Everyone likes a good Asian takeout. But, for the curious home cooks out there, being able to recreate their favorite takeout dish is quite an achievement. This Kung Pao Noodles recipe with Char Siu comes close to being even better than takeout.
Kung Pao Noodles and Char Siu are basically two separate dishes. While they’re absolutely delicious on their own, they’re even better together. Char Siu is a Chinese BBQ Pork that is often paired with noodles, rice, or stir-fry. On the other hand, Kung Pao Noodles can be eaten with chicken, meat, or just the basic recipe as a vegetarian option. Kung Pao spaghetti is very easy to make which is why I feel like it deserves a meat dish that is more elaborate and special. While Char Siu is more labor-intensive, it’s anything but hard.
How to Make this Kung Pao Noodles Recipe
Kung Pao Noodles or Kung Pao spaghetti is very easy to make. You first start by mixing the sauce. Like any good Asian recipe, this Kung Pao Noodles recipe also features some of the staples of Asian condiments, like soy sauce.
What is Kung Pao Sauce Made Of?
Kung Pao sauce consists of:
- Soy sauce
- Chili paste
- Rice vinegar
It’s important to note that this recipe asks for light or all-purpose soy sauce. There is a big difference between light and dark soy sauce. Dark soy sauce has a much bolder taste and will darken your noodles. But, light soy sauce has a lower sodium percentage and won’t color your noodles.
So, now the question is: “Can you substitute light soy sauce for dark soy sauce”.
Short answer, no! Swapping light soy sauce for dark soy sauce will impact the taste and look of your dish. However, if you’re a confident cook then you may be able to accurately tweak the amount you use of dark soy sauce so that the dish doesn’t end up too salty.
I recommend gradually adding the dark soy sauce and taste as you go. The noodles will get a more dark color but that shouldn’t be much of a problem, as long as the taste remains similar.
The fun part of making Kung Pao noodles is the tossing. I’m not much of a toss expert, but mixing doesn’t work as well when using noodles. Egg noodles tend to be stickier making it difficult to mix. Tossing instead works much easier and is better for mixing all the ingredients and coating the noodles with the sauce.
What is the difference between Szechuan and Kung Pao?
Szechuan is a Chinese-style cuisine for the region of Sichuan, China. Kung Pao, in turn, is a dish that is part of the Szechuan cuisine. There are differences in flavor and cooking technique between these two. Kung Pao’s taste is sweet and spicy, while Szechuan has a stronger and bolder taste.
So, what does the Kung Pao style mean? Well, Kung Pao uses a stir-fry method and features vegetables, nuts, and Szechuan peppers.
How to Make Char Siu
Char Siu is a traditional Chinese dish with a deep red color. Traditionally Char Siu is made with fermented red bean curds which are red and, in turn, is what makes Chinese pork red. Fermented red bean curds aren’t something you’ll just find in the supermarket aisle though. Instead, you can use red food coloring to make it red. However, I’m not a fan of adding chemical coloring just for the sake of it. The taste what it’s all about, not the color!
Char Siu Sauce from Scratch
Char Siu consists of a combination of Asian condiments that gives it its sweet and salty flavor. A few important ingredients are:
- Hoisin sauce: The Hoisin sauce has a thicker consistency which, of course, thickens the sauce as well. The taste is both sweet and savory with a hint of Chinese five-spice.
- Oyster sauce: This ingredient is what makes this recipe the best Char Siu recipe ever. While traditional recipes won’t often call for Oyster sauce, I do think it’s what gives this dish the umami flavor. It’s salty but more like seawater saltiness. It has only a hunch of sweetness to counterbalance. And, even though it’s a fish-based sauce it barely has a fishy taste.
- (Dark) soy sauce: Many recipes will only ask for light soy sauce because dark soy sauce tends to be much stronger and will color the meat. However, that added saltiness is amazing and it helps with the caramelization.
- Chinese five-spice powder: It’s a typical Chinese spice blend that can be found in most supermarkets. Making it yourself is hard since Szechuan peppercorns can be hard to find.
Roasting Char Siu
For optimal flavor, marinate your pork and let it sit for at least 12 hours before roasting it. Then baste it every 10 minutes with the sauce so it gets a nice glaze and even more flavor.
Very important, you want it perfectly medium-well to get it juicy and tender. Use an instant thermometer for more preciseness. The internal temperature needs to be 150°F/65°.
What Pork Cut to Use
Pork Neck is what is often used for making Chinese BBQ pork. It’s the one I’ve used for this recipe. Pork Shoulder or Pork Belly is also a good option, although Pork Belly has a more fatty taste. For this recipe, I decided to combine two cuts, Pork Collar and Belly, to provide a variation in the dish. Both bring a different texture which makes the dish even more interesting.
If you want to use Pork Tenderloin, then be careful not to overcook it as it takes less time to cook tenderloin.
In this blog post, I gave a full breakdown of how to make Char Siu from scratch.
Kung Pao Noodle or Kung Pao Spaghetti
Kung Pao noodles and spaghetti are pretty much the same things. The only difference is that one is made with Asian egg noodles while the other one is made with Italian-style spaghetti.
Is there a difference in taste? Yes, there is a difference in both taste and texture.
Does it really matter? For most people, no.
But, anyone who takes their cooking seriously knows that ingredients matter. Sometimes the slightest change is what will take a dish to the next level. So, my advice is to use noodles whenever possible. However, if you just want a weekday recipe then feel free to swap the noodles for spaghetti.
If you’re trying something new, experimenting, or serving this dish to guests, then please stick to the noodles. You really want the real deal to experience the depth of this dish.
Kung Pao Noodles Recipe with Char Siu
- Roasting Pan
- Basting Brush/Spoon
- Garlic Presser (optional)
For the Char Siu
- 1 lb (½ kg) pork belly strips
- 1 lb (½ kg) pork collar boneless in two pieces
- ¼ tsp. ginger peeled and finely grated or minced
- 2 cloves garlic pressed or finely minced
- 3 tbsp. hoisin sauce
- 1 tbsp. oyster sauce
- ½ tbsp. soy sauce
- ½ tbsp. dark soy sauce
- 2 tbsp. sesame oil
- 1 tsp. Chinese five-spice powder
- 3 tbsp. brown sugar
- 6 tbsp. runny honey
For the Noodles
- 1 lb. (530 gr) egg noodles
- 1 tsp. ginger peeled and minced
- ½ cup (120 ml) soy sauce
- 3 tbsp. sugar
- 1 tbsp. chili paste or to taste
- 4 tbsp. rice vinegar
- 2 tbsp. sesame oil
- ¾ cup (65 gr) carrots shredded or julienne
- 1 red bell pepper in slices
- 1 bunch green onion sliced lengthwise
- ¼ cup (40 gr) peanuts
- Green onions sliced to garnish
- In a bowl, mix the ginger, garlic, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, dark soy sauce, sesame oil, Chinese five-spice powder, 2 tbsp. brown sugar, and 4 tbsp. of runny honey. Place the pork in a bowl or Ziploc bag. Add the marinade and close or cover it. Let it sit in the fridge for at least 3 hours but ideally overnight.
- Take the pork out of the fridge. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
- In the meantime make the sauce of the noodle. Take a bowl and mix the ginger, soy sauce, sugar, chili paste, and rice vinegar. Put aside.
- Take the roasting pan, fill it with boiling water but don’t let it touch the pork. Place the pork on the roasting rack and place it in the middle rack of the oven.
- As soon as you put the pork in the oven make the sauce for basting. Pour the remaining marinade into a saucepan. Add 2 tbsp. of honey and 1 tbsp. of brown sugar and let it simmer until the sauce thickens (3-5 minutes). Baste every 10 minutes with the sauce and roast for a total of 30 minutes (internal temperature: 150°F/65°C). Cover and let it sit.
- Boil the noodles according to the package and strain when done.
- In the meantime, take a wok pan and heat the sesame oil over medium heat. Add the carrots and bell pepper and cook them for about 3-5 minutes to soften the veggies. Add the egg noodles and sauce to the pan and toss them around. Coat them well. Keep tossing for about 5 minutes. Add the green onion and peanuts. Give it one final toss.
- Add some noodles to a shallow plate. Slice the pork and place each type on one side. Garnish with green onion.