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 Chicken, Mongolian Chicken, Chicken and Broccoli Stir Fry, Sweet Fire Chicken, Chicken Stir Fry and Kung Pao Chicken.
HOW TO MAKE black pepper chicken VIDEO
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:
- 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
FOR THE STIR FRY
FOR THE BLack Pepper STIR FRY SAUCE
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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
possible recipe variations
This Black Pepper Chicken is easy to customize in so many ways, here are just a few ideas:
- 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.
Tools Used in This Recipe
Black Pepper Chicken
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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
- 1/4 cup low sodium chicken broth
- 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons oyster sauce
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 2 tablespoons Japanese rice wine or dry sherry
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1 1/2-2 teaspoons black pepper, preferable freshly ground
- 2 teaspoons ground Szechuan peppercorn/Szechuan powder( (See Notes/Warning for fresh)*
- 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
- 1-2 teaspoons Asian chili sauce (like sambal oelek or sriracha), optional
- 1/2 teaspoon yellow curry powder (optional if you have it)
- 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)
- green onions, optional for garnish
- 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.
- 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.
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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