We are unabashed lovers of Chinese takeout but sometimes I like to recreate the experience by making Chinese recipes at home. Without a doubt, one of the dishes that has a special place in my heart is Szechuan chicken so you know I had to try my hand at perfecting my own version.
Szechuan chicken is a spicy dish that originated in the Sichuan Province of China. What gives the authentic dish its irresistible spicy flavor is Sichuan peppercorns. But, spoiler alert — those can be challenging to find in some places.
So, I went on a quest to create a recipe that still channels all of that spicy goodness but is also accessible. After many taste tests, this one, which harnesses the heat of both spicy peppers and chili garlic sauce, made the cut.
There’s A Lot To Love About This Szechuan Chicken Recipe
There may be no shortage of Szechuan chicken recipes out there, but there are a few reasons to make this version.
- It’s Ridiculously Easy. With many ingredients that are already prepared, this recipe is a cinch to toss together quickly.
- Ingredients are Accessible. Instead of trying to source hard-to-find Sichuan peppercorns, you can follow this recipe that makes simple substitutions that are much easier to find at most grocery stores.
- Meal Prep Worthy. Since it will stay fresh in the fridge for days, it’s an easy meal to make and reheat, saving you time in the kitchen all week long.
- You Can Customize. If your family’s or guests’ palates aren’t as pleased by spiciness, you can tone down the heat easily in this simple dish. Or, if you like more of a kick of heat, you can kick it up a notch by adding more peppers or chili garlic sauce.
What is in Szechuan Chicken?
With such simple ingredients, you can make this meal in no time.
- Low-Sodium Soy Sauce – Using a low-sodium sauce lets you better control the saltiness of the Szechuan sauce. If you prefer for it to be more salty, you can add more salt after combining the ingredients. Be sure to check the label if you’re trying to make your sauce gluten-free.
- Black Vinegar or Rice Vinegar – Either of these types of vinegar will balance the sauce with its acidity. Black vinegar adds another layer of umami flavor, but since it can be challenging to find, you can substitute rice vinegar instead.
- Brown Sugar – You can use either light or dark brown sugar. Dark brown sugar will give the sauce a more molasses-style flavor.
- Fresh Garlic – You can either mince or grate the garlic but be sure that it’s in very small pieces so that it combines well with the other ingredients.
- Crushed Red Pepper Flakes – Red pepper gives the sauce its spiciness. You may want to adjust based on your palate, and if you’re using the peppercorns.
- Sichuan Peppercorns – While optional, these peppercorns give the sauce its signature flavor. They also are quite polarizing in terms of who likes them. This ingredient offers what is often referred to a tongue numbness, which doesn’t sound pleasant, but is (for those who like it). It might be challenging for little kids and isn’t spicy, but unique in tingliniess.
- Cornstarch – Cornstarch is used in this recipe to thicken the sauce and also to coat the chicken pieces.
- Salt and pepper – I like to use fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- Chicken – I used boneless skinless chicken breasts. Make sure to trim the fat and cut into one inch pieces.
- Vegetable oil – While I prefer to use vegetable oil for this recipe you can use any neutrally flavored oil. Or, for nutty flavor, try sesame oil.
- Vegetables – You can use pretty much any stir fry veggies you like, but I used a white onion, red bell pepper, green bell pepper and sugar snap peas.
- Dried red chiles – These add a little extra spice and flavor to the dish. You can omit if you want a milder flavor.
- Garlic – I always prefer to use fresh garlic rather than the jarred stuff. Fresh garlic packs a much stronger flavor punch.
- Fresh ginger – Ginger adds a bit of warmth and earthiness to the dish.
How to Make Szechuan Chicken
This recipe is so simple you’ll want to spice up dinnertime with this dish on the regular.
- Make sauce. In a small saucepan, whisk together the soy sauce, vinegar, brown sugar, garlic and crushed red pepper. Heat over low heat until small bubbles form.
- Thicken with slurry. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and water. Whisk into the hot sauce until fully combined and no lumps remain.
- Set aside. Remove from the heat until ready to use.
- Toss chicken. In a large mixing bowl, combine the cornstarch, salt and pepper until mixed. Add the chicken, tossing to coat. Remove chicken, tapping off excess cornstarch.
- Cook chicken. In a large skillet, heat vegetable oil over medium heat. Working in batches, add the chicken to the hot oil, browning on all sides and cooking thoroughly.
- Cook veggies. In a very large skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. When hot, add the onions, red pepper and green peppers. Add the sugar snap peas and red chiles, if using, and Sichuan peppercorns. Finally, add the garlic and ginger.
- Combine chicken, veggies and sauce. Add the chicken back to the mixture, along with the sauce. Toss to coat evenly and heat.
- Serve over rice. When fully heated and coated, serve over rice.
What are Sichuan Peppercorns?
Sichuan peppercorns, also known as Szechuan peppercorns, are a spice native to the Sichuan province of China. Despite their name, they are not true peppercorns; rather, they are the dried husks of the prickly ash tree’s seed pods. These husks have a unique flavor profile characterized by a citrusy, floral aroma with a numbing sensation on the tongue, often described as “tingly” or “electric.”
In Sichuan cuisine, these peppercorns are a fundamental ingredient and are used in many dishes, including the famous Sichuan hot pot and mapo tofu. They are also commonly used in other Chinese regional cuisines and are gaining popularity in international cooking for their distinctive flavor.
What to Serve With Szechuan Chicken
While I like to serve this chicken with brown rice, you can also serve it with fried rice, chile garlic potatoes, or over noodles — we love sesame soba noodles in our house. And if you’re looking for a low-carb option, cauliflower rice is a great pairing, too.
Or, you can skip the starches or starch substitutes and opt for veggies. If you want to keep things hot, try spicy green beans — or for a side that’s a little more mild, try marinated green beans. We also like red cabbage slaw, stir-fried vegetables, or a simple side salad dressed with ginger Asian salad dressing.
Want to change up this szechuan chicken to fit your tastes? Here are a few suggestions we love.
- Nuts – Add cashews, peanuts, or other nuts to the dish for a crunchy texture and nutty flavor.
- Tofu – Substitute tofu for the chicken for a vegetarian version. Press and cube the tofu, then stir-fry until golden brown before adding the sauce.
- Proteins – Use cooked shrimp, pork, or beef instead of chicken.
- Lettuce Wraps – Instead of serving over rice, use the Szechuan chicken as a filling for lettuce wraps.
- Peppers – Experiment with other peppers that may mimic the flavor of Szechuan peppercorns.
- Chicken – Instead of the chicken strips, use the meat from leftover chicken thighs or rotisserie chicken.
- Garnish – For a bit of color, you can garnish with green onions. You can also amplify the heat by adding a sprinkle of diced chili peppers.
- Acidity – To provide a bit of contrast, toss in a splash of rice wine vinegar.
- Doubanjiang – This spicy bean paste is incorporated into lots of Sichuan meals. Experiment with adding it to your Sichuan chicken.
Storage and Freezing
Szechuan chicken is a great spicy meal to keep on hand. Just whip it up over the weekend and reheat it during the week.
You can make the sauce ahead of time and just store it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to combine it with the other ingredients.
How to Store Szechuan Chicken
Refrigerate Szechuan chicken for 3-5 days in an airtight container. You can reheat leftovers on the stove or in the microwave.
How to Freeze Szechuan Chicken
Freeze Szechuan chicken for up to 3 months in a resealable freezer bag or freezer-safe container.
Common Questions About Szechuan Chicken
First, Szechuan chicken is an authentic Chinese dish while General Tso’s chicken is more of a Chinese-American invention. Also, General Tso’s chicken tends to be deep-fried and incorporates sugar. Szechuan chicken, when made authentically, incorporates Sichuan peppercorns specifically.
Szechuan may have some elements of sweetness but is also spicy thanks to the Sichuan peppercorns.
Hunan beef tends to be spicier than Szechuan beef, but both are customizable.
More Asian-Inspired Meals
While takeout is easy, making your favorite Asian-inspired meals at home is almost always more delicious. Here are some of our favorites.
Szechuan Chicken Recipe
For the Sauce:
- In a small saucepan, whisk together the soy sauce, vinegar, brown sugar, garlic and crushed red pepper. Heat over low heat until small bubbles form.
- In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and water. Whisk into the hot sauce until fully combined and no lumps remain. Continue to heat for another 2-3 minutes or until the sauce starts to thicken and becomes glossy.
- Remove from the heat until ready to use.
For the Chicken:
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the cornstarch, salt and pepper until mixed. Add the chicken, tossing to coat. Remove chicken, tapping off excess cornstarch. Allow to sit on a plate for 10-20 minutes at room temperature.
- In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil over medium heat. Working in batches, add the chicken to the hot oil, browning on all sides and cooking thoroughly. Using a slotted spoon, remove to a paper towel lined plate and continue with the rest of the chicken. You will only need all 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil if you use a full 2 pounds of chicken. For 1 pound, you’ll only need 2 batches and 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. When all of the chicken is browned, set aside.
For the Stir Fry:
- In a very large skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. When hot, add the onions, red pepper and green peppers. Saute for 3-4 minutes until they start to soften, but still have structure. Add the sugar snap peas and red chiles, if using, and Sichuan peppercorns. Saute for another 1 minute. Add the garlic and ginger, sauteing for another 1-2 minutes.
- Add the chicken back to the mixture, along with the sauce. Toss to coat evenly and heat for 2-3 minutes.
- When fully heated and coated, serve the chicken and stir-fry over rice.
- If you've tried this recipe, come back and let us know how it was in the comments or star ratings.