest drinking something sweet if anything. If you’re having wine with dinner, choose a sweet wine like plum or Moscato.

What brand of Szechuan peppercorns should I buy?

If using, the brand of Szechuan peppercorns that you purchase is very important. I purchased Soeos Szechuan Peppercorns. They include no seeds, which is what you want. You only want the shells. In addition, there are only a few stems included. The price is excellent compared to most brands on Amazon. You’ll probably be able to find them cheaper at your local Asian market.

What is the purpose of Szechuan peppercorns?

Szechuan peppercorns are not peppers at all. They counteract the heat of peppers. So, while you can enjoy the flavor of red hot peppers, you don’t have to dance around like a fire needs to be put out or experience a runny nose. However, if you enjoy the heat, just don’t use a lot of Szechuan peppercorns. If you use too much, just add some red hot chili oil or ground cayenne pepper.

What type of red peppers should I use?

Typically, kung pao chicken recipes call for Chinese red peppers, also known as tien tsin chile peppers, which translates to “facing heaven”. You see, these chilies grow upward, toward the sky.

Can I use red hot chili oil instead of hot red peppers?

You don’t have to use dried red hot chiles. You can use red hot chili oil if you wish to add additional heat. However, using sweet red chili sauce adds some spiciness already.  It’s a personal thing, just like sweetness levels in kung pao chicken. You can use commercially purchased red hot chili oil or easily make your own.

Can I use other vegetables other than red peppers?

You can use any vegetable that you like in this dish. However, if you’re going to add carrots, you’ll have to add those first and cook them at least 10 minutes prior to adding any other vegetable. Carrots take much longer to cook than most vegetables. You want to leave your vegetables a little firm as they will cook down further when you add the sauce.

Is kung pao chicken sweet?

Kung pao is a personal thing. Some people like kung pao super spicy, mild, savory, sweet, super sweet, etc. Make this dish your own. This is why I suggest the last two ingredients as an option. My husband and I like our kung pao spicy and sweet. So, I added both the brown sugar and red hot chili oil.

Why is sweet red chile sauce listed as an ingredient?

Sweet red chile sauce is not a typical ingredient in kung pao. However, all of the ingredients in sweet red chile sauce are added to kung pao. So, why not make your life easier and use the sauce instead? You can substitute it for lots of minced garlic, minced red chile peppers with seeds, sugar, water, and white or rice vinegar.

This recipe is available to everyone.

Gluten Free Kung Pao Chicken

Make this gluten free kung pao chicken your way...sweet, savory, super spicy, or mild. The Szechuan peppercorns balance out everything perfectly!
Course Dinner, Main Course
Cuisine Chinese
Ingredient Keyword chicken, vegetables
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes
Servings 4 people


For the Marinade:

  • 1-1/3 pounds boneless skinless chicken breast or legs or thigh meat, cut into 1/2 to 3/4-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons reduced-sodium gluten free soy sauce or tamari sauce - San J
  • 2 tablespoons good dry sherry Hartley & Gibson Cream Sherry
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch

For the Oil:

  • 1/3 cup peanut oil
  • 1 tablespoon Szechuan peppercorns
  • 2 - 8 hot red peppers I used Anaheim

For the Garnish:

  • 3 - 5 scallions/green onion whites finely minced (greens finely sliced and set aside)
  • 1 tablespoon Szechuan peppercorns crushed with mortar & pestle, set aside

For the Vegetables:

  • 2 large peppers red and green (or 2 stalks celery and 1 can water chestnuts, chopped; 1 cup snow peas and 1 cup cubed zucchini, etc.)
  • 2/3 cup chopped yellow onion or leeks - whites and light green only

For the Sauce:

  • 1/4 cup sweet red chile sauce
  • 1 tablespoon  reduced-sodium gluten free soy sauce or tamari sauce - San J
  • 1 tablespoon  good dry sherry Hartley & Gibson Cream Sherry
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (or rice or white distilled vinegar)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger powder or 1x1/2-inch freshly grated ginger

For Putting It All Together:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted roasted peanuts
  • 1/2 cup gluten free chicken broth or water, and more as needed
  • 1/4 teaspoon sesame oil as a finishing oil (optional)
  • 1 - 3 teaspoons light brown sugar optional
  • 1/4 teaspoon red hot chili oil optional


  1. Combine the wine, soy sauce, and 2 teaspoons cornstarch in a glass bowl. Add the chicken and toss to thoroughly coat. Refrigerate uncovered.

  2. Place a stainless steel mesh strainer over a glass measuring cup and set aside. Heat the peanut oil in a large skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Once the oil begins to shimmer, remove from the heat and add 1 tablespoon Szechuan peppercorns and red hot chile peppers. Stir for about 30 seconds and strain. Set the chile peppers aside and discard the peppercorns. Pour the oil back into the skillet; set aside.

  3. Toss together, the sliced scallion greens and 1 tablespoon crushed Szechuan peppercorns; set aside.

  4. Preheat the oil until it again shimmers. Using a slotted spoon, add half of the chicken to the hot oil. Cook for 1 minute and continue to cook and stir no pink remains visible on the chicken. Remove the chicken to a bowl using a "clean" slotted. Heat the oil until it shimmers again and repeat with the remaining half of the chicken; set aside.

  5. Return the skillet to the heat and add the vegetables and onion, the hardest/firmest first. Quickly fry, 1 - 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, but leave the heat on. Push the vegetables aside towards the outside of the pan to prevent overcooking.

  6. In a small bowl, combine the minced whites of the scallions, sweet red chile sauce, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon wine, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, and ginger powder (or fresh ginger).

  7. Return the skillet to the heat and in the center, add the sweet red chili sauce mixture and saute for about 1 minute. Add the chicken and peanuts; toss everything together. Pour in the chicken broth or water, bring to a low boil, and simmer until the sauce thickens about 1 minute.

  8. Taste the sauce and decide whether you want more sweetness. If so, add 1 teaspoon at a time brown sugar until satisfied.

  9. Add the mixture of scallion greens and ground peppercorns and toss to distribute. Add more broth or water as desired.

  10. Is the sauce spicy enough for you? Those peppercorns surely toned down the spiciness. If desired, add a little chili oil, 1/8 teaspoon at a time, or serve the dish as is and allow others to dot the top of their dish with chile oil.

  11. Serve over hot white or brown rice.

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