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
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 1/2 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.
- ***Fresh Szechuan peppercorn warning: Toasting and grinding fresh Szechuan peppercorns are much stronger than pre-bought. If you choose to toast/grind them yourself, start with HALF the amount then add more to taste as needed.
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 1/2 teaspoons ground 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. ]
- 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.