Dragon Chicken

Restaurant-style Dragon Chicken is a craveable cult favorite made with crispy chicken strips and buttery cashews tossed in an irresistible fiery, savory, garlic chili sauce with a kiss of sweetness.  

Dragon Chicken is a modern Indo-Chinese dish that’s savory, sweet, sour and SPICY – but don’t worry, you can customize the heat!  This finger lickin’ favorite is made with breaded chicken strips pan fried until crispy (no need to deep fry!), crunchy, buttery cashews, sweet stir fried bell peppers and white onions and zippy garlic and ginger all tossed in an outrageously tasty fiery red chili sauce layered with soy sauce, oyster sauce, Chinkiang and sesame oil. Enjoy the spicy Dragon Chicken as an appetizer along with homemade egg rolls, or serve with jasmine rice and ramen noodle salad to round out the meal. No matter how you serve it, this spicy chicken recipe is destined to become a family favorite!

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

How to Make Dragon Chicken video

up close of Dragon Chicken made with crispy spicy chicken, bell peppers and cashews


 
top view of serving Dragon Chicken with rice in a bowl garnished by green onions

Ingredients in Spicy Chicken Recipe

This Dragon Chicken recipe can be broken into three parts: the chicken and breading, the dragon sauce, and the stir-fry veggies. Let’s review what you’ll need to make this spicy chicken recipe (full recipe with measurements in the printable recipe card at the bottom of the post): 

FOR THE chicken: 

  • Chicken: Please use chicken thighs because they stay much juicier than chicken breasts when exposed to the high heat of pan frying. Slice the chicken into 1/2-inch strips. Some pieces will be longer than others due to the irregularity of the thighs, which is normal.
  • Flour: This creates the base of the crispy breading for the sauce to soak into. It also helps insulate the chicken strips from high heat, ensuring every bite is juicy and tender.
  • Cornstarch: This is combined with the flour to create the light breading. Cornstarch absorbs moisture and prevents gluten development, which makes the breading crispier.
  • Egg: 1 egg is combined with the chicken to create a glue to bind the chicken and breading together.
  • Seasonings: Garlic powder, onion powder, ginger powder, paprika, and cayenne pepper are added to chicken and eggs so the chicken is flavored form the inside out. Chili powder is added to the flour/cornstarch so every element is independently seasoned and flavorful.
  • Oil: Use a few tablespoons of neutral oil with a high smoke point, such as canola, peanut or vegetable oil to pan fry the chicken in.

For the Dragon sauce: 

  • Asian chili sauce: This is where most of the heat comes from! Start with 1 ½ tablespoons for medium and add more to taste if you would like it spicier. I use Sambal Oelek with the green lid but you can also use your favorite chili sauce.
  • Soy sauce: Use reduced sodium soy sauce so we can control the salt level in this spicy chicken recipe. 
  • Oyster sauce: This adds that extra punch of authentic, umami flavor. Oyster sauce is a thick, brown sauce with a balance between sweet and salty with an earthy undertone, due to the oyster extracts. 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.
  • Ketchup: This adds a rich tanginess, but I promise it won’t make your Dragon Chicken taste like ketchup!
  • Honey: The sweetness of the honey counterbalances the spicy and salty flavors in the sauce. Use more or less depending on how sweet you would like your chicken.
  • Chinkiang (Chinese black vinegar): This is a dark, complex, and fruity vinegar with umami undertones that imparts a uniquely authentic flavor. You should be able to find it at Asian specialty markets or you may substitute with half balsamic vinegar and half rice vinegar.
  • Cornstarch: This helps thicken the sauce to a glossy, luscious consistency.
up close of serving Dragon Chicken in a bowl with rice showing how crispy the chicken is

For the stir-fry: 

  • Cashews: Use raw UNSALTED cashews in this recipe.
  • Red Bell Peppers: The thinly sliced red bell peppers add a sweet crunch to offset the spicy, rich sauce.
  • Sweet onion:   The thinly sliced onions are a highlight in this dish, boasting a mild onion flavor with a touch of sweetness that taste amazing even when slightly crunchy, like in this recipe.  Make sure to slice the onions thinly, about 1/8-inch so they soften up quickly.
  • Aromatics: Fresh garlic and ginger are stir fried with the vegetables for the quintessential pops of zesty, pungent aromatic flavor.

HOW TO MAKE Dragon Chicken

Dragon Chicken is an easy recipe that anyone can prepare! Here’s a look at how the spicy chicken comes together with step-by-step photos (or watch the video in the printable recipe card at the bottom of the post):

  • Step 1: Marinate the chicken. Combine the chicken, eggs, soy sauce and spices in a large bowl or freezer bag and turn to coat. Let the chicken rest while you prep the sauce and chop the veggies, preferable 30 minutes.
showing how to make spicy Dragon Chicken by adding chicken strips to whisked eggs, soy sauce and spices to marinate
  • Step 2: Make the Dragon Sauce. Whisk the sauce ingredients together in a medium bowl until the cornstarch is completely dissolved; set aside.
showing how to make spicy Dragon Chicken by whisking together chili sauce, soy sauce, oyster sauce, honey and ketchup to make the sauce
  • Step 3: Bread the chicken. Whisk the flour, cornstarch and chili powder together in a large freezer bag. Remove the chicken from the eggs, dab off excess egg with paper towels and add to the flour bag. Shake until the chicken is well coated.
showing how to make spicy Dragon Chicken by breading chicken strips in flour, cornstarch and spices
  • Step 4: Cook the chicken. Heat about ¼ cup oil over medium-high heat in a large nonstick skillet. Working in batches, add the chicken in a single layer and cook until golden brown and crispy, flipping halfway. Remove to a paper-towel lined plate and repeat with the remaining chicken.
showing how to make spicy Dragon Chicken by pan frying the chicken strips until crispy
  • Step 5: Toast the cashews. Toast the cashews in a dry, cast iron skillet until toasted in spots, then remove from the skillet.
showing how to make spicy Dragon Chicken by toasting the cashews in a skillet
  • Step 6: Stir-fry the veggies. Heat a drizzle of oil over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and bell pepper and stir fry for 2 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic and stir fry an additional 30 seconds.
showing how to make spicy Dragon Chicken by stir frying the bell pepper and onion until crisp-tender
  • Step 7: Add the sauce. Add the sauce to the skillet and bring to a simmer until thickened, about one minute.
showing how to make spicy Dragon Chicken by adding the sauce to the skillet
  • Step 8: Finish the dish. Add the chicken to the skillet and toss to coat in the Dragon Sauce. Garnish with sesame seeds and green onions. Serve as an appetizer or with rice as a main dish.
showing how to make spicy Dragon Chicken by adding the chicken strips to the sauce and turning to coat
showing how to make Dragon chicken by stirring chicken, cashews, bell peppers together in a skillet
  • Use chicken thighs vs breast. Thinly sliced thighs stay far juicier when exposed to the high heat of pan frying, verses breasts which dry out more quickly.
  • Remove excess egg before breading. This is important so the flour doesn’t become a goopy mess. The quickest way to do this is to plop the marinated chicken onto a wad of paper towels before adding to the flour mixture, verses dabbing individual pieces of chicken.  
  • Thoroughly bread the chicken.  If you notice any of the chicken pieces aren’t fully coated as you remove them from the breading, dunk them in the breading at the bottom of the bag, there should be plenty.
  • Remove excess flour. Give the chicken a good shake to help remove any excess flour before adding to the sizzling oil. Some loose flour is inevitable but you want to avoid most of it because these flour specks aren’t rotated like the chicken, so they are likely to burn in the skillet.
  • Cook chicken right away. Once you bread the chicken, cook it right away for optimal crispiness.
  • Use a nonstick skillet. A nonstick skillet allows you to cook the chicken in minimal oil instead of deep frying, while still becoming super crispy! If you don’t use a nonstick pan, your chicken will stick and tear (unless you use more oil). This nonstick skillet is my all time favorite pan!
  • Use hot oil. Get the oil hot and slightly smoking before you add the chicken, otherwise, lukewarm oil will make the chicken soggy and the breading can fall off.
  • Cook the chicken in batches. Give the chicken some space in the pan so the pieces have room to crisp up instead of steam.  
  • Don’t overcook the chicken. Overcooked chicken is dry chicken! You might be surprised at just how quickly the chicken cooks, so check the smallest piece for doneness after 4 minutes then cook on as needed.
  • Don’t overcook bell peppers. I suggest setting the timer for 2 minutes so you don’t overcook the bell peppers. It is better to under-cook them when stir frying, then allow them to reach desired-crisp tenderness once you add the sauce.
  • Serve immediately. The chicken starts off crispy but will become softer the longer it sits and soaks up the sauce. For the crispiest chicken, serve immediately or only add the chicken to the sauce when everyone is at the dinner table.
top view of spicy Dragon Chicken on a serving platter showing how crispy the chicken is
  • Lightly dredged spicy chicken: Skip the egg and cornstarch and simply toss the chicken in the flour and seasonings for a light coating. The chicken won’t get as crispy, but it will help seal in juices, create a crust of flavor, and give the sauce something to cling to. 
  • Make it more or less spicy: This recipe is spicy, but not super spicy. If you’d like to tone down the heat and keep it more family friendly, then reduce the Sambal Oelek to 1 tablespoon. If you LOVE spicy chicken, increase the Sambal Oelek to 2 tablespoons, or even more! If you aren’t sure, its best to start with less chili sauce and add more to the sauce after you whisk it up. Keep in mind, the sauce won’t taste as spicy as the final dish because the chicken breading also contains cayenne pepper. If the final dish isn’t as spicy as you like, top it with some red pepper flakes!
  • Alternate protein: Swap the chicken with shrimp, top sirloin or pork tenderloin.
  • Swap nuts: Swap the cashews for peanuts for more of a crispy Kung Pao Chicken vibe.
  • Add stir-fried vegetables: Swap the bell peppers for other veggies or add additional veggies like carrots, broccoli, mushrooms, snow peas, snap peas, asparagus, etc.
  • Stir fry add-ins: Add canned bamboo shoots or water chestnuts for varying texture and flavor, both are easy to keep stocked! Pineapple is also a super tasty sweet juxtaposition to the spicy chicken.
  • Gluten free: Swap the all purpose flour with rice flour, the soy sauce with tamari, the oyster sauce with gluten free oyster sauce and Chinkiang with gluten free Chinkiang. Double check that your ketchup is gluten free.
showing how to serve Dragon Chicken on a platter with a serving spoon
up close of serving Dragon Chicken in a bowl with rice showing how crispy the chicken is

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©Carlsbad Cravings by CarlsbadCravings.com

Dragon Chicken

Dragon Chicken is a modern Indo-Chinese dish that’s savory, sweet, sour and SPICY – but don’t worry, you can customize the heat!  This finger lickin’ favorite is made with breaded chicken strips pan fried until crispy (no need to deep fry!), crunchy, buttery cashews, sweet stir fried bell peppers and white onions and zippy garlic and ginger all tossed in an outrageously tasty fiery red chili sauce layered with soy sauce, oyster sauce, Chinkiang and sesame oil. Enjoy the spicy Dragon Chicken as an appetizer along with homemade egg rolls, or serve with jasmine rice and ramen noodle salad to round out the meal. No matter how you serve it, this spicy chicken recipe is destined to become a family favorite!
Servings: 4 -6 servings
Total Time: 50 minutes
Prep Time: 35 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes

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Ingredients

QUICK MARINADE

  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon reduced sodium soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp EACH ginger powder, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, cayenne pepper
  • 1 pound chicken thighs, sliced into 1/2-inch strips

CHICKEN BREADING

SAUCE

STIR FRY

  • 1 cup UNSALTED cashews
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable or peanut oil
  • 1/2 white onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced

GARNISH

Instructions

  • MARINATE CHICKEN: Whisk the egg, 1 TBS soy sauce and marinade spices together in a large bowl or freezer bag. Add the sliced chicken and turn to coat. Marinate while you prep the rest of the ingredients, preferable 30 minutes. You can also refrigerate overnight, then let the chicken sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before breading.
  • MAKE SAUCE: Whisk the Sauce ingredients together in a medium bowl until the cornstarch is completely dissolved; set aside.
  • BREAD CHICKEN: In a separate large freezer bag, combine the flour, cornstarch and chili powder. Remove the chicken from the marinade, dab off excess with paper towels, then add to the breading bag. (To quickly remove excess marinade, I plop the chicken on a wad of paper towels using a slotted spoon.) Shake the chicken until well coated, pressing coating into chicken. If needed, open the bag and use your hand to separate and coat any last pieces.
  • COOK: Heat ¼ cup canola, vegetable or peanut oil over medium-high heat in a large NONSTICK skillet (you may use less oil but it will be less crispy). Working in 2-3 batches, shake off excess breading from chicken and add to the sizzling oil in a single layer. Cook for about 4 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. Set aside.
  • CASHEWS: Toast the cashews in a dry, large cast iron skillet over medium heat until toasted in spots, stirring a few times; remove cashews from the skillet.
  • STIR FRY: Heat a drizzle of oil over medium-high heat in the now empty skillet. Once hot, add the onion and bell pepper and stir fry for 2 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic and stir fry for 30 seconds..
  • ADD SAUCE. Whisk the sauce again to recombine. Add to the skillet and bring to a simmer, stirring often until thickened, about 1 minute.
  • COMBINE: Add the chicken and cashews and stir to coat. Garnish with sesame seeds and green onions. Serve immediately. The sooner you enjoy the chicken, the crispier it will be. If everyone isn't seated at the table yet, wait to add the chicken until ready to serve.

Video

Notes

Meal Prep

This recipe has a few steps, but almost everything can be prepped ahead of time for a speedy dinner:
  • Prep chicken: Slice chicken and refrigerate, or go one step further and marinate in the egg/seasonings up to overnight in the fridge. Bring to room temperature before breading.
  • Prep breading: Whisk the flour, cornstarch and chili powder together in a large freezer safe bag.
  • Make sauce: Whisk the ingredients together up to 24 hours in advance and store in the refrigerator.
  • Chop veggies and aromatics: Slice the bell pepper and onion, mince the garlic and grate the ginger 24 hours in advance and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

How to Store and Reheat

  • Storage:  This spicy Dragon Chicken is best served immediately from the piping hot skillet. The longer you wait to serve it, the softer the breading will become. While leftovers are tasty, they will not be crispy. Store leftovers covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. 
  • How to reheat in the microwave: Transfer small portions to a microwave-safe dish, heat for 1 minute, stir, then continue to heat at 30-second intervals.
  • How to reheat on the stove: Heat a tablespoon of neutral oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the chicken and rewarm gently, stirring often. Once warm, crank up the heat to help crisp the chicken back up.

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30 Comments

  1. Katy R says

    Made the Dragon chicken last night – it was amazing! I did do the prep ahead of time for all of the ingredients (the day before), and so I let the chicken marinade overnight. I only made one substitution – I used chicken breasts vs. thighs, since that is what I had on hand. This is “Company” good – my hubbie and I said it is one that we’ll keep in our rotation. Thank you!!

    • Jen says

      YAY! I LOVE that you made it already and loved it, thanks so much Katy!

  2. Marlene says

    Oh, my, this was delicious!!!! Even my husband, a/k/a Mr. Fussy, loved it, I made half the recipe—and went light on the chili cause, as it’s easy to add more—but only added enough fried chicken for the two of us. It was so good with all that sauce. I froze the crispy chicken, as that is the time consuming part. Now all i have to do is the sauce and veggies.

    • Marlene says

      PS—I used rice flour instead of all-purpose, as I learned from another recipe that it makes the food even crispier.

      • Jen says

        Great tip, thank you so much for sharing!

    • Jen says

      Thanks Marlene, I’m so pleased it was a hit! Great idea to freeze the chicken for next time!

  3. Kathy M says

    This looks great. When do you add the cashews? At the end?

    • Jen says

      Yes, add them with the chicken. Enjoy!

  4. Anne says

    Amazing recipe ! Made it for lunch as written except for adding more veggies – super tasty and easy to make if you do all the prep first. I also recommend that quarter cup of oil to cook the chicken in – the crispy chicken makes it completely fab!

    • Jen says

      Thank you so much, Anne! I am so pleased you enjoy this recipe! I hope you are having a wonderful weekend and find more recipes to enjoy!

  5. Jocelyn Silver says

    Absolutely delicious!! I followed the recipe with only one change, I used chicken breasts as that’s what I had on hand. Did the prep in advance and then it came together very quickly. Served with jasmine rice and my husband said it was a restaurant quality meal. Definitely making again next time for company.

    • Jen says

      Yay! Thank you so much, Jocelyn, I’m thrilled that it was a “restaurant quality meal”! I hope you have a wonderful weekend and find more recipes to enjoy!

  6. Alicia says

    This dish came out amazingly good. Wonderful flavors. I did substitute chicken tenderloins vs. thighs and was careful not to overcook. Will definitely be one of our top recipes! Thank you!

    • Jen says

      Thank you so much, Alicia! I am thrilled this makes it as one of your top recipes! 🙂

  7. Fariha says

    My husband enjoyed this so much, he ate leftovers the next day and then asked me to make it again that night! I didn’t but it’s definitely being made soon. Notes were super helpful, and recipe was easy to understand. I used chicken breasts and it was still great. Also skipped cashews. For vinegar, I only had rice vinegar so used that but just the lesser amount. Results were fantastic! Will be trying more of your recipes

    • Jen says

      Wow! Thank you so much, Fariha, I am thrilled this recipe was such a hit! I’m so glad that you found it easy to understand and that the notes were helpful! I hope you have a wonderful week and find more recipes to enjoy!

  8. Sandy says

    Made this for dinner tonight. My husband said 5 stars. Your recipes are alway amazing. Thanks for another great recipe!

    • Jen says

      Thank you for trying so many recipes! I’m glad you both enjoyed it!

  9. Maria says

    This was amazing!! Love all of the flavors!

    • Jen says

      Thank you, I’m so glad!!

  10. Tammy J. says

    I made this for supper Saturday night, and it was a huge hit! I’ll be putting this on rotation. My husband has commented several times how good it was. As always, anything I cook from a Carlsbad Cravings recipe is a success!

    • Jen says

      Yay! I’m so glad this one was a winner!

  11. Jules says

    Just, WOW!! This was the most delicious recipe! I had to modify with the sub ½ TBS balsamic vinegar + ½ TBS rice vinegar but no problem! Use these all the time. My family LOVED it and so did I.

    A+ Jen!! Thanks for the recipe and it’s a keeper. Will make this at least once a month going forward.

    • Jen says

      Thank you! I’m so happy to hear it will be on the rotation!

  12. Lucy says

    Family absolutely raved about this dish. Even the picky ones. Was told to put it on the rotation. Thanks for sharing an easy and delicious dish.

    • Jen says

      I’m so glad it will now be a regular!

  13. Elaine says

    I’ll start out by saying I love the fact that you can pre make everything and have it ready when you get home. This was a really fast meal to make because of that. It was a very good recipe but we drizzled siracha over it and it was amazing! The siracha really made the flavors come out. It will be going on my tried and will make it again list.

    • Jen says

      I’m so thrilled it will be a repeat!

  14. Kelly says

    Hi , can you use maple syrup instead of honey?

    • Jen says

      Certainly but note it will have maple undertones instead of honey – totally personal preference. Enjoy!