This Asian meatballs recipe is sweet and spicy and so much better than takeout! Featuring ground chicken, spices, and sauces that come together to create a delicious Kung Pao-inspired flavor.
I love takeout as much as the next person. There’s something really satisfying about placing my order and waiting for it to show up on my doorstep. But, now that we live out in the country, take away is not as easy as it used to be living in a big city. One of my favorite things to do in the kitchen is to recreate my favorite restaurant meals at home! Not only is it a lot more affordable most of the time, but I also take comfort in knowing exactly what’s in the food I’m eating.
Recipes like sticky chicken, moo shu pork, hibachi fried rice, and honey garlic shrimp are just a few in my better-than-takeout lineup. Today I’m adding to it with this Kung Pao-inspired Asian meatballs recipe! Guys…you won’t believe how delicious it is.
I start with ground chicken, chili paste, soy sauce, and the secret (and unexpected!) ingredient: peanut butter. Trust me on this one — you won’t want to skip it. You’ll also find peanuts in the stir fry, and I add a homemade Kung Pao sauce. In short, these Asian meatballs are flavorful, unique, and ready in 35 minutes. Better than takeout? I’d say so!
INGREDIENT NOTES AND SUBSTITUTIONS
- Ground Chicken - You could use any ground meat of your choice for the Asian chicken meatballs. Ground turkey, beef, and pork are good substitutes. I chose chicken to represent the flavors of the authentic dish.
- Peanut Butter - Yes, I add PB to my Asian meatballs. While it may seem like an odd choice, it’s a must for that distinct Kung Pao flavor.
- Chili Paste - There are plenty of chile pastes to choose from. Feel free to use whatever you have on hand. I like to use organic sambal oelek chili paste for my Kung Pao meatballs because the flavor doesn’t overpower the other ingredients.
- Soy Sauce - A must for most Asian-inspired recipes. You’ll need it in the meatballs and sauce.
- Chinese Shaoxing Rice Wine - For more added flavor. If you don’t want to use alcohol at all, you can leave it out without it affecting the flavor of the dish.
- Panko - I like using Panko as a binder instead of another type of breadcrumb to keep things authentic.
- Rice Wine Vinegar - For the sauce. If you can’t find any, apple cider vinegar or red wine vinegar is a good substitute.
- Sugar - Where most of the sweetness comes from! You’ll use it in the sauce.
- Cornstarch - This ingredient works as a thickening agent for the Kung Pao sauce. You don’t need a lot of it, just one teaspoon.
- Peanuts - Whole (shelled) peanuts work alongside the peanut butter in the Kung Pao meatballs. You’ll toast them in oil to bring out their flavor.
- Red Chiles - You need dried red chiles to add to the stir fry portion of this recipe.
- Green Onions - For added freshness, use them in the stir fry.
- Garlic - One of the flavor bases for the Kung Pao meatballs sauce.
- Oil - Use a vegetable oil of your choice to fry the peanuts, garlic, green onions, and red chiles.
Course: Main Dish
Names/Spellings: Kung pao, kung bo, gong bao, gongbao
Difficulty: Easy 🥄
By its very definition, kung pao dishes are fried, but that isn’t the case here; the spicy Chinese meatballs are baked in the oven
This recipe includes all of the components you’d expect in a restaurant version; tender chicken, crunchy peanuts, dried Chinese red peppers and a coating of sweet sauce.
The biggest differences are that this recipe features ground chicken meatballs rather than pieces of breast or thigh meat. Also, this dish is much lower in sugar. For extra flavor, there’s creamy peanut butter and chili paste in the meatball mixture.
HOW TO MAKE KUNG PAO ASIAN MEATBALLS
1. Make The Meatballs. Before you get started, preheat your oven to 450 degrees F. As it heats, mix the ground meat, peanut butter, chili paste, soy sauce, rice wine, and breadcrumbs together in a bowl. Using your hands, form 20 meatballs and place them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake the Asian meatballs for 15 minutes.
2. Start The Sauce. While your meatballs bake, it’s time to whip up the Kung Pao sauce! Whisk together water, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and cornstarch in a small bowl and set aside.
3. Stir Fry The Rest. Heat the oil in a hot skillet or a wok. Stir fry the peanuts and dried red chiles for 1 minute, then add the green onions and garlic. Toss to mix and cook for another minute. Add the Kung Pao sauce and toss again, then cook for 2 more minutes until the mixture thickens.
4. Add The Asian Meatballs. Place the meatballs into the sauce and toss to coat them. Allow to cook for a few minutes, then serve your Kung Pao meatballs immediately!
You could eat them if you wanted to, but spicy dried chiles don’t taste good. Actually, they are meant to add flavor to the other ingredients during cooking. The reason they’re left in the final dish is for appearance more than anything else.
Yes, spicy Asian chicken meatballs freeze beautifully, either baked or unbaked. Just be sure to let them cool completely before you place them into a freezer storage bag or other freezer-safe container. This helps prevent ice crystals from forming on them.
Kung Pao sauce is made up of two flavor layers: the first is dried chiles, garlic, and green onions. The second is soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and sugar. The peanuts in my version are an extra bonus!
Kung Pao sauce has a distinct sweet and savory flavor! This is thanks to the combination of dried red chiles and sugar. It has quite a strong flavor, and it compliments the Asian meatballs perfectly.
Kung Pao isn’t a person or a place, but rather a way of preparing food. When something is “Kung Pao,” it means that it has been stir-fried (or deep fried) in a spicy and sweet sauce and peanuts.
This post, originally published on Silk Road Recipes July, 2021, was updated with new content, photos and/or video in September, 2022.
Kung Pao Asian Meatballs Recipe
- 1 lb ground chicken See Note 1
- 2 tablespoon peanut butter
- 1 tablespoon chili paste See Note 2
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Chinese Shaoxing rice wine See Note 3
- ½ cup Panko breadcrumbs
- ¼ cup water
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar See Note 4
- 3 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon oil
- ½ cup peanuts shelled
- 10 dried red chiles
- 4 green onions cut into 1" pieces
- 1 garlic clove minced
- Preheat oven to 450°F.
- In a bowl, mix together the ground meat, peanut butter, chili paste, soy sauce, rice wine and breadcrumbs. Form into 20 meatballs and place on a parchment lined baking sheet with sides.
- Bake for 15 minutes.
Kung Pao Sauce
- In a small bowl whisk together the water, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and cornstarch. Set aside.
- In a hot skillet or wok add the oil and stir fry the peanuts and dried chiles for a minute. Add the green onions and garlic and toss to mix, cooking for a minute. Add the sauce mixture and quickly toss, cooking for 2 minutes until thickened. If too thick, thin with a little chicken stock (optional).
- Add the meatballs and toss to coat, heating through. Serve immediately.
- Feel free to substitute ground turkey.
- I use a ground chili paste Sambal Oelek.
- If you can’t find Chinese rice wine, dry sherry or sake may be substituted.
- Red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar may be substituted for the rice wine vinegar.
*The information shown below is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist's advice.