Black Pepper Chicken

Black Pepper Chicken inspired by Panda Express will have you skipping the takeout forever!

Forget about take-out because this Chinese inspired Black Pepper Chicken is healthier, tastes sensational and takes less time to make than running to your favorite restaurant! This Pepper Chicken is chock full of crunchy chicken, crisp-tender veggies and nutty peanuts coated in a sticky, sweet and peppery garlic stir fry sauce.  The chicken is pan fried in minimal oil (but still emerges crazy crispy!) and is amenable to whatever veggies you like.  Enjoy this Black Pepper Chicken with rice or low carb cauliflower rice and if you’re feeling even more gourmet, add a side of Ramen Noodle Salad and homemade egg rolls!

We are huge fans of Chinese chicken copycat recipes around here – and so are our readers!  Don’t miss reader favorites including Honey Sesame Chicken, General Tso’s Chicken, Orange ChickenMongolian ChickenChicken and Broccoli Stir Fry, Sweet Fire ChickenChicken Stir Fry and Kung Pao Chicken.

HOW TO MAKE black pepper chicken VIDEO

top view of Panda Express Black Pepper Chicken served with rice

ingredents for chinese black pepper chicken

This Black Pepper Chicken recipe is made with pantry friendly ingredients if you do much Asian cooking – which means it can be whipped up any time!  That being said, there are quite a few ingredients, but remember they are just being whisked together or quickly stir fried – so please don’t be intimidated.

The ingredients can be broken into three sections:

  • Chicken
  • Stir fry sauce
  • Stir fry vegetables

Let’s take a closer look at what you’ll need (full measurements in the recipe card at the bottom of the post):

FOR THE CHICKEN

  • Chicken:  1 ½ pounds chicken breasts or thighs cut into 1-inch pieces.  Chicken thighs are inherently juicer and more tender so I recommend those over breasts because we are not marinating the chicken.
  • Flour:  I use all-purpose flour but I’m sure gluten free flour, almond flour, etc. would also work.  The flour creates the base of the flavorful coating that insulates the chicken from high heat, ensuring every bite is juicy tender and forms a crispy, flavorful crust for the sauce to soak into. 
  • Cornstarch: This is combined with the flour to create the light breading. The cornstarch is the key to crispy chicken because it absorbs moisture and prevents gluten development, which makes the coating crispier!
  • Egg:  Two eggs are combined with the chicken to create a glue to bind the chicken and breading together.
  • Seasonings:  Salt, garlic powder, onion powder, ginger powder, paprika, and pepper are added to the cornstarch and flour to create a dynamically flavorful crust – you’ll want to devour the chicken plain!
  • Oil:  You’ll need a neutral oil such as canola, vegetable or peanut oil to pan fry the chicken. Please don’t use olive oil because it has a strong flavor which will distract from the Black Pepper Chicken.

FOR THE STIR FRY

  • Onion:  Half of a yellow onion chopped into 1/2-inch pieces will do the trick.  You may also substitute with ½ teaspoon onion powder mixed right into the stir fry sauce.
  • Bell peppers:  You can swap in any desired veggies but I love the sweetness of the bell peppers alongside the peppery chicken. 
  • Celery:  Again, you can swap in any desired veggies, but celery adds a delightful fresh crunch.  Chop the celery into ½-inch thick slices so they remain crisp tender.
  • Peanuts:  The peanuts are optional, but I love the nutty crunchy they add.  You must use unsalted peanuts otherwise your Black Pepper Chicken will be way too salty!  I typically pick them up at the bulk bins at Sprouts.
  • Garlic:  This recipe calls for 6 cloves of garlic but you are welcome to use less if you don’t love garlic. If you are in a bind, you can add 1 teaspoon garlic powder to the sauce, but fresh is so much better!
  • Ginger:  One tablespoon freshly grated ginger adds another spicy, zingy depth to the sauce.  You may substitute with 1 teaspoon ginger powder added directly to the sauce.

FOR THE BLack Pepper STIR FRY SAUCE

  • Pepper:  Freshly ground pepper is more flavorful than pepper sold ground, but you may substitute if needed.  Take note that ground is finely ground and not coarsely ground or “cracked” which is larger.  If you only have coarsely ground, you will want to add more to taste.  
  • Soy sauce: Use low sodium soy sauce so your recipe isn’t too salty.  The sauce grounds the sauce with its salty depth.
  • Oyster sauce:  Oyster sauce is the base of almost ever stir fry sauce and bumps up the savory umami character.  Oyster sauce is a thick, brown sauce with a balance between sweet and salty with an earthy undertone.  You can find oyster sauce in the Asian aisle of any supermarket for only a few dollars.  Please use QUALITY oyster sauce such as Lee Kum Kee or Kikkoman.  You truly can taste the difference and will be sorely disappointed with less quality brands.
  • Chicken broth:  Use low sodium chicken broth otherwise the dish may be too salty. You can also use vegetable broth but chicken broth is more flavorful. Please DO NOT use water as I’ve tried this and will leave you with sad, wanting results.
  • Honey:  The sweetness of the honey balances the umami of the soy and oyster sauce. You may also substitute with granulated sugar.  Use more or less to taste.
  • Rice wine:  I use “Kikkoman Aji-Mirin: Sweet Cooking Rice Seasoning” which is commonly found in the Asian section of most grocery stores or you can Amazon it. I highly suggest you google image before you head off to the grocery store so you know exactly what you are looking for.  The best substitute for rice wine is pale dry sherry. Do NOT substitute rice wine with rice vinegar, they are NOT the same.  Rice vinegar will add an acidic flavor without the sweetness.
  • Sesame oil:  Please use toasted sesame oil.  Toasted sesame oil boasts a strong nutty aroma and flavor and underscores the nuttiness of the peanuts.
  • Asian chili sauce:  If you don’t want a spicy stir fry and just a peppery heat, then omit the Asian chili sauce, but I prefer both for a more complex heat.  The chili sauce adds flavor, depth and is completely customizable.  I use Sambal Oelek with the green lid but you can also use your favorite chili sauce such as sriracha.
  • Cornstarch: Helps thicken the sauce to a glossy, sticky consistency.
  • Spices:  The recipe calls for ½ teaspoon yellow curry powder for another layer of deep, earthy flavor. If you don’t keep it stocked, just skip it.
  • Szechuan Peppercorn:   You will need ground Szechuan peppercorn for this recipe. It can be found on Amazon (my fav!) at most Asian markets (call first) spice stores, or sometimes specialty stores like Whole Foods and Sprouts. Be aware that Szechuan Peppercorn can be sold under different names: dried peppercorn, dried prickly ash, dehydrated prickly ash, Indonesian lemon pepper, flower pepper, or hua jiao. 
scooping up Panda Express black pepper chicken by scooping up with a serving spoon

HOW TO MAKE BLACK PEPPER CHICKEN

This Black Pepper Chicken comes together quickly even though there are a few steps: 1) toast the peanuts, 2) bread the chicken, 3) cook the chicken, 4) simmer the sauce, 5) toss the chicken with the sauce.  Let’s take a closer look at how to make the stir fry (full recipe in the recipe card at the bottom of the post or watch the HOW TO VIDEO):

  • Step 1:  Make the Black Pepper Stir Fry Sauce.  Whisk together all of the stir fry sauce ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside.    
showing how to make Black Pepper Chicken by whisking together soy sauce, oyster sauce and ground pepper to make black pepper sauce
  • Step 2:  Toast the peanuts.  Toast the peanuts a dry, large nonstick skillet over medium heat until toasted golden in spots, stirring a few times.
  • Step 3:  Bread the chicken.  This is the absolute quickest breaded chicken you will ever make!  First, combine the chopped chicken and eggs in a freezer bag and turn to coat.  Second, add the flour, cornstarch, and seasonings to a separate large freezer bag.  Remove chicken from the eggs, dab off any excess and add the chicken to the flour bag. Give it a good shake and all your chicken will be coated in minutes – without any gummy hands!
showing how to make black pepper chicken by breading chicken in eggs then flour
  • Step 4:  Lightly pan fry the chicken.  Even though this method uses minimal oil, you will be amazed at how crispy it gets!  Simply heat some oil in a nonstick skillet and cook the chicken in two batches until it’s golden and cooked through.
showing how to make black pepper chicken by cooking chicken in a skillet

  • Step 5:  Stir fry vegetables and aromatics. Stir fry the onions, bell peppers and celery until crisp tender, then add the garlic and ginger  and sauté for 30 seconds.
showing how to make Black Pepper Chicken by stir frying bell peppers and celery
  • Step 6:  Combine.  Add the stir fry sauce and simmer until thickened, about 1-2 minutes, then stir in the peanuts and chicken until evenly coated. Serve immediately with rice!
showing how to make Black Pepper Chicken by adding pepper chicken to stir fry sauce in a skillet
  • Customize the Black Pepper Stir Fry Sauce: The sauce is perfect for us, but you may find you like it sweeter, tangier, or spicier.  Taste the sauce after it has simmered and the flavors have concentrated, then adjust how you like.  Sweeten it up with honey or sugar, make it tangier with rice vinegar or more peppery with additional freshly ground pepper.
  • Swap the vegetables: You can swap the bell peppers and celery for other veggies such as carrots, broccoli, snow peas, mushrooms, etc.  Water chestnuts would also be tasty.
  • Cashews:  Swap the peanuts for cashews.
  • Spicy or Mild Chinese Black Pepper Chicken:  Keep the Black Pepper Chicken mild by omitting the chili sauce or add up to 1 tablespoon Asian chili sauce or 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes for spicier pepper chicken.
  • Stir Fried Pepper Chicken:  I highly recommend “velveting” the chicken if stir frying to create extra juicy, tender “velvety” chicken.  Skip the breading and instead toss the chicken with 2 tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce, 2 tablespoons cornstarch, 1 tablespoon rice wine and 1 teaspoon baking soda in a large freezer bag or bowl along with the same seasonings. Let the chicken rest for 15-30 minutes (no more or it can become mushy) before stir frying in a nonstick skillet.
  • Crispy Deep Fried Pepper Chicken: Add enough vegetable oil to a Dutch oven or frying pan so it reaches 1-inch up the sides.  Heat the oil to medium-high heat, between 350- and 375-degrees F.  Once very hot, add the chicken in batches and cook until golden and cooked through, about 2-3 minutes.  Remove to a paper towel lined plate to drain.
  • Baked Pepper Chicken:  Swap the cornstarch with an equal amount of flour in the breading for a total of 1 cup flour. Line a baking sheet with foil and lightly spray with cooking spray for easy cleanup.  Let the baking sheet preheat in the oven so it’s nice and hot before adding the chicken.  Carefully line the chicken in an even layer on the hot baking sheet and spray generously with cooking spray. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes then move the baking sheet about 8″ away from broiler and broil until crispy, watching closely so the chicken doesn’t burn (about 2-4 minutes). Flip chicken pieces over and broil another 2-3 minutes, or until crispy if desired
  • Gluten Free Black Pepper Chicken:  Use gluten free flour, gluten free soy sauce or tamari, and gluten free oyster sauce.
  • To make it vegan: Try out cubed tofu!  Place firm tofu in a pie plate, top with a heavy plate and weigh down with 2 heavy cans (to release water). Set aside for 10 minutes, then chop into 1-inch cubes before breading. Swap the chicken broth for vegetable broth and the oyster sauce for Lee Kum Kee Vegetarian Stir-Fry Sauce.
top view showing how to serve black pepper chicken by adding to a bowl of rice and topping with green onions
up closer of Panda Express Black Pepper Chicken by showing how crunchy it is
showing how to make Chinese black pepper chicken by adding to a bowl of rice

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top view showing how to serve black pepper chicken by adding to a bowl of rice and topping with green onions

Black Pepper Chicken

This Chinese inspired Black Pepper Chicken is healthier, tastes sensational and takes less time to make than running to your favorite restaurant! This Pepper Chicken is chock full of crunchy chicken, crisp-tender veggies and nutty peanuts coated in a sticky, sweet and peppery garlic stir fry sauce.  The chicken is pan fried in minimal oil (but still emerges crazy crispy!) and is amenable to whatever veggies you like.  Enjoy this Black Pepper Chicken with rice or low carb cauliflower rice and if you’re feeling even more gourmet, add a side of Ramen Noodle Salad and homemade egg rolls!
Servings: 6 servings
Total Time: 38 mins
Prep Time: 20 mins
Cook Time: 18 mins

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Ingredients

CHICKEN AND BREADING

  • 1 ½ lbs. chicken breasts or thighs cut into 1″ pieces
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp EACH ground ginger, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, salt, pepper
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable, canola or peanut oil

BLACK PEPPER STIR FRY SAUCE

STIR FRY

  • 3/4 cup UNSALTED peanuts (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable, canola or peanut oil
  • 1/2 yellow onion, 1/2-inch chop
  • 1 red bell pepper, 1-inch chop
  • 1 orange bell pepper, 1-inch chop
  • 3 stalks celery, ½ inch chop
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger (may sub 1 tsp ground)
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced (may sub 1 tsp powder)

For serving

  • rice
  • green onions, optional for garnish

Instructions

  • TOAST PEANUTS: Toast the peanuts in a dry, large nonstick skillet over medium heat until toasted golden in spots, stirring a few times; remove from the skillet.
  • MAKE SAUCE: Whisk the Stir Fry Sauce ingredients together in a medium bowl until the cornstarch is completely dissolved; set aside. You can start with less pepper and chili sauce and add more to taste.
  • BREAD CHICKEN: Combine chicken and eggs in a freezer bag and turn to coat. In a separate large freezer bag, combine flour, cornstarch, and seasonings. Remove half of the chicken, dab off excess egg with paper towels and add to flour bag. Shake chicken until well coated, pressing coating into chicken from outside of the bag (or you can open the bag and use your hands). Remove chicken and repeat.
  • COOK CHICKEN: Heat 3 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat in a NONSTICK skillet (you may use less oil but it will be less crispy or more oil for more crispy). Working in two batches, shake off excess breading from chicken and add to the hot skillet in a single layer. Cook for about 4-6 minutes, or until cooked through, flipping halfway. Remove chicken to a paper towel lined plate. Add another drizzle of oil to the skillet if needed and repeat with remaining chicken. Remove chicken and wipe out skillet.
  • STIR FRY VEGGIES: To the now empty pan, heat one tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions, bell peppers and celery and stir fry until crisp tender, about 3 minutes. (Don’t over-cook because they will continue to cook in sauce). Add garlic and ginger and sauté for 30 seconds.
  • COMBINE: Whisk the Stir Fry Sauce (to recombine) and add to the veggies. Simmer until the sauce thickens (it will thicken a little more when combined with the chicken), 1-2 minutes. Add the chicken and peanuts and stir to coat. Adjust to taste with additional, honey, soy sauce, pepper or chili sauce. Garnish with green onions if desired. Serve with rice.

Video

Notes

Tips and Tricks

  • Oyster sauce:  Oyster sauce is the base of almost ever stir fry sauce and bumps up the savory umami character.  Oyster sauce is a thick, brown sauce with a balance between sweet and salty with an earthy undertone.  You can find oyster sauce in the Asian aisle of any supermarket for only a few dollars.  Please use QUALITY oyster sauce such as Lee Kum Kee or Kikkoman.  You truly can taste the difference and will be sorely disappointed with less quality brands.
  • Rice wine:  I use “Kikkoman Aji-Mirin: Sweet Cooking Rice Seasoning” which is commonly found in the Asian section of most grocery stores or you can Amazon it. I highly suggest you google image before you head off to the grocery store so you know exactly what you are looking for.  The best substitute for rice wine is pale dry sherry. Do NOT substitute rice wine with rice vinegar, they are NOT the same.  Rice vinegar will add an acidic flavor without the sweetness.
  • Szechuan peppercorn:   You will need ground Szechuan peppercorn for this recipe. It can be found on Amazon (my fav!) at most Asian markets (call first) spice stores, or sometimes specialty stores like Whole Foods and Sprouts.   Contrary to popular belief, Szechuan peppercorn are not spicier than black peppercorn, but they do boast a more complex peppery zing.  The spicy illusion comes from the fact they are always cooked with chili peppers.
  • Szechuan peppercorn substitute:  Use equal amounts of freshly ground pepper and freshly ground coriander.  
  • Using fresh Szechuan peppercorn:  Toasting and grinding fresh Szechuan peppercorn yourself produces a more potent peppercorn than store-bought pre-ground. If you choose to toast/grind them yourself, start with HALF the amount then add more to taste as needed.
  • Gluten Free Black Pepper Chicken: Use gluten free flour, gluten free soy sauce or tamari, and gluten free oyster sauce.

How to Store and Reheat

  • How to store: Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
  • Reheating in microwave:  Take care not to overcook the chicken or it can become rubbery in the microwave.  Microwave for one minute then at 20 second intervals until warmed through.  
  • How to reheat on the stove: Leftovers are best reheated on the stove, even if they are small portions.  To reheat, heat a drizzle of oil over medium heat.  Once hot, add the chicken, stirring occasionally until warmed through. 
  • How to freeze: Freeze the chicken and sauce separately.  Cook chicken according to directions then let cool to room temperature. Space chicken apart on a baking sheet then transfer to the freezer.  Flash freeze for 1-2 hours or until the chicken is solid.  Add chicken to a freezer size bag, squeeze out excess air. Add the stir fry sauce to a separate freezer safe, airtight container. Freeze the chicken and sauce separately for up to 3 months. When ready to use, thaw chicken and sauce in the refrigerator overnight. Bring the sauce to a simmer to thicken in a nonstick skillet, then add the chicken.

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11 Comments

  1. Sue Olsen says

    Can’t wait to make this!

    • Jen says

      Thanks Sue, I hope you love it!

  2. I'manee says

    This was SO DELICIOUS! I think it may be one of our new favorite recipes! I doubled the sauce and added an extra bell pepper (yellow) because we love bell peppers in our stir fry. The sauce was to die for, veggies nice and crunchy – this was so much better than take out!
    Thank you for creating and for sharing.

    • Jen says

      Thank you so much for being the first to review this recipe I’manee! I’m thrilled you loved it more than takeout!!!

    • Jennifer Fulk says

      Hi! Did you double all the ingredients in the sauce?

      • I'manee says

        Hello!

        I did maybe a measurement less than what fully doubling on all the sauce ingredients would call for, but basically doubled, yes! It was peppery, just a warning! But it was perfect peppery, not too much. 🙂

  3. Jennifer Fulk says

    Can’t wait to make this. If I double the sauce, do you recommend doubling all the ingredients even the pepper and pepper powder?

    • Jen says

      I would double all of the ingredients but if you aren’t sure about the pepper, then it is super easy to start with less and add more to taste.

      • Jennifer Fulk says

        This was sooooo fabulous! My favorite stir fry ever. I doubled the sauce using 3 tsp black pepper and 2 tsp Szechuan peppercorn. 2 tsps was plenty- very tingly! Omitted celery and added zucchini and mushroom instead. Rice and egg rolls completed the meal. A plus! Thank you!

        • Jennifer Fulk says

          Oh I also didn’t bread the chicken just marinaded it on the counter for 30 min with the instructions and ingredients you suggested.

        • Jen says

          Thank you Jennifer, I’m so pleased you loved it! Thanks for sharing how you double the sauce!

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