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Low sodium Kung Pao Chicken

Updated: Feb 11, 2021

A typical serving of Kung Pao chicken can have over 900 mg of sodium. By using my low sodium soy sauce substitute and chicken breasts, this version has just 57 mg of sodium per serving. While chicken breasts can often be dry and tough, a simple marinade of cornstarch, oil, and water keep them moist and tender in this dish. See my notes below for using your own soy sauce or dark meat chicken if you have some room in your diet for more sodium.

Servings: Makes 4 servings Sodium: 57 mg per serving Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients for chicken marinade:

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces

2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil

(if using thighs, use 1 tablespoon oil)

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

Ingredients for sauce:

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 tablespoon water

2 teaspoons sugar

1 tablespoon sesame oil

2 teaspoons sherry or rice wine vinegar

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)

1 clove of raw garlic, pressed or minced

*See notes in Step 2 about using a different low sodium soy sauce or coconut aminos

Remaining ingredients:

1 tablespoon ginger, minced

4 cloves garlic, minced

3 stalks scallions, cut in small 1/4 inch pieces

1/2 cup bell peppers, chopped in 1 inch pieces

1/4 cup toasted, unsalted peanuts or cashews

8 dried red peppers (or more or less to taste)

1) Prepare and marinate the chicken: I use chicken breasts because they're very low in sodium (50 mg per 4-ounce serving), but thigh meat is delicious in this dish and I recommend it if you can tolerate a little more sodium. Thigh meat is anywhere from 85-100 mg per 4-ounce serving (without any salt added) depending on the brand. As always, check the nutrition and ingredient labels with chicken because it can be injected with a salt solution.

Chicken breasts can be dry and tough but they don't have to be. First, make sure you cut the chicken so that you have bite-sized pieces that are cut against the grain. If you're starting with a whole chicken breast, cut about a 2-inch piece with the grain (i.e. cut along the little lines you see in the meat). Then lay that piece down and cut 1/4 inch strips abasing the grain.

Next, take the cut chicken and combine it with all the "ingredients for chicken marinade." This simple cornstarch, water, oil mixture will help keep the meat moist and tender. Massage the marinade in so the chicken is well coated, and set it aside as you prepare the sauce and remaining ingredients. I've only recently learned that this process is called "velveting" meat, but it's something my parents always did with any meat for stir-fries. We usually added garlic and fish sauce as well, but fish sauce is way too high in sodium for us now, and I skip the garlic just to keep it simple.

2) Prepare the sauce: in a small bowl, mix the cornstarch and water until it forms a smooth slurry. Then add the rest of the sauce ingredients to the cornstarch slurry and set it aside.

This sauce calls for 1/4 cup of my low sodium soy sauce substitute. If you can tolerate more sodium in your diet, use any other combination of sauces that totals 1/4 cup (which is 4 tablespoons). For example, use 1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce or coconut aminos plus 3 tablespoons water or low sodium chicken broth. As long as you have 1/4 cup of liquid here the rest of the recipe will work just fine.

3) Prepare the remaining ingredients: once you start cooking, this dish comes together really fast so have everything ready to throw into the pan. Here's everything cut up and ready to go. The scallions, ginger, garlic, and dried peppers will go into the pan together so they can go in the same bowl, but keep everything else separate.

4) The total cooking time for this dish is about 7-9 minutes, so these next few steps move pretty fast.

Set a medium sized bowl (something large enough to fit all the chicken and peppers) next to the stove. Start by heating a thin layer of cooking oil in a large non-stick skillet or wok (my skillet is 12 inches). Once the oil is hot, add half the chicken in a single layer and let the chicken cook until the edges are opaque. Don't stir the chicken, just let it sit in a single layer on the hot pan for about 1 minute for white meat or about 2-3 minutes for dark meat. This is important because if you stir too much here you’ll lose moisture and the chicken will dry out. Once the edges are cooked, toss the chicken so it cooks on both sides and continue to cook for another 30 seconds to 1 minute for white meat and a few minutes longer for dark meat. Transfer to a bowl. The chicken will still be a little undercooked, that's how you want it because you'll add it back to the pan later. Cook the second half of the chicken the same way.

Next sauté the bell peppers over high heat in a little oil for about a minute and transfer to the same bowl as the chicken.

Turn the heat down to low, add a thin coat of oil to the pan, and add the garlic, ginger, scallions and red peppers. Stir frequently until they begin to get soft and fragrant, about 1-2 minutes.

Turn up the heat to medium, and add the peanuts, chicken, and peppers back to the pan and stir to mix everything together. Give the sauce a quick stir in case the cornstarch has settled, and then add the sauce to the pan, stirring constantly until the sauce has thickened and the chicken is cooked. This takes just a minute or so.

Serve hot with rice, noodles, or in a lettuce bowl.


-You can swap out the bell peppers for almost any other vegetable—onions , zucchini, mushrooms, celery, or cauliflower would all work well. You could even swap out the chicken for 3 cups of tofu or a roasted vegetable to make it vegetarian.

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