“Pao”wer Food

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Nashville was not exactly a hot spot of Chinese, or actually many ethnic restaurants when I was growing up. That has certainly changed, but Chinese food back then, was limited to a few recipes in my mom’s cookbooks and magazines and mostly consisted of chow mein and chop suey. I do not think at that time that a bottle of soy sauce was assumed to be a staple condiment in most southern homes.

By the time I went to college there were certainly more options for restaurant experiences, and we thought we were quite sophisticated when we dined at one of several local Chinese restaurants. My roommates and I had a tradition of going out for Chinese food whenever one of us celebrated a birthday. We were always entertained by our fortune cookies.  Mostly they were typical sayings - “You are wise beyond your years.” or “Generosity and beauty go hand in hand.”  But one girl in our group always got weird fortunes like, “Don’t walk close to tall buildings.” Or once – I promise this is true – “Beware of carp in the water of life.” (We thought it might be misspelled and mean crap because none of us actually knew what a carp was.)  

Now good Chinese food is available in restaurants everywhere, and recipes and ingredients are abundant should you want to try your hand at making your own. Personally, I still go back to one of my old favorites, Kung Pao Chicken. The sweet/hot glaze with pineapple and peppers reminds me of those first fun times of going out to dinner as a young college student. Today however, my more sophisticated son doesn’t want to waste his calories on a cornstarch laden, fried mess of chicken, with a veggie or two thrown in for good measure. So together we’ve come up with the perfect solution – you are going to love this – Grilled Kung Pao Chicken on Skewers. Skewers are magic in our house- I can put almost anything on a stick, grill it, and my guys are entertained, but this recipe is a hands down top favorite because it is so delicious. It’s nice because you can add or subtract ingredients according to personal preference. The chicken only needs to marinate for about 30 minutes so it is really quick to assemble. If a grill or grill pan aren’t available, the broiler in the oven will do perfectly well. For a backyard cookout this is a perfect dish and can be put together early to grill when guests are hungry. We made a sweet and hot dipping sauce, and served the skewers with brown rice, sliced green onions and peanuts.  How do you say “Yum” in Chinese?

Grilled Kung Pao Chicken on Skewers

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¼ cup soy sauce

¼ cup brown sugar

2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar

3 Tbsp Sherry or mirin

2 Tbsp sriracha (hot chili sauce) – more or less to taste

2 tsp sesame oil

1 Tbsp minced ginger

2 cloves minced garlic

1-½ lb chicken breasts cut in 1 to 1 ½ pieces

1 red pepper cut in 1- 2-inch piece

1 onion cut in 1 -2 inch pieces

2 cups cubed fresh pineapple

Whole mushrooms (optional – grilled separate skewers)


Combine first eight ingredients, soy sauce through ginger in a large bowl or baggie

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Add chicken and marinate for 30 minutes.

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If you are using wooden skewers, make sure to soak them in water for 30 minutes.

Preheat grill or broiler.

Thread skewers with chicken, peppers, onions, pineapple and mushrooms (if desired)

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Grill, turning occasionally, until chicken is firm to the touch - about 10 minutes.

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Serve with rice, sliced green onions, and peanuts.

We made a sweet/hot dipping sauce with equal parts soy sauce, brown sugar, rice vinegar, and sriracha. 

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