Szechuan Chicken

SZECHUAN CHICKEN THAT IS EASY and HEALTHIER TO MAKE AT HOME!

This Szechuan Chicken 辣子鸡is so good, you’ll skip the takeout forever AKA it’s the most undeniably tender, deeply flavorful chicken you’ve ever encountered!  It boasts juicy, velvety chicken blanketed in a dynamic fiery, aromatic, savory sauce with a kiss of sweetness made from layers of Thai chilies, Szechuan peppercorns, garlic and ginger.  But if you don’t like spicy, don’t worry, you can easily adjust the heat of this Szechuan Chicken from mild to numbingly hot.  This Szechuan Chicken is easy to make with a quick chicken marinade while you chop the veggies then it’s just a quick stir fry to dinner.  I’ve also included how to make this recipe without Thai chilies as well – so there’s no reason not to make this new favorite!

How to Make Szechuan Chicken Video

szechuan chicken in a bowl with rice garnished with green onions

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There is a reason Szechuan is world famous and one of my favorite Asian sauces ever. Ever since I posted my Szechuan Beef, I’ve been excited to bring you this Szechuan Chicken because the complex flavors of the sauce are out of this world and needs to be devoured in every form! 

So, today I’m excited to bring you this Szechuan Chicken recipe that will satisfy all of your savory, sweet and spicy cravings, with the added bonus of the exotic tingly sensation due to the Szechuan peppercorn.  

This Szechuan Chicken recipe has a long ingredient list, but I promise the recipe is EASY – most of the ingredients are just dump and whisk.  We are simply whisking the marinade ingredients together, marinating the chicken while you chop your onions, garlic and bell peppers, and whisking the Szechuan 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 Szechuan Chicken – it’s an exotic intoxicating flavor bomb in every mouthful and destined to become a new favorite! 

WHAT IS SZECHUAN CHICKEN?

Szechuan Chicken, Szechuan Beef and Szechuan Shrimp are popular staples at most Chinese restaurants – and what do they all have in common? Szechuan Sauce!  Szechuan cuisine is all about the spicy, complex, unique sauce.  In the US, Szechuan Chicken has come to mean bite size pieces of chicken thighs either fried or pan fried in Szechuan sauce.

Szechuan style cuisine originated in Sichuan, China and is characterized by its bold, pungent, spicy flavors from garlic, chili peppers, and most importantly, Szechuan peppercorn.  

Szechuan peppercorn are what differentiate Szechuan Chicken from other spicy chicken stir fry recipes such as Kung Pao Chicken and Hunan Chicken (more on that below).

Szechuan Chicken (/ˈsɛʃwɒn/ or /ˈsɛtʃwɒn/) is also known as Sichuan or Szechwan named for a region in China. It comes from the Chinese word “Sichuan” in pinyin meaning “four rivers.”  So, when you see Szechuan, Sichuan or Szechwan, know you are in for a zippy, spicy tingly treat.

top view showing how to serve chicken szechuan style by garnishing with green onions

REASONS TO LOVE THIS SZECHUAN CHICKEN RECIPE:

  • Customize spice level:  you can keep this Szechuan Chicken 100% family friendly by leaving all of the Thai chilies whole or make it as spicy as you like it by adding as many seeds to taste.
  • QUICK and easy:  marinate the chicken, chop the veggies, whisk together the Szechuan sauce, then stir fry!  The whole meal can be on your table in less than 45 minutes – 30 if you’re a quick worker.  
  • Versatile:  use can use chicken breasts or chicken thighs. The vibrant medley of fresh crisp-tender veggies is completely flexible as well – making it an irresistible, healthy clean-out the fridge dinner! 
  • FLAVOR!  the Szechuan sauce is an explosion of layers of flavor made from oyster sauce, soy sauce, chicken broth, rice wine, toasted sesame oil, Szechuan peppercorns, Thai chilies and aromatic garlic and ginger.  Can we say FLAVOR?!
  • JUICY and so 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.

WHAT DOES CHICKEN SZECHUAN STYLE TASTE LIKE?

Chicken Szechuan style is nothing short of mesmerizing due to the layering of flavors.  Thai chili peppers (which may also substitute with chili paste) is combined with Szechuan peppercorn, garlic, ginger, oyster sauce and soy sauce to create a complex, savory, spicy stir fry with a touch of sweetness from brown sugar accompanied by a tingly sensation due to the Szechuan peppercorns.  Szechuan peppercorns add the unique, complex flavor notes that set this chicken stir fry apart. 

If you enjoy spicy foods, you will LOVE Chicken Szechuan and if you don’t love spicy foods you will still LOVE this Chicken Szechuan – just spice it to your taste.

showing how to customize the heat of Szechuan chicken by adding Thai chili seeds

WHAT IS THE DIFFER

ENCE BETWEEN HUNAN chicken AND SZECHUAN CHICKEN?

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:

  • HUNAN CHICKEN VS SZEUCHAN CHICKEN: Hunan is hotter and spicier due to the use of fresh peppers to create a chili bean paste.  Its flavor profile is also considered plainer without the kiss of sweetness.  Hunan chicken is also oilier due to the paste and uses more vegetables as well.
  • SZECHUAN CHICKEN VS GENERAL TSO’S CHICKENGeneral Tso’s Chicken is battered and deep fried. The flavor profile is more sweet and spicy, but far less spicy than Szechuan Chicken, with the zing coming from a generous amount of ginger verses chili peppers.

WHAT ARE SZECHUAN PEPPERCORN?

Let’s talk the Szechuan in Szechuan Chicken. Szechuan peppercorn (“peppercorn” is the correct plural form) are actually a berry from the husks of Chinese Ash trees in the citrus family.  It actually doesn’t come from the same family as black pepper nor is it related to chili peppers.  Instead, it is its own fabulous entity

WHAT SZECHUAN PEPPERCORNS TASTE LIKE?

For a long time, I thought Szechuan peppercorn were hot, but they actually aren’t 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. In addition, before hot chiles were brought to China, Szechuan peppercorn were cooked with ginger to add heat to dishes.

Szechuan peppercorn taste perfumy, complex, and peppery with a citrus zing and pine, lavender notes coupled with a tangible mouth-numbing sensation. They remind me of a complex cross between pepper, cardamom, ginger, clove and lemon.

This tingling sensation is caused by the molecule hydroxy-alpha-sanshool in the peppercorn that interacts with the nerve cell receptors in your lips and mouth – but don’t be alarmed!  The molecule is simply telling the brain that the area is being touched and the brain confuses this with sensation of numbness. Chefs speculate that the numbing effect takes down the heat of the always accompanying chili peppers, which allows partakers to more fully appreciate the chili’s fruity side – and not just the heat – another win for the Szechuan peppercorn!

showing how to make chicken szechuan style by stirring the chicken and veggies together

WHERE TO BUY SZECHUAN PEPPERCORN

Szechuan peppercorn can be found on Amazon (my fav!) at most Asian markets (call first) spice stores, or sometimes specialty stores like Whole Foods and Sprouts.

The most important thing to be aware of is 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.

I prefer Szechuan peppercorn powder because it is easy to use and save you a tedious step.

SZECHUAN PEPPERCORN SUBSTITUTIONS

Many Americanized Szechuan Chicken recipes don’t include Szechuan peppercorn, which is kind of blasphemy, in my opinion, as it literally is in the name of the dish.  Szechuan peppercorn adds peppery heat and complex citrus notes that is hard to replicate. 

That being said, you can use a Szechuan peppercorn substitute if don’t have access to it.  There are many substitutes such as grains of paradise, Tellicherry peppercorns and Tasmanian pepper but the most accessible is freshly ground pepper and coriander.

  • Pepper + Coriander:  The pepper brings the peppery heat and the coriander brings the fresh, pungent citrus flavor.  Use both freshy ground pepper and freshly ground coriander for best results when possible. 
  • Pepper:  The last option would be to use freshly ground black pepper to provide the peppery heat but it would be lacking in the unique, complex, flavor notes.

What Chili Peppers for Szechuan Chicken?

For this Szechuan Chicken, you will need DRIED, Thai chilies.  Thai chilies typically can be found at an Asian market or on Amazon. 

Dried Thai chilies are one-half to two inches long. These chilies range from 50,000 to 100,000 Scoville heat units which is 23 times the average heat of a jalapeño!

In order to not burn our mouths off, we stir fry the chilies whole and only add some seeds to taste. This is akin to using the flesh of the jalapenos without the seeds – you still get the flavor and some of the heat but not the numbing heat.

There are many different types of dried peppers such as arbol chilies, New Mexican chilies, ancho chiles, guajillo chiles, pasilla, etc. These are all Mexican chiles and NOT Thai chilies.  Thai chiles are much smaller and therefore much spicier than the aforementioned chilies so make sure you purchase the correct chilies or use sambal oelek as described below.

showing what chilies to use in Szechuan Chicken by holding a bowl of Thai chilies

What can I use instead of Thai Chilies?

If you can’t locate Thai chiles, you can substitute them with Asian chili sauce (such as sambal oelek) which is made from a combination of chilies, including Thai chilies.

I recommend 1 tablespoon Asian chili paste plus ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes for medium spicy and 2 tablespoons Asian chili paste plus ½ teaspoon for spicier. Always start with less heat and add more to taste – because you can add heat but it’s hard to take away!

If you know you don’t like very spicy food, then I would only use 1 tablespoon Asian chili sauce and eliminate the crushed red pepper flakes.  From there, you can add back a small pinch of red pepper flakes or Asian chili sauce to taste to the entire Szechuan Chicken or to your individual servings.

HOW SPICY IS SZECHUAN CHICKEN RECIPE?

Szechuan Chicken is meant to have a kick from the Szechuan peppercorn, Asian Thai chilies, ginger and garlic. That being said, it is very EASY to customize the heat of this Szechuan Chicken recipe.

  • MILD SZECHUAN CHICKEN:  In my Szechuan Chicken recipe, I use 15 Thai chili peppers.   If you stir fry the recipe with these chilies but do NOT cut any of the peppers open and don’t eat any of the chiles, your stir fry will be mild in heat.
  • MODERATE TO SPICY SZECHUAN CHICKEN:  For spicier Szechuan Chicken recipe, use the 15 whole Thai chilies and add seeds from additional chilies to taste.  To do this, simply cut the dried chilies open and sprinkle the seeds in to the entire Szechuan Chicken or to individual servings.  I find seeds from 5 chilies (added to the whole dish) to be medium spicy and it gets spicier from there the more seeds you add. 
  • ***If you aren’t sure how spicy you want it, start with less chili seeds and sprinkle in more after to taste after the dish is complete.
top view of showing how to serve Szechuan chicken in a bowl with chopsticks

WHAT KIND OF CHICKEN IS USED FOR CHICKEN SZECHUAN STYLE?

I’ve made this Szechuan Chicken with chicken thighs, chicken breasts and combination of both chicken thighs and chicken breasts (as pictured here), and they are all delicious but chicken thighs are my favorite.  Chicken thighs are also the most common cut of chicken used for Szechuan Chicken.  Here’s the breakdown:

  • Boneless skinless chicken thighs: are dark meat and therefore inherently juicier and hard to overcook or dry out or overcook. Thighs are the best option for the BEST Szechuan Chicken.
  • Boneless skinless chicken breasts:  are leaner than chicken thighs but still emerge buttery tender from the velveting.  I always use chicken breasts + velveting and I am never disappointed.
  • Can I use different Protein?  Looking beyond poultry, try my Szechuan beef or try out cubed tofu, pork or shrimp.  If using shrimp, add it at the end of cooking because shrimp will get rubbery if overcooked.

HOW DO YOU MAKE SZECHUAN CHICKEN EXTRA TENDER?

This Szechuan Chicken is not only crazy delicious but the chicken is wonderful silky 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.   

a skillet of authentic chicken Szechuan style

WHAT IS IN SZECHUAN SAUCE?

The BEST Szechuan Chicken needs the best Szechuan sauce!  The ingredient is lengthy, but remember we are just adding and whisking to create the sauce in minutes. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Oyster sauce:  is the primary ingredient in many stir fries.  It is a thick, brown sauce with a balance between sweet and salty with an earthy undertone due to the oyster extracts.  I HIGHLY recommend high quality oyster sauce like Lee Kum Kee or Kikkoman because it will affect the taste of your dish – not all oyster sauce is created equal! 
  • soy sauce:  use reduced sodium soy sauce so we can control the salt level.
  • 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. You may also use water but you may need to add some salt to taste.  Pro Tip:  You can freeze unused chicken broth in desired quantities in plastic bags so it doesn’t go to waste.
  • 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:  Rice wine adds a sweetness and depth of flavor.  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:  adds a wonderful subtle nutty flavor.  You skip it if you don’t have it on hand.  
  • cornstarch:  thickens the sauce so it’s rich instead of watery.
  • Szechuan peppercorn: For this Szechuan Chicken recipe, you will need 1 ½ teaspoons ground Szechuan peppercorn.   You can purchase whole ones and toast and grind them yourself, although I find it easier to just purchase ground Szechuan powder.  
  • Chinese 5 spice:  is thought to have come from ancient Chinese who were attempting to produce a “wonder powder” that encompasses all five tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and a spicy. It contains Szechuan peppercorn, ground cloves, fennel, star anise and cinnamon.   Chinese 5 Spice can be found with the rest of the seasonings in your grocery store.  I also use it in my phenomenal Chinese Chicken Wings. 
  • Aromatics: ginger, onions and garlic (added with the stir fry) add warm spicy, almost pepper taste.  These aromatics awaken and elevate the entire Szechuan 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.

IS SZECHUAN CHICKEN RECIPE GLUTEN FREE?

As written, this Szechuan 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 is gluten free.  The rest of the Szechuan Chicken ingredients are gluten free.

two hands holding a bowl of chicken szechuan style

WHAT VEGETABLES DO YOU USE in SZECHUAN CHICKEN?

Szechuan Chicken is typically very simple when it comes to veggies, using just onions and bell peppers, so the silky chicken and sauce can really shine. That being said, feel free to swap the bell peppers based on what’s in your fridge, your favorites, what’s in season or what’s on sale. 

Here are some great vegetables to try: 

  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Mushrooms
  • Bell Peppers
  • Snow Peas
  • Snap Peas
  • Zucchini
  • Celery
  • Asparagus
  • Baby corn
  • Edamame
  • Bean sprouts
  • Cabbage (green or red)
  • Spinach
  • Bok choy

HOW DO YOU MAKE SZECHUAN CHICKEN?

This Szechuan Chicken requires a few steps, but they are all easy and important to create the world-famous deeply flavorful Chinese Chicken.  Here’s the breakdown:

STEP 1:  Marinate Chicken

  • Marinating the chicken ensures juicy, flavorful, silky chicken.  The marinating/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 bell peppers, aromatics and whisk together Szechuan sauce; preferable 30 minutes, but whatever you have time for is fine.   You don’t wan’t to marinate the chicken longer than 30 minutes.
showing how to make Szechuan chicken by marinating chicken in a glass bowl with soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil and cornstarach

STEP 2:  MAKE SZECHUAN SAUCE

  • While the chicken is marinating, whisk oyster sauce, soy sauce, chicken broth, rice wine, sesame oil, cornstarch, brown sugar, ground Szechuan peppercorn, and Chinese 5 spice together in a medium bowl; set aside.
showing how to make Szechuan chicken by whisking Szechuan Sauce ingredients together in a glass bowl

STEP 3:  Toast peanuts  

  • Please don’t skip the peanuts unless you’re allergic!  They add a tantalizing nutty crunch in every bite.   
  • To toast, simply add peanut to the skillet without any oil and toast over medium heat until browned in spots, tossing occasionally.

STEP 4:  STIR FRY CHICKEN

  • Heat 1-2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil a large nonstick skillet over high heat until very hot and sizzling.  If your skillet isn’t well seasoned, then fill the bottom of the pan with oil so the chicken doesn’t stick.
  • Once very hot, add chicken in a single layer and cook until golden, then flip chicken over and cook an additional 1-2 minutes, then continue to cook and stir until browned on all sides. It is important that the skillet be smoking hot so that the chicken will sear and not steam. 
  • The chicken does not need to be cooked all the way through because it will finish cooking in the stir fry sauce.  Don’t overcook or it won’t be as tender Remove chicken to a plate.
showing how to make healthy chicken stir fry recipe browning chicken in skillet

STEP 5:  STIR FRY VEGGIES

  • After you remove the chicken, don’t wipe out the skillet unless you’ve used a lot of oil; we want all those brown bits to flavor the veggies.
  • Heat 1 ½ tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. 
  • Once very hot, add onions and stir fry for 2 minutes. 
  • Add bell peppers, ginger, garlic, dried chilies and chili seeds and stir fry one minute.  DON’T over-cook because the bell peppers will continue to cook in the sauce.  
  • Add garlic and ginger to the veggies and sauté 30 seconds.
showing how to make Szechuan chicken by stir frying bell peppers, onions and Thai chili peppers

STEP 6:  COMBINE

  • Return the chicken to the skillet.
  • Whisk the sauce to recombine after sitting then add to the skillet.
  • Cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce is thickened and chicken is cooked through, about 1-2 minutes. Taste and add additional chili seeds or chili sauce if desired.
showing how to make Szechuan chicken by adding chicken and Szechuan sauce to vegetables

HOW DO I MAKE CRISPY SZECHUAN CHICKEN?

This Szechuan Chicken is healthier because it is sautéed verses fried and you still get the crunch from the peanuts.  If you would still like crispy Szechuan Chicken, you will need to fry the chicken:

  1. After marinating, toss chicken in ¼ cup self-rising flour and ¼ cup cornstarch. 
  2. Fill the bottom of a heavy bottom pan with 2 inches of vegetable oil or other high smoking point oil.
  3. Heat oil to 375 F degrees until very hot and smoking – the oil should sizzle if you flick water on it.
  4. Add chicken in a single layer using tongs.
  5. Fry until deeply golden and chicken registers 165 degrees F.
  6. Remove to a cooling rack set over paper towels to drain.

TIPS AND TRICKS FOR SZECHUAN CHICKEN RECIPE

Szechuan Chicken is pretty straightforward, but here are some tips and tricks to make it a sizzling success:

  • Customize heat. See my detailed section about customizing heat and substituting chili sauce for chili peppers.
  • Don’t marinate chicken for too long. The bite-size pieces of chicken should not be marinated longer than 30 minutes or else they can become mushy.
  • Prep veggies and sauce first.  While your chicken is marinating, chop all your veggies, aromatics and prep your sauce.  You want everything ready before you start cooking because the actually stir fry portion just takes a few minutes. If you have to stop to make your sauce while your bell peppers are still in the pan, they can end up soft and even worse – mushy.
  • Use rice wine.  Use 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!
  • 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 veggies flavor.
  • Hot but not too hot skillet. Your pan should be hot enough so that the chicken and veggies sizzle when they touch the pan and continue to sizzle but the pan shouldn’t be so hot that it smokes excessively once you add the oil.  If the pan is smoking hot, remove it from heat, let it cool slightly then return to heat. To determine if the wok is hot enough, flick a few droplets of water onto the skillet or wok.  The beads of water should evaporate within 2 seconds. 
  • 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 bell peppers.  I suggest setting the timer for 60 seconds 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 Szechuan sauce.
  • Customize veggies.  You can substitute the bell peppers for your favorite veggies.
  • Add sauce to the sides of the pan.  Pour the Szechuan 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.  
top view of serving Szechuan chicken in a skillet

WHAT SHOULD I SERVE WITH SZECHUAN CHICKEN?

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

HOW TO PREP CHICKEN SZECHUAN STYLE AHEAD OF TIME

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

  • Chop chicken:  you can trim and chop chicken into bite size pieces any time before marinating then store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
  • Make Szechuan 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.
  • Chop veggies:  you can chop your garlic, grate your ginger and slice your onions and bell peppers 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.
up close of serving chicken Szechuan style

HOW TO STORE SZECHUAN CHICKEN

Szechuan Chicken reheats very well if not initially overcooked.   

  • 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 YOU FREEZE CHICKEN SZECHUAN STYLE ?

Yes, Szechuan Chicken freezes very well, except for the bell peppers.  If using bell peppers, you may want to pick them out or they will get mushy.  Also, take care not to overcook the chicken or it won’t be as tender when reheated.

To freeze assembled Szechuan Chicken:

  1. Let Szechuan Chicken cool completely in the refrigerator. 
  2. Transfer to an airtight container.  If using a freezer bag, squeeze out any excess air to prevent freezer burn.
  3. Label and freeze for up to 3 months. 
  4. When ready to eat, let Szechuan Chicken defrost overnight in the refrigerator.
  5. Reheat in the microwave for 60 seconds then at 30 second intervals or gently on the stove.

To freeze Szechuan Chicken separately:

You may also freeze the chicken and stir fry sauce separately before combined.  This works best if you are masking a prep ahead freezer meal. 

  • Stir Fry 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.

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Szechuan chicken  in a bowl with Thai chilies, garlic and ginger

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Szechuan Chicken

This Szechuan Chicken 辣子鸡is so good, you’ll skip the takeout forever AKA it’s the most undeniably tender, deeply flavorful chicken you’ve ever encountered! It boasts juicy, velvety chicken blanketed in a dynamic fiery, aromatic, savory sauce with a kiss of sweetness made from layers of Thai chilies, Szechuan peppercorns, garlic and ginger. But if you don’t like spicy, don’t worry, you can easily adjust the heat of this Szechuan Chicken from mild to numbingly hot. This Szechuan Chicken is easy to make with a quick chicken marinade while you chop the veggies then it’s just a quick stir fry to dinner. I’ve also included how to make this recipe without Thai chilies as well – so there’s no reason not to make this new favorite!
Servings: 6 -8 servings
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

CHICKEN

SZECHUAN SAUCE

STIR FRY

  • 1/3 cup cocktail peanuts
  • peanut oil or vegetable oil
  • 1 onion sliced 1/4″ thick from stem to root
  • 1 red bell pepper sliced ¼” thick
  • 1 yellow bell pepper sliced ¼” thick
  • 15 whole Thai dried red chilies *see Notes for substitutions
  • seeds from 5-10 Thai dried red chilies optional for spicier – see Notes
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 4 medium cloves garlic minced

Instructions

  • Chicken: Whisk the chicken ingredients (minus chicken) in a shallow bowl or freezer bag. Add chicken and stir until evenly coated. Set aside while you chop the veggies and prep the rest of the ingredients.
  • Sauce: Whisk the sauce ingredients together in a small bowl; set aside.
  • Add peanuts to a large wok or nonstick skillet and toast over medium heat until dark golden in spots. Remove from skillet. (A nonstick skillet will work best with the chicken in the next step unless your skillet is very well seasoned.)
  • To the same skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Once very hot, add chicken in a single layer and cook until golden; flip chicken over and cook an additional 2 minutes, until browned on all sides (does not need to be cooked through). Remove chicken to a plate.
  • To the same skillet, heat 1 ½ tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. Once very hot, add onions and stir fry for 2 minutes. Add bell peppers, ginger, garlic, dried chilies and chili seeds and stir fry one minute.
  • Return the chicken to the skillet and toss to combine. Whisk the sauce to recombine then add to the skillet. Cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce is thickened and chicken is cooked through, about 1-2 minutes. Taste and add additional chili seeds or chili sauce if desired.
  • Serve with rice and garnish with green onions and sesame seeds if desired.

Video

Notes

Don’t miss the “how to make” recipe video at the top of the post!

What Chili Peppers for Szechuan Chicken?

  • For this Szechuan Chicken, you will need DRIED, Thai chilies.  Thai chilies typically can be found at an Asian market or on Amazon.  Dried Thai chilies are one-half to two inches long. These chilies range from 50,000 to 100,000 Scoville heat units which is 23 times the average heat of a jalapeño!
  • In order to not burn our mouths off, we stir fry the chilies whole and only add some seeds to taste. This is akin to using the flesh of the jalapenos without the seeds – you still get the flavor and some of the heat but not the numbing heat.

Thai Chilies Substitute

  • If you can’t locate Thai chiles, you can substitute them with Asian chili sauce (such as sambal oelek) which is made from a combination of chilies, including Thai chilies.
  • I recommend 1 tablespoon Asian chili paste plus ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes for medium spicy and 2 tablespoons Asian chili paste plus ½ teaspoon for spicier. Always start with less heat and add more to taste – because you can add heat but it’s hard to take away!
  • If you know you don’t like very spicy food, then I would only use 1 tablespoon Asian chili sauce and eliminate the crushed red pepper flakes.  From there, you can add back a small pinch of red pepper flakes or Asian chili sauce to taste to the entire Szechuan Chicken or to your individual servings.

HOW to customize spice level using chilies

Szechuan Chicken is meant to have a kick from the Szechuan peppercorn, Asian Thai chilies, ginger and garlic. That being said, it is very EASY to customize the heat of this Szechuan Chicken recipe:
  • MILD SZECHUAN CHICKEN:  In my Szechuan Chicken recipe, I use 15 Thai chili peppers.   If you stir fry the recipe with these chilies but do NOT cut any of the peppers open and don’t eat any of the chiles, your stir fry will be flavorful but mild in heat.
  • MODERATE TO SPICY SZECHUAN CHICKEN:  For spicier Szechuan Chicken recipe, use the 15 whole Thai chilies and add seeds from additional chilies to taste.  To do this, simply cut the dried chilies open and sprinkle the seeds in to the entire Szechuan Chicken or to individual servings.  I find seeds from 5 chilies (added to the whole dish) to be medium spicy and it gets spicier from there the more seeds you add. 
  • ***If you aren’t sure how spicy you want it, start with less chili seeds and sprinkle in more after to taste after the dish is complete.

TIPS AND TRICKS 

Szechuan Chicken is pretty straightforward, but here are some tips and tricks to make it a sizzling success:
  • Szechuan peppercorn:  You will need 1 ½ teaspoons ground Szechuan peppercorn.   You can purchase whole ones and toast and grind them yourself, although I find it easier to just purchase ground Szechuan powder.  Szechuan peppercorn can be found on Amazon (my fav!) at most Asian markets (call first) spice stores, or sometimes specialty stores like Whole Foods and Sprouts.
  • Use rice wine.  Use 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!
  • 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 veggies flavor.
  • Customize heat. See my detailed section about customizing heat and substituting chili sauce for chili peppers.
  • Don’t marinate chicken for too long. The bite-size pieces of chicken should not be marinated longer than 30 minutes or else they can become mushy.
  • Prep veggies and sauce first.  While your chicken is marinating, chop all your veggies, aromatics and prep your sauce.  You want everything ready before you start cooking because the actually stir fry portion just takes a few minutes. If you have to stop to make your sauce while your bell peppers are still in the pan, they can end up soft and even worse – mushy.
  • Hot but not too hot skillet. Your pan should be hot enough so that the chicken and veggies sizzle when they touch the pan and continue to sizzle but the pan shouldn’t be so hot that it smokes excessively once you add the oil.  If the pan is smoking hot, remove it from heat, let it cool slightly then return to heat. To determine if the wok is hot enough, flick a few droplets of water onto the skillet or wok.  The beads of water should evaporate within 2 seconds. 
  • 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 bell peppers.  I suggest setting the timer for 60 seconds 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 Szechuan sauce.
  • Customize veggies.  You can substitute the bell peppers for your favorite veggies.
  • Add sauce to the sides of the pan.  Pour the Szechuan 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 AHEAD 

Szechuan Chicken has a few steps, but you can prep almost everything ahead of time for a speedy dinner. Here’s how:
  • Chop chicken:  you can trim and chop chicken into bite size pieces any time before marinating then store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
  • Make Szechuan 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.
  • Chop veggies:  you can chop your garlic, grate your ginger and slice your onions and bell peppers 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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9 Comments

  1. Jennifer Fulk says

    Hi Jen! Excited to make this! I ordered the peppercorn powder on Amazon. I am planning on using the Sambal Oelek instead of the dried chiles. Do I add it in with the veggies and ginger/garlic? I would like to add asparagus and water chestnuts along with the bell pepper and onion. Do you think it will be saucy enough to serve over rice or should I double the sauce? Thank you!

    • Jen says

      I’m excited you’re excited! I would whisk the Sambal Ooelek directly to the Szechuan sauce. I think it is saucy enough to add the extra veggies and then just add a little extra chicken broth to stretch the sauce at the end if needed. I’ can’t wait to hear what you think!

      • Jennifer Fulk says

        Thank you! That sounds perfect! I will let you know soon! My peppercorns are coming on Monday!

  2. Linda says

    Wonderful dish. The marinated chicken browns up quickly, great tasting Szechuan sauce, quick prep, quick one pan cooking – a winner here in our family.

    Added extra veggies – carrots and broccoli. Used Sambel Oelek in place of thai chilies.

    Thank you for the recipe

    • Jen says

      Thanks for being the first to review this Szechuan Chicken recipe Linda! I’m thrilled it is a new family winner and you were able to easily use Sambal Oelekk and add extra veggies – yum!

  3. Jennifer Fulk says

    Made it! Wow Jen ! This was just amazing. I have to say the most flavorful stir-fry I have ever made. That sauce is terrific. I served it with steamed white rice and Minh’s egg rolls. I cannot wait for lunch leftovers ! The chicken is delicious and melts in your mouth. Top of the stir fry list for sure! Thank you!

    • Jen says

      I’m thrilled you loved this Szechuan Chicken so much Jennifer! When I love something so much I want everyone else too love it that much too, so YAY! I’m honored it earned “top of the stir fry list!”

  4. Joe says

    Store didn’t have dried thai chiles but I have de arbol on hand, would this work? How many to use?

    • Jen says

      yes, that would work great! Thai chilies are typically three to four times hotter than chile de àrbol, so you can use quite a bit more.