Kung Pao Chicken: Paleo Takeout Cookbook Review & Giveaway
Must confess: I don’t eat much takeout. Either I spring for the full sit-down restaurant experience or cook my meals (sometimes brief, sometimes elaborate) myself. But I won’t argue that the favorites usually associated with takeout are incredibly delicious, so I was one hundred percent excited when I heard that Russ Crandall (creator of The Domestic Man) was hard at work on Paleo Takeout: Restaurant Favorites Without the Junk (coming June 23rd), a book dedicated to… well, to home-cooked paleo takeout. To those of you who might think that is an improbable premise, may I say that the book sets out to satisfy cravings for takeout classics using wholesome, paleo-friendly, natural ingredients, and—in my opinion after testing a selection of its recipes—it accomplishes this fully.
Russ’ work is comprehensive: recipes include Hot and Sour Soup, Honey Sesame Chicken, Chow Mein, Egg Foo Young, Orange Chicken, Tonkatsu, Okonomiyaki, Tempura, Bulgogi, Pad Thai, Bún Cha, and sections cover Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, Filipino, American, Italian, Mexican and Greek cuisine. Paleo Takeout makes recreating these in your own kitchen seem accessible with its breezy recipe notes and clever tips for mastering techniques like breading, stir-frying and velveting as a home cook.
It also instills a degree of confidence and awakens your creativity once you’ve stocked your pantry with whatever specialty ingredients you may not keep on hand (Russ has taken the time to create a Paleo Takeout Uncommon Ingredients Guide to assist with this) and taken the plunge to try the recipes which catch your eye first. By coincidence I had googled recipes for tonkatsu several weeks before receiving my review copy, so it was the first I recreated in my own kitchen. Breading meat with chicharrones rather than breadcrumbs is an inspired technique, and one I’ll be adapting in the future whenever a cut of meat or seafood would benefit from guilt-free savory crispness (i.e. all the time).
Once I had a batch of tonkatsu (I enjoyed half of it as pictured above, with shredded white sweet potato and sautéed purple cabbage), I couldn’t resist repurposing it in a second Paleo Takeout recipe: katsudon, a popular Japanese food (traditionally) consisting of a bowl of rice topped with a deep-fried pork cutlet, egg, and condiments. In Russ’ version, crispy chicharrones-breaded pork is slathered with egg and cooked in dashi with two kinds of onion and served over cauliflower rice. Delicious! I love putting eggs on/in everything, so the only way the tonkatsu could get better would be to #putaneggonit. Mission accomplished.
After the success of the tonkatsu and katsudon, I moved on to the green curry (it caught my eye, ironically, because there is no photo of the finished curry in the book… only the ingredients). The first step of the recipe is making the curry paste and is an intensely sensory experience (not least because I managed to get lime juice in my eye and jalapeño in my palm rips): the leafy freshness of cilantro and basil, the warmth of cumin, coriander and cardamom, the zing of lime zest and the bite of shallots, garlic and ginger. Purée it until smooth and your kitchen is ripe with the smell of these powerful aromatics. Poach your chicken in a combination of this homemade curry paste plus coconut milk and voila! Your work is done and your reward is a richly savory homemade taste of Thailand.
Finally, I’m delighted to share a recipe for Kung Pao Chicken with you today, which isn’t strictly from Paleo Takeout but is definitely an honorary inclusion since it’s simply a 1:1 substitution of chicken for pork in the Kung Pao Pork recipe in the book. According to recipe headnotes, Russ had too many chicken recipes in Paleo Takeout already, so Kung Pao Pork was born! “If you’re a Kung Pao Chicken purist, never fear; just make it with chicken thighs instead.” So I went the classic route with it, and used juicy dark meat as the base of the Kung Pao Chicken recipe below. Every other aspect of the recipe stays true to the pork recipe in the book, however, and it’s delicious: tender bits of meat and vegetables in a thick flavorful sauce.
Here’s what it looks like in the book with pork:
. . .and here’s my version with chicken! So much yum. ♥ I gave my roommate a bowlful, and his wordless nodding of approval started after the first bite.
- 2 tbsp tamari
- 2 tbsp Chinese cooking wine
- 2 tbsp arrowroot starch
- 1 tbsp broth
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tsp sea salt
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- ½ tsp ground ginger
- ½ tsp white pepper
- 2 lbs chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized chunks
- 2 tbsp broth
- 3 tbsp coconut oil, divided
- ¼ cup unsalted roasted cashews
- 6 dried Chinese (Sichuan) red chile peppers
- 2 stalks celery, sliced
- 1 red bell pepper, cut into chunks
- Stir together the marinade ingredients, then divide the mixture in half. Combine half of the marinade with the chicken, then set aside to marinate for 20 minutes. Combine the other half of the marinade with the broth and set aside.
- In a wok or skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the coconut oil over medium-high heat until shimmering, about 1 minute. Add the cashews and dried chiles and stir-fry until toasted but not burned, about 1 minute. Add the celery and bell pepper; stir-fry until the vegetables are soft and starting to form charred spots, about 1 minute. Transfer to a bowl.
- Add 1 tablespoon of the oil and half of the marinated chicken to the wok and stir-fry until cooked through and slightly crispy, about 4 minutes, then remove and set aside. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to the wok and cook the other half of the chicken in the same manner.
- Return the first half of the chicken to the wok and add the marinade/broth mixture. Simmer until thickened, about 1 minute, then add the vegetables, toss to combine, and serve.