Hunan Chicken

This Hunan Chicken will have you skipping the takeout forever!

Hunan Chicken is a favorite Chinese American stir fry made with juicy, thinly sliced chicken breasts, broccoli, carrots, bell peppers and celery blanked in a dynamic savory, spicy, garlic, ginger sauce.   This Hunan Chicken recipe allows you to remake this classic in the comfort of your own home and adjust the heat from mild to numbingly hot. You can also swap the vegetables for your favorites or whatever you have on hand.  This Hunan Chicken uses the easy restaurant velveting technique to produce undeniably tender, deeply flavorful chicken you will have to taste to believe.  I love to serve this Hunan Style Chicken with homemade egg rolls and cream cheese wontons for a complete takeout fakeout feast.

showing how to serve Hunan Chicken by garnishing with green onions in a large cast iron skillet

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HUNAN STYLE CHICKEN

I love making Chinese food at home and have been doing it more than ever these past few months since we’ve been on lockdown. Some of our favorites include Chicken and Broccoli, Beef and Broccoli, Mongolian Beef, Orange Chicken, Sweet and Sour Chicken Crockpot Honey Garlic Chicken and of course, Hunan Chicken. 

If you aren’t familiar with Hunan Chicken, you will fall in love with the medley of vibrant, fresh crisp-tender veggies dripping in the intoxicating spicy, savory Hunan sauce. The complex flavors of the sauce are out of this world and the thinly sliced velveted chicken will have you drooling. 

This Hunan Chicken recipe has a long ingredient list, but I promise the recipe is EASY – most of the ingredients are just dump and whisk.  Ultimately, all you need is the sauce ingredients and the chicken and veggies are super flexible.   

To make, simply whisk the marinade ingredients together, marinate the chicken while you chop your veggies and whisk the Hunan sauce ingredients together – that’s it – the actual cooking time is less than 15 minutes!  So, please don’t cheat yourself out of this INCREDIBLE Hunan Chicken – it’s an exotic intoxicating complex flavor bomb in every mouthful and destined to become a new favorite! 

REASONS TO LOVE THIS HUNAN STYLE CHICKEN:

  • Custom spice level:  you can keep this Hunan Chicken 100% family friendly by leaving out the peppers or make it as spicy as you like by adding more to taste.  You can even swap the peppers for Asian chili sauce so it’s easier to add heat to taste.
  • QUICK and easy:  marinate the chicken, chop the veggies, whisk together the Hunan sauce, then stir fry!  The whole meal can be on your table in less than 45 minutes with restaurant delicious results.
  • Nutritious:  this Hunan Chicken recipe boasts lean chicken breasts and more veggies than most Chinese favorites for a powerhouse of nutrients.
  • Versatile:  use can use chicken breasts or chicken thighs or even replace the chicken with beef, pork or shrimp. The rainbow of fresh crisp-tender veggies is completely flexible as well – making it an irresistible, healthy clean-out the fridge dinner! 
  • FLAVOR!  the Hunan sauce is an explosion of layers of flavor made from oyster sauce, soy sauce, chili bean paste, chicken broth, rice wine, red peppers and aromatic garlic and ginger.  Can we say FLAVOR?!
  • JUICY AND TENDER:  you will LOVE the texture of the chicken!  The marinade isn’t just a marinade but utilizes the easy restaurant velveting technique of adding baking powder to produce smooth, tender, melt-in-your-mouth chicken that makes Chinese chicken so tantalizing. It is then lightly dusted in cornstarch and flour before lightly pan frying so it emerges juicy with texture to capture the intoxicating sauce.
  • Budget friendly:  feed the entire family for the fraction of dining out with the bonus of customizing the heat and veggies just how you like.

Now, I’m going to break down this Hunan Chicken recipe and try and answer all your questions as well as offer some tips and tricks.  You can use my “jump to recipe” button at the top of the page to skip straight to the recipe.

WHAT IS HUNAN CHICKEN?

Hunan Chicken originated in the Hunan province of south central China. Hunan cuisine, also known as Xiang cuisine, is one of the Eight Great Traditions of Chinese cuisine (the other eight are: Anhui, Cantonese, Fujian, Jiangsu, Shandong, Szechuan and Zhejiang.).  Hunan cuisine is characterized by its bold, slightly tart, spicy flavors from fresh chili peppers, garlic, and shallots.

What does Hunan Chicken taste like?

In the US, Hunan Chicken has come to mean thin slices of silky, tender, velvety chicken breasts stir fried with a rainbow of crisp-tender veggies in spicy, complex Hunan sauce.  The sauce is nothing short of mesmerizing due to the layering of flavors. Red peppers are combined with garlic, ginger, oyster sauce and soy sauce to create a salty, savory, spicy stir fry with a touch of sweetness from brown sugar and sour tanginess from the ketchup and chili bean paste. 

This Hunan Chicken is less sour and more sweet than authentic Hunan Chicken as the Chinese American restaurant versions have altered the Chinese favorite to suite the American palate. 

If you enjoy spicy foods, you will LOVE this Hunan Style Chicken and if you don’t love spicy foods you will still LOVE this Hunan Chicken – simply tone down the spiciness by adding less peppers or chili paste.  Now everyone can have their favorite Hunan Chicken they can enjoy any night of the week.

showing how to serve Hunan Chicken by scooping up with a metal spoon from a cast iron skillet

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HUNAN CHICKEN AND SZECHUAN CHICKEN?

Szechuan cuisine comes from the Sichuan province in China and Hunan Chicken comes from Hunan province to the west. Both Hunan Chicken and Szechuan Chicken are characterized by their savory, hot and spicy flavors and generous use of chili peppers and garlic. They differentiate in that Hunan Chicken is hotter and spicier due to the use of fresh peppers, whereas Szechuan Chicken uses dried peppers and is generally sweeter. 

Szechuan Chicken also boasts a unique mouth-numbing sensation due to the peppercorns, which actually doesn’t add heat, but a distinctive aromatic citrusy taste. Hunan Style Chicken is also considered more sour, oilier and saltier due to chili bean paste or vinegar-pickled chilies with salt (duo la jiao) which is a hot, salty, and sour concoction.  Hunan Chicken is also characterized by its abundant use of vegetables.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HUNAN CHICKEN AND GENERAL TSO’S CHICKEN?

General Tso’s Chicken is battered and deep fried whereas Hunan Chicken is lightly dusted in cornstarch and stir fried or lightly pan fried.  General Tso’s Chicken is sweet and mildly spicy, far less spicy than Hunan Chicken, with the zing coming from a generous amount of ginger verses chili peppers.  General Tso’s Chicken also does not contain any vegetables as opposed to the generous amount of veggies in Hunan Style Chicken.

What is the difference between Hunan Chicken and Kung Pao Chicken?

Kung Pao Chicken is savory, and spicy like Hunan Chicken but it is sweeter and far less sour.  lt also boasts a nutty flavor due to the peanuts.  Kung Pao Chicken is made with dried peppers verses fresh chili peppers in Hunan cuisine.  Kung Pao sauce is starchier and syrupier compared to the thinner, more oily Hunan sauce.

WHAT PEPPERS FOR HUNAN CHICKEN?

Hunan Chicken uses a variety of chili peppers from Thai chilies to Birdseye chili peppers.  To make this Hunan Chicken recipe more easily accessible, I used red jalapeno peppers. 

Red jalapeno peppers are green jalapeno peppers that are left on the vine to mature.  During the ripening, jalapeños turn red and become slightly sweeter and spicier. 

If you can’t find red jalapeno peppers, you can substitute them with green jalapenos, or with serrano peppers. If you use jalapeno peppers, you will need slightly more and if you use serrano peppers, you need far less as they are much spicier.  You may also substitute the red jalapenos with Asian chili sauce (such as sambal oelek) which is made from a combination of chilies. 

HOW SPICY IS HUNAN CHICKEN RECIPE?

Hunan Style Chicken is meant to be spicy but it is very EASY to customize the heat.  You can keep the recipe flavorful with the chili bean paste, garlic and ginger but use less peppers.  

  • MILD HUNAN CHICKEN:  Only use 1 red jalapeno pepper or 1 tablespoon Asian chili garlic sauce (like sambal oelek).  For a little more heat, bordering on medium, use 2 red jalapeno peppers.
  • MEDIUM HUNAN CHICKEN:  For moderately spicy Hunan Chicken, use 2 to 4 red jalapeno peppers. When I used 2 peppers, I would consider it mild-medium as I could taste some heat but it wasn’t very “spicy.” Use more than 2 peppers if you want to really taste the heat.
  • SPICY HUNAN CHICKEN: I would consider 4 or more red jalapeno peppers spicy. Of course, it will depend on the heat of the actual peppers as each pepper can vary greatly.

If you aren’t sure how spicy you want it, you can start with less red jalapeno peppers then add chili paste to spice up individual servings.

WHAT KIND OF CHICKEN IS USED FOR CHICKEN HUNAN STYLE CHICKEN?

Hunan Chicken is traditionally made with boneless skinless chicken breasts. They are leaner than chicken thighs but still emerge buttery tender from the velveting – you will be blown away at the results.  Of course, you are welcome to use boneless skinless chicken thighs if you prefer.

Can I use different Protein?  Looking beyond poultry, you can swap the chicken for beef, pork, shrimp or cubed tofu. If using shrimp, add it at the end of cooking because shrimp will get rubbery if overcooked.

How to cut chicken thinly:

One of the characteristics of Hunan Chicken is the thinly sliced chicken.  The key to thinly sliced chicken is to freeze the chicken for about one hour.  This firms up the chicken just enough so it doesn’t wiggle beneath your knife and you can very easily slice the chicken thinly.  Take care to slice the chicken against the grain so the muscle fibers are shortened and the chicken becomes more tender.  The partially frozen, sliced chicken will quickly come back to room temperature in the marinade.

showing how to serve Hunan Chicken by placing over a bowl of rice with chopsticks

HOW DO YOU MAKE HUNAN CHICKEN EXTRA TENDER?

This Hunan Chicken is restaurant tender and juicy due to a simple process called velveting.  I first introduced you to velveting in my chicken stir fry recipe, and can attest it makes ALL THE difference.  It is how Chinese restaurants attain such smooth, tender chicken – and now you can get the same results at home!

There are a few different velveting techniques, but I opt for the easiest one using baking soda; and don’t worry, you can taste the textural difference but not the baking soda! Essentially, the chicken is marinated in a combination of baking soda, soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, and cornstarch.  Here’s how it works:

  • baking soda:  tenderizes the chicken by breaking down the chicken fibers so the chicken emerges softer on the inside like “velvet” – hence the name.
  • soy sauce:  the salt in the soy sauce also helps break down the proteins for a more tender texture and infuses the chicken with flavor.
  • rice wine: is an acidic ingredient that breaks down lean muscle fibers on the surface of the protein.
  • cornstarch: acts as a binder and helps our soy sauce bind to the chicken for more flavorful chicken.   Cornstarch also provides a light coating that helps protect it from drying out while cooking. 

This easy velveting technique can be used in all your favorite Chinese Chicken recipes – even the ones with breading; instead, skip the breading and add whatever seasonings were in the breading to the velveting mixture. This allows you to enjoy the intoxicating sauces without the hassle of breading.  Try it on my  Cashew Chicken Stir Fry, Hoisin Ginger Chicken, Honey Lemon Chicken and Honey Coconut Chicken.   

What is Hunan Sauce made of?

Hunan Chicken is only as good as its sauce, and this on is spectacular! Hunan sauce is made with red chili peppers, chicken broth, soy sauce, oyster sauce, Japanese rice wine, ketchup, brown sugar, and the secret ingredient – chili bean sauce or “Douban Jiang” (豆瓣酱).  Chili bean sauce is made from chili peppers and fermented soy bean paste.  The resulting sauce is savory, salty, slightly tangy and deeply flavorful with a hint of heat from the chili bean sauce which gets amped up from additional stir fried chili peppers.

The ingredient list for the Hunan sauce is lengthy, but it can be whisked together in minutes, stored for weeks, then just thrown into the skillet when you’re ready to cook!  Here’s what you’ll need:

  • chili bean sauce:  delivers the signature flavor of Hunan Chicken. Unfortunately, many recipes skip this key ingredient, but it adds a savory, salty, spicy, sour, satisfying richness.  Chili bean paste is made with a special blend of salted chilies and soybeans that are fermented together to create a deep, complex umami flavour.  Chili bean paste should be located in the Asian aisle of your grocery store or you can Amazon it.  I used Lee Kum Kee chili bean sauce. It is possible to make Hunan Chicken without it, but it will be missing a dimension of flavor.
  • oyster sauce:  is a necessity in this Hunan Style Chicken and all Chinese stir fry recipes.  It adds that extra punch of flavor that takeout sauces have and will elevate your Hunan Chicken to new heights.  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 hoisin sauce such as Lee Kum Kee or Kikkoman.  You truly can taste the difference and will be sorely disappointed with less quality brands.
  • soy sauce:  use reduced sodium soy sauce or your Hunan Chicken will be too salty.
  • chicken broth:  use low sodium chicken broth so you can control the salt level.  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.
  • brown sugar:  use light brown sugar.  It adds sweetness to balance the oyster sauce, soy, rice wine and heat.  You can more or less depending on personal preferences.
  • Japanese rice wine should become a pantry staple if you do much Asian cooking.  I use it in almost all of my Asian Recipes from my Mongolian Chicken to my Sesame Noodles to my Pepper Steak to my Szechuan Beef.  Please note that Rice wine is NOT rice vinegar- DO NOT switch them out.  Rice wine adds a sweetness and depth of flavor; rice vinegar, on the other hand, will add an acidic flavor.
  • Where do I Buy 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.
  • toasted sesame oil:  a “secret ingredient” that adds an irresistible, subtle nutty flavor.
  • cornstarch:  helps thicken the sauce to a glossy, luscious consistency so nice it’s not watery.
  • Aromatics: ginger, onions and garlic (added with the stir fry) add warm spicy, almost pepper taste.  These aromatics awaken and elevate the entire Hunan Chicken recipe. If you’re looking to save time and skip some chopping, you can substitute the fresh onions, garlic and ginger with powders. The typical rule of thumb is 3:1, so one part dried to three parts fresh.

HOW DO I THICKEN HUNAN SAUCE?

The cornstarch in the Hunan sauce will thicken the sauce as it simmers with the vegetables.  If you still would like a thicker sauce, then just keep simmering until it reaches desired consistency.  For an even thicker sauce, make a slurry by whisking 1 teaspoon cornstarch in 2 tablespoons chicken broth then adding to the simmering sauce.  Repeat this as step as desired.

HOW DO I THIN HUNAN SAUCE?

Your Hunan sauce will thicken more the longer it is simmers. If it simmers to the point of too thick, don’t worry! It is easy to thin by whisking in additional chicken broth. 

HOW DO I STORE Hunan SAUCE?

Hunan sauce can be made ahead of time and stored in an airtight container or mason jar in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.  Shake it up or whisk it to recombine before using.

HOW DO I CUSTOMIZE HUNAN SAUCE?

This Hunan Sauce can easily be adjusted to suite your personal preferences. Just keep a note of your adjustments then whip out the perfect Hunan sauce every time.  Here’s how:

  • spice it up with Asian chili paste
  • add salt with additional chili bean sauce
  • amp up the garlic and/or ginger for a stronger punch of flavor
  • sweeten it up with additional brown sugar or swap the sugar for honey
  • add sweet heat with sweet chili sauce
  • for extra tang, add additional rice wine or ketchup

IS HUNAN CHICKEN RECIPE GLUTEN FREE?

As written, this Hunan Chicken is not gluten free, but almost!  To make it gluten free, use gluten free soy sauce or tamari.  You will also want to double check that your oyster sauce and chili bean sauce are gluten free.  The rest of the Hunan Style Chicken ingredients are gluten free

WHAT VEGETABLES DO ADD TO HUNAN CHICKEN?

Hunan Chicken is known for a symphony of stir-fried vegetables, namely broccoli, carrots, bell peppers and celery.  Mushrooms and bamboo shoots are also favorite additions.  You can mix and match your veggies based on what’s in your fridge, your favorites, what’s in season or what’s on sale. Here are some great vegetables for stir fries: 

  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Mushrooms
  • Bell Peppers
  • Snow Peas
  • Snap Peas
  • Zucchini
  • Celery
  • Asparagus
  • Baby corn
  • Edamame
  • Bean sprouts
  • Cabbage (green or red)
  • Spinach
  • Bok choy
showing which vegetables you add to Hunan style chicken  by adding broccoli, carrots, celery, carrots, bell peppers and chili peppers to a cast iron  skillet in separate groups

HOW DO I CHOP VEGETABLES FOR HUNAN STYLE CHICKEN?

Texture is key in any stir fry so it is important to keep that in mind when chopping your veggies – you don’t want some veggies to be crunchy and some to be mushy!  There are some vegetables that take longer to cook such as broccoli and carrots and some take less time to cook such as zucchini and bell peppers.

In order to cook all of the veggies at the same time, the longer cooking vegetables need to be chopped smaller/thinner, and the shorter cooking vegetables larger.  For example, THINLY slice the carrots, and chop the bell peppers into larger 1” chunks so they cook in the same amount of time.   

This technique will take care of most veggies, but there are some that cook in extremely short time such as snow peas, cabbage and spinach, which should always be added at the very end of cooking. 

HUNAN CHICKEN VARIATIONS

Authentic Hunan Chicken typically doesn’t include more than protein and veggies, but that doesn’t mean you can’t mix up yours!  Here are some add-in ideas: 

  • Nuts:  peanuts or cashews add a deeply satisfying crunch that you will CRAVE in every bite!  Take care to purchase raw, unsalted nuts.  To elevate your cashews or peanuts, dry roast them in a nonstick skillet until toasted- YUM!
  • Water chestnuts:  also add a tantalizing crunch.  Water chestnuts are easy to find in a can so you can keep them stocked and ready to go.
  • Canned bamboo Shoots: should be easy to find at every grocery store.  They add a crunchy, meaty texture. 
  • Sesame seeds:  add the nutty sesame flavor.  Take care to use toasted sesame seeds or toast them yourself.
  • Pineapple:  always a welcome addition – just think teriyaki chicken and pineapple. 
  • Mango: one of my favorite fruits to add to EVERYTHING.  If you’re intimidated by choosing or cutting mangos, check out this post here.
  • Mandarin oranges:  use canned or fresh.  Fresh hold together better but canned or super convenient.

HOW TO MAKE HUNAN CHICKEN

This Hunan Chicken is made in 4 easy steps: marinate chicken, cook chicken, stir fry veggies, add sauce and simmer altogether – winner chicken dinner! Here’s the breakdown:

STEP 1:  VELVETING

  • Velveting is highly recommend and produces silkier and juicier than chicken thighs – with less fat! 
  • The velveting process is simple – add cornstarch, baking soda, sesame oil, soy sauce and rice wine to a large freezer bag or bowl; whisk to combine.
  • Add chicken and turn until evenly coated.  Let sit at room temperature while you prep your veggies; preferable 30 minutes, but whatever you have time for is fine.  
showing how to make Hunan chicken by adding thinly sliced chicken to a glass bowl with marinade ingredients

STEP 2:  MAKE Hunan SAUCE

  • While the chicken is resting, whisk chicken broth, soy sauce, chili bean sauce, oyster sauce, rice wine, ketchup, sesame oil, cornstarch ingredients together in a medium bowl; set aside.
showing how to make Hunan chicken by whisking together Hunan sauce ingredients:  soy sauce, oyster sauce, chili bean sauce, ketchup and rice wine

STEP 3:  STIR FRY CHICKEN

  • It is important to cook the chicken first because as it browns in the skillet, it creates a layer of flavor that will be scooped up by the veggies.
  • Heat 2 tablespoon oil in a large cast iron skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Once very hot, add chicken in a single layer and cook until golden; flip chicken over and cook an additional minute, until browned on all sides. Remove chicken to a paper towel lined plate. 
  • The chicken does not need to be cooked all the way through because it will finish cooking in the stir fry sauce.  Remove chicken to a plate.
showing how to make Hunan chicken by adding lightly breaded chicken to a cast iron skillet

STEP 3:  STIR FRY VEGGIES

  • After you remove the chicken, don’t wipe out the skillet, we want all those brown bits to flavor the veggies.
  • Heat one tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. 
  • Once hot, add red jalapenos, broccoli, carrots, bell peppers, celery and onions. 
  • Stir fry until vegetables are crisp tender, about 3 minutes.  DON’T over-cook because they will continue to cook in the sauce.  
  • Add garlic and ginger to the veggies and sauté 30 seconds
showing how to make Hunan chicken by adding broccoli, carrots, celery, carrots, bell peppers and chili peppers to skillet

STEP 4:  ADD HUNAN SAUCE

  • Whisk sauce (to recombine) and add to pan along with chicken.
  • Bring the sauce to a boil then reduce to a simmer until sauce has thickened; 1-2 minutes. 
showing how to make Hunan chicken by adding Hunan sauce to skillet with stir fried veggies

TIPS AND TRICKS FOR THE BEST HUNAN CHICKEN

  • Customize heat. See my detailed section about customizing heat and substituting chili sauce for peppers.
  • Don’t skip the marinade/velveting. This ensures that the chicken is tender just like Chinese restaurants.
  • Don’t marinate chicken for too long. The chicken should not be marinated longer than 30 minutes or else it can become mushy.
  • Use rice wine.  Use Japanese rice wine and NOT rice wine vinegar. You can substitute rice wine with pale dry sherry.
  • Use QUALITY oyster sauce like Lee Kum Kee or Kikkoman because you literally can TASTE the difference!
  • Customize veggies.  You can substitute the veggies for your favorites.
  • Ginger pro tip:  I like to freeze ginger so it’s always at my fingertips.  To freeze ginger: grate it, spread it by the teaspoon or tablespoon on parchment paper and flash freeze until solid, about 1 hour.  Transfer to an airtight container or plastic bag for up to 6 months.   You can add frozen ginger directly to your stir fry.
  • Prep veggies and Hunan sauce first.  While your chicken is marinating, chop all your veggies and prep your sauce.  You want everything ready before you start your stir fry because the actually cooking just takes a few minutes. If you have to stop to make your sauce while your veggies are still in the pan, they can end up soft and even worse – mushy.
  • How to chop ingredients.  The most important key to making a good stir-fry is cutting each ingredient to a uniform size as specified in the recipe. As detailed earlier in the post, chop the long cooking vegetables smaller and the short cooking vegetables larger.
  • Dry vegetables.  It is important that the vegetables are very dry or they will steam and not get the characteristic stir-fry texture. To dry vegetables, pat them thoroughly with a kitchen towel or use a salad spinner.  
  • Cook chicken first.  Don’t cook the chicken and veggies together because we want to brown the chicken (color + flavor) which can’t happen with all the veggies in the pan.  The chicken will also leave behind yummy brown bits which will give the chicken flavor.
  • Don’t overcook chicken.  For the juiciest chicken, don’t overcook!  Brown it in the skillet but let it finish cooking in the sauce.
  • Don’t overcook veggies.  I suggest setting the timer for 3 minutes for the initial stir frying of your veggies – it can go fast and you don’t want to overcook them initially.  It is better to under-cook them when stir frying then allow them to reach desired-crisp tenderness once you add the stir fry sauce.
  • Add sauce to the sides of the pan.  Pour the stir fry sauce around and down the sides of the pan instead of directly into the center.  This will prevent the pan from cooling down too much.  

HOW TO PREP HUNAN CHICKEN AHEAD OF TIME

Hunan Chicken has a few steps, but you can prep almost everything ahead of time for a speedy dinner. Here’s how:

  • Slice chicken:  you can thinly slice the chicken any time before marinating then store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
  • Make Hunan sauce:  whisk the ingredients together up to 24 hours in advance and store, covered in the refrigerator.  Let the sauce sit at room temperature for 30 minutes or so before using.  You may also freeze for up to three months.
  • Chop veggies:  you can chop your garlic, grate your ginger and chop all your veggies 24 hours in advance and store in separate air tight containers in the refrigerator.
  • Cook!  Within the next 48 hours, proceed with the recipe starting with marinating the chicken for 20-30 minutes

WHAT SHOULD I SERVE WITH HUNAN STYLE CHICKEN?

Hunan Style Chicken is explosively flavorful so it pairs well with neutral sides such as:

showing how to make Hunan chicken by adding stirring veggies, chicken and Hunan sauce together until combined in a cast iron skillet

HOW TO STORE HUNAN STYLE CHICKEN

This Hunan Chicken reheats wonderfully for lunches or dinners, just take care to not overcook the veggies. 

  • How to store:  Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
  • How to reheat in microwave: transfer small portions to a microwave safe dish, heat for one minute, stir then continue to heat at 30 second intervals. 
  • How to reheat on the stove: For larger portions, rewarm gently in a large skillet, stirring often.  You may need to add a splash of water (better yet chicken broth if you have it) to thin the sauce as needed.

CAN I FREEZE HUNAN STYLE CHICKEN?

I do not recommend freezing the Hunan Chicken once assembled because the veggies can become a mushy texture, but you can freeze the chicken and stir fry sauce separately.

TO FREEZE CHICKEN & SAUCE SEPARATELY:

  • Hunan Sauce: Whisk together, add to a freezer bag or freezer safe airtight container, label and freeze for up to 3 months.
  • Chicken: After you have cooked the chicken, let it cool completely then transfer it to an airtight container or plastic freezer bag and squeeze out any excess air. Freeze for 2 to 3 months.  Defrost in the refrigerator before using.

IS HUNAN CHICKEN HEALTHY?

This Hunan Chicken is packed full of lean protein and veggies and uses a relatively small amount of oil for a healthier Chinese favorite.

The chicken is a lean protein which means it doesn’t have very much fat which can help you maintain a healthy lifestyle and even lose weight all while helping to sustain your muscles.  Chicken is also full of calcium and phosphorous which helps strengthen your bones and reduce the risk of arthritis.

This Hunan Chicken recipe also boasts an abundance of veggies which are free of cholesterol and provide many of vitamins and minerals.  The veggies also retain more nutrients when sautéed verses being boiled.  Just some of the nutrients in fresh veggies include vitamins A & C, potassium, folate and dietary fiber.  Diets rich in potassium may help to maintain healthy blood pressure and dietary fiber helps reduce blood cholesterol levels and may lower risk of heart disease.  

To make your Hunan Style Chicken stir fry even healthier:

  • Add more veggies or substitute some chicken for vegetables.  The more vegetables, the better!
  • Use chicken breasts instead of chicken thighs.
  • Serve chicken stir fry cauliflower rice, quinoa, or zucchini noodles instead of rice.

HELPFUL TOOLS TO MAKE HUNAN STYLE CHICKEN

  • Cast iron skillet:  A quality cast iron skillet is a must in your cooking arsenal!   It is perfect for searing and creating a deeply golden exterior on everything from chicken to roast, to pork and seamlessly transitions from the stove to the oven. I love my super high quality Staub and Le Creuset.   You can also go with a more economical, trusty skillet like this one which  also works very well.
  • Garlic press:  I use this every single day!   It is the ultimate garlic press- it is easy-to-use, easy-to-clean and minces garlic with one squeeze.  Unlike other presses, this garlic press has beveled holes that finely cut the clove rather than bruising it, bringing out the best flavor.
  • Quality Knives: a chef’s knife will be your most used kitchen tool by far!  Quality knives make prep time much quicker and are important for safety as well.  If you’re concerned about moola, please remember that your best chef knives, depending on how hard you use them and how well you take care of them, can easily last 25 years or more. I love my Wusthof but there are hundreds of less expensive knives with great reviews such as this one.

LOOKING FOR MORE CHINESE RECIPES?

If you love Chinese fakeout takeout, be sure to check out my:

showing how to serve Hunan chicken with a top view of chicken and veggies in a bowl with rice, garnished by green onions with chopsticks on the side

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Hunan Chicken

Hunan Chicken is a favorite Chinese American stir fry made with juicy, thinly sliced chicken breasts, broccoli, carrots, bell peppers and celery blanked in a dynamic savory, spicy, garlic, ginger sauce. This Hunan Chicken recipe allows you to remake this classic in the comfort of your own home and adjust the heat from mild to numbingly hot. You can also swap the vegetables for your favorites or whatever you have on hand. This Hunan Chicken uses the easy restaurant velveting technique to produce undeniably tender, deeply flavorful chicken you will have to taste to believe. I love to serve this Hunan Style Chicken with homemade egg rolls and cream cheese wontons for a complete takeout fakeout feast.
Servings: 4 -6 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. chicken breasts thinly sliced
  • vegetable, peanut or canola oil

MARINADE

ADD LATER

HUNAN SAUCE

STIR FRY

  • 2-6 red jalapenos peppers, seeded, diced* may sub chili sauce – see notes)**
  • 1/2 large yellow onion cut into 1” pieces
  • 3 cups broccoli florets bite size
  • 3 carrots thinly sliced
  • 3 stalks celery sliced 1/2″ thick
  • 1 red bell pepper cut into 1” pieces
  • 4-6 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger

Instructions

  • Add the velveting ingredients to a large freezer bag or bowl; whisk to combine. Add chicken and turn until evenly coated. Let sit at room temperature while you prep your veggies; preferable 30 minutes (no more). After 30 minutes transfer chicken to a bag with ¼ cup cornstarch and 3 tablespoons flour. Toss to evenly coat.
  • Meanwhile, whisk Hunan Sauce ingredients together in a medium bowl; set aside.
  • Heat 2 tablespoon oil in a large cast iron skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Once very hot, add chicken in a single layer and cook until golden; flip chicken over and cook an additional minute, until browned on all sides (does not need to be cooked through). Remove chicken to a paper towel lined plate.
  • To the now empty skillet (don’t wipe out), heat one tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Add red jalapenos, broccoli, carrots, bell peppers, celery and onions. Stir fry until vegetables are crisp tender, about 2-3 minutes. (Don’t over-cook because they will continue to cook in sauce). Add garlic and ginger to the veggies and stir fry 30 seconds.
  • Whisk sauce (to recombine) and add to pan along with chicken. Bring the sauce to a boil then reduce to a simmer until sauce has thickened;1-2 minutes.
  • Garnish with green onions. Taste and add chili sauce if desired.

Notes

INGREDIENT TIPS AND SUBSTITUTIONS

  • *What is chili bean sauce?  Chili bean sauce delivers the signature savory, salty, spicy, sour, satisfying richness to Hunan Chicken.  Chili bean paste is made with a special blend of salted chilies and soybeans that are fermented together to create a deep, complex umami flavor.  Chili bean paste should be located in the Asian aisle of your grocery store or you can Amazon it.  I used Lee Kum Kee chili bean sauce. It is possible to make Hunan Chicken without it, but it will be missing a dimension of flavor.
  • **Red Jalapeno Pepper Substitution. If you can’t find red jalapeno peppers, you can substitute them with green jalapenos, or with serrano peppers. If you use jalapeno peppers, you will need slightly more and if you use serrano peppers, you need far less as they are much spicier.  You may also substitute the red jalapenos with Asian chili sauce (such as sambal oelek) which is made from a combination of chilies.  Add the Asian chili sauce directly to the Hunan Sauce.
  • Japanese rice wine should become a pantry staple if you do much Asian cooking.  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.  Please note that Rice wine is NOT rice vinegar- DO NOT switch them out.  Rice wine adds a sweetness and depth of flavor; rice vinegar, on the other hand, will add an acidic flavor. 
  • Use QUALITY oyster sauce like Lee Kum Kee or Kikkoman because you literally can TASTE the difference!
  • Customize veggies.  You can substitute the veggies for your favorites.

RECIPE TIPS AND TRICKS

  • Freeze chicken. It is much easier to thinly slice chicken if it has been frozen for an hour.  The sliced chicken will quickly come to temperature while it marinates.
  • Don’t marinate chicken for too long. The chicken should not be marinated longer than 30 minutes or else it can become mushy.
  • Prep veggies and Hunan sauce first.  While your chicken is marinating, chop all your veggies and prep your sauce.  You want everything ready before you start your stir fry because the actually cooking just takes a few minutes. If you have to stop to make your sauce while your veggies are still in the pan, they can end up soft and even worse – mushy.
  • How to chop ingredients.  The most important key to making a good stir-fry is cutting each ingredient to a uniform size as specified in the recipe. As detailed earlier in the post, chop the long cooking vegetables smaller and the short cooking vegetables larger.
  • Don’t overcook chicken.  For the juiciest chicken, don’t overcook!  Brown it in the skillet but let it finish cooking in the sauce.
  • Don’t overcook veggies.  I suggest setting the timer for 3 minutes for the initial stir frying of your veggies – it can go fast and you don’t want to overcook them initially.  It is better to under-cook them when stir frying then allow them to reach desired-crisp tenderness once you add the stir fry sauce.

HOW TO CUSTOMIZE THE HEAT 

Hunan Style Chicken is meant to be spicy but it is very EASY to customize the heat.  You can keep the recipe flavorful with the chili bean paste, garlic and ginger but use less peppers.  
  • MILD HUNAN CHICKEN:  Only use 1 red jalapeno pepper or 1 tablespoon Asian chili garlic sauce (like sambal oelek).  For a little more heat, bordering on medium, use 2 red jalapeno peppers.
  • MEDIUM HUNAN CHICKEN:  For moderately spicy Hunan Chicken, use 2 to 4 red jalapeno peppers. When I used 2 peppers, I would consider it mild-medium as I could taste some heat but it wasn’t very “spicy.” Use more than 2 peppers if you want to really taste the heat.
  • SPICY HUNAN CHICKEN: I would consider 4 or more red jalapeno peppers spicy. Of course, it will depend on the heat of the actual peppers as each pepper can vary greatly.
If you aren’t sure how spicy you want it, you can start with less red jalapeno peppers then add chili paste to spice up individual servings.

HOW TO PREP AHEAD

Hunan Chicken has a few steps, but you can prep almost everything ahead of time for a speedy dinner. Here’s how:
  • Slice chicken:  you can thinly slice the chicken any time before marinating then store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
  • Make Hunan sauce:  whisk the ingredients together up to 24 hours in advance and store, covered in the refrigerator.  Let the sauce sit at room temperature for 30 minutes or so before using.  You may also freeze for up to three months.
  • Chop veggies:  you can chop your garlic, grate your ginger and chop all your veggies 24 hours in advance and store in separate air tight containers in the refrigerator.
  • Cook!  Within the next 48 hours, proceed with the recipe starting with marinating the chicken for 20-30 minutes

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12 Comments

  1. Matt Robinson says

    This is stir fry taken to a whole new amazing level!

  2. Naomi Robinson says

    Matt just showed this to me. We both agreed – this needs to be made here!

    • Jen says

      Agreed! I think you will both love it!

  3. Laura says

    Made this tonight and it was great. The velveting of the chicken was a great tip and worked beautifully. Easy and delicious. Will absolutely make again. Thanks for another great dinner, Jen!

    • Jen says

      You’re so welcome Laura, I’m so happy it was a winner! Thanks for being the first to review this recipe!

  4. Eva Marie says

    Hey,

    This recipe calls for ketchup. Is it advantageous to use something like Gochujang, a Korean ketchup-like paste/sauce? I wonder if it would compliment or muddle the flavor.

    • Jen says

      Hi Eva, I would stick with ketchup because it has more acidity or you could use gochuchang and add a splash more rice wine. Enjoy!

  5. Kendra says

    What can I substitute for the Sesame Oil? Due to allergies, I cannot use.

    • Jen says

      Hi Kendra, I would just skip it. Enjoy!

  6. Missy says

    Do you suppose I could skip dusting the chicken with cornstarch and flour, and just saute the marinated chicken with no coating on it??

    • Jen says

      Absolutely! It will be missing the crispy crust but but still be delicious.

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