Hot and spicy, and full of flavour. This easy Szechuan Chicken recipe is my take on the classic Szechuan Chicken from the Sichuan Province of China. I’ve adapted it to suit my own taste (and pantry ingredients), and what it lacks in authenticity, it certainly makes up for in taste.
Easy Szechuan Chicken
With the current situation of social distancing continuing, I’ve been looking into creating versions of my favourite takeaways (fakeaways?) at home. And this easy recipe for Szechuan chicken fits the bill perfectly. It’s got everything that you would expect from a meal in a Chinese restaurant, but it is so quick and easy to make. Once you’ve done all the prep, you can have this meal on the table in half-an-hour.
What you get are tender chunks of chicken in a crispy batter, swimming in a deliciously hot and spicy sauce which is packed with your favourite vegetables. Serve this over a bowl of thin noodles and you have a meal that will have the whole family licking their lips and looking for seconds.
This is quite a spicy dish, but you can tone down the heat by adjusting the quantity of chili to suit your own family’s taste. And if you don’t like the heat you can leave the chili out altogether. There are plenty of other flavours in this dish to make up for the lack of heat.
What is Sichuan Pepper?
One of the ingredients in the authentic recipe for Szechuan chicken is sichuan pepper which is a spice grown in the Sichuan province of China. Despite its name the sichuan pepper is not related to either the black pepper or the red chili pepper. Instead, this spice has a mild citrus flavour and creates a tingly numbness in the mouth when eaten. It is one of the ingredients in Chinese 5-spice powder.
If you can’t get hold of sichuan pepper you can substitute it in this recipe for a tablespoon of lemon juice and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper.
What you need for Szechuan chicken
This recipe is sufficient for 4 people.
Preparation : about 20 minutes. Actual cooking time : about 30 minutes.
You will need approximately 100g skinless chicken breast fillet per person. If you prefer you can use skinless, boneless chicken thighs.
For the vegetables you will need 1 to 1 and a half cups of mixed vegetables per person. Here are some suggestions – red, green or yellow bell pepper, cabbage, mushrooms, snowpeas/sugarsnaps, baby corn, broccoli, carrots, beansprouts, green beans, spring onions/scallions, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots. I wouldn’t use zucchini/courgettes as those would tend to go mushy. If you want to use onions, my suggestion would be to fry them first until they turn translucent, to ensure they will be cooked through. Just pick your own favourite combination.
You will also need some spices and flavouring agents – soy sauce, oyster sauce, maple syrup or brown sugar, garlic, rice wine/balsamic vinegar, 5-spice powder, dried chili flakes, szechuan pepper (if you can get it, otherwise black pepper), sesame oil, ginger, tomato paste, salt and cornflour/cornstarch for thickening.
Finally, you will need some chicken stock. If you don’t have fresh, it’s perfectly OK to make your own using a stock cube.
To serve, you will need a bowl of freshly cooked Chinese noodles or a bowl of white rice. Either of these will help you to mop up every last drop of the delicious sauce.
How to make Szechuan chicken
As with many Chinese dishes, most of the work in making this szechuan chicken is in the preparation.
There are 5 easy steps to follow.
- Velvet the chicken to tenderise and add flavour.
- Mix a quick batter, dip the chicken and fry until just cooked through.
- Slice and shred the vegetables.
- Mix the spicy Szechuan sauce and cook the vegetables.
- Add the cooked chicken back into the sauce and serve.
Each of these steps is discussed in more detail below.
Velvet the chicken
If you’ve ever wondered how Chinese restaurants get their meat so tender, it’s because they velvet it before cooking. Velveting is a process whereby meat is tenderised by marinating in a mixture of cornflour (cornstarch) and a flavouring such as soy or oyster sauce for 10 – 15 minutes before cooking (image 1 below). The soy and cornflour react with the fibres of the meat, breaking down the protein and causing the meat to become more tender.
The second step of velveting is to flash fry the meat to sear the outside before using the meat in the actual cooking process, such as a stirfry. Because this recipe calls for the meat to be fried anyway we are going to omit this step, and just marinate the chicken.
If you do a Google search on velveting meat, you will find lots of other methods. Some of them advise using bicarbonate of soda, or egg whites. I’ve been using this method of cornflour and soy sauce for years, and it always works for me.
Make the batter and fry the chicken
While the chicken is marinating you can mix the batter. My preferred batter is a light tempura-style batter, made by mixing an egg with a little salt and sufficient cornflour (cornstarch) to thicken the batter to a thick cream consistency (image 2 above).
Once the chicken has marinated, drain it through a colander, reserving any liquid. This liquid will be added back to the dish later to help thicken the sauce.
Dip pieces of chicken into the batter and fry them in about 1/4″ of sunflower or other neutral oil like canola, until they are browned and crispy. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towel (images 3 and 4 above).
Shred and slice the vegetables
For this Szechuan chicken recipe I have used finely shredded cabbage, beansprouts, sliced button mushrooms, broccoli florets and chopped green beans. I also sliced a carrot into thin ribbons using a potato peeler (image 1 below).
Mix the sauce and cook the vegetables
Mix all the ingredients for the sauce into a wok or a large frying pan (image 2 above), then add the chopped vegetables and stir well to coat with the sauce (image 3 above). Turn on the heat and stirfry for a couple of minutes until warmed through, then add the stock and bring to the boil. Cover with a lid, turn the heat down to a simmer and leave for 10 to 15 minutes until the vegetables are cooked (image 4 above). Don’t allow the vegetables to over-cook. They should still have a little crispness, but not be mushy.
Taste the sauce for flavour and seasoning and adjust if necessary.
Now add the leftover marinade, bring to the boil and allow to thicken. If there isn’t enough marinade left to thicken the sauce, just mix 2 teaspoons of cornflour/cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of water and drizzle in slowly, stirring all the while, until the desired consistency is reached. The sauce should be the consistency of thick cream (or thick gravy 🙂 ).
Add the chicken, heat and serve
Add the cooked chicken to the vegetables and sauce, and mix through. Leave the pan on a low heat until the chicken has heated through.
Serve on a bed of noodles, or over a bowl of white rice.
Can I freeze szechuan chicken?
Yes, you can freeze this dish. In fact, there are only 2 of us at home now, and I normally make a double batch and freeze half for another meal.
Just allow the dish to cool completely, then pack into rigid containers, label and freeze for up to 3 months.
- Allow the szechuan chicken to defrost in the refrigerator then tip the contents into a large frying pan and heat gently until piping hot.
- If you prefer, you can defrost the dish in the microwave, the reheat on full power for approximately 3 minutes (the timing will depend on the wattage of your microwave and the amount of food that you are reheating).
- Finally, you could just tip the frozen chicken into a large saucepan, cover with a lid and leave over a LOW heat until the dish has defrosted. Then turn up the heat and bring to the boil.
Can I make szechuan chicken in advance?
If you want to make this dish in advance, you could cook the sauce and vegetables and leave in a covered dish in the refrigerator for up to three days.
When you are ready to make the dish, just prepare and fry the chicken as per the recipe instructions, heat the sauce in a large pan until piping hot and then stir the fried chicken through.
Convert grams to cups
To help you convert your recipes, I have created a handy Cookery Conversion Calculator which will convert ingredients between grams, ounces, tablespoons, cups and millilitres. I hope you will find it useful.
If you live at a high altitude you may find you need to adjust your baking recipes to compensate for this. You can read about how to do this in this post on baking at high altitudes.
Pin for later
Why not pin this recipe for Easy Szechuan Chicken with Noodles to your pinterest board so you can make it later. Just click the image below.
Recipe – Easy Szechuan Chicken with noodles
Easy Szechuan Chicken with Noodles
- 2 x small mixing bowls
- Sharp Knife
- Chopping Board
- Wok or large frying pan
Chicken and marinade
- 1 lb (450g) chicken breast fillet See note 1
- 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) soy sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons (16g) cornflour / cornstarch
- 4 tablespoons sunflower or canola oil for frying
- 2 large eggs
- 1 pinch salt
- 3 tablespoons cornflour / cornstarch see note 2
- 1 cup finely shredded cabbage
- 1 cup broccoli florets
- 1/2 cup shredded carrots
- 1/2 cup chopped green beans
- 1 cup sliced button mushrooms
- 1 cup beansprouts
- 4 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon crushed garlic fresh cloves or use from a jar
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed ginger fresh or from a jar
- 1 teaspoon crushed sichuan pepper See note 3
- 1 teaspoon dried chili flakes more or less to your own taste
- 1/2 teaspoon 5-spice powder
- 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar OR balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon tomato puree
- 2 teaspoons cornflour / cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons water
- 1 cup chicken stock if you don't have stock, use a stock cube dissolved in 1 cup of boiling water.
Marinate the chicken
- Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces
- Whisk the soy sauce, cornflour and salt in a bowl to remove any lumps.
- Add the chicken and mix to coat thoroughly. Set aside for 10 to 15 minutes to marinate.
- Once marinated, drain the chicken through a colander, reserving the marinade. This will be used to thicken the sauce later.
Make the batter and fry the chicken
- Place all the ingredients for the batter in a mixing bowl and whisk to remove any lumps
- Heat the oil in a frying pan
- Dip pieces of chicken into the batter and then place immediately into the hot oil. Fry until brown all over and there is no pink showing when a piece is cut in half. The internal temperature should be 74°C/165°F (see notes)
- Drain the fried chicken pieces on kitchen paper towel and set aside.
Vegetables and sauce
- Peel, shred and slice the vegetables. Shred the cabbage finely; quarter the button mushrooms. Try to keep the vegetables to a consistent size so they all cook at the same time.
- Combine all the sauce ingredients (with the exception of the cornflour) in a wok or large frying pan.
- Add the chopped vegetables and stir well to coat with the sauce.
- Stirfry over a medium heat for 2 minutes until the vegetables are warmed through, then add the stock and bring to the boil.
- Cover with a lid, turn the heat down to a simmer and leave for 10 to 15 minutes until the vegetables are cooked. Don't allow them to overcook and become mushy; the vegetables should still be al dente.
- Taste the sauce for flavour and seasoning and adjust if necessary.
- Add the leftover marinade, bring to the boil and allow to thicken. If there isn't enough marinade left to thicken the sauce, just mix 2 teaspoons of cornflour/cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of water and drizzle in slowly, stirring all the while, until the desired consistency is reached. The sauce should be the consistency of thick cream (or thick gravy).
Add the chicken and serve
- Now add the cooked chicken back to the pan, mix through and heat until the chicken is hot.
- Serve on a bed of noodles or white rice.
I am not a nutritionist. The nutrition information has been calculated using an on-line calculator, and is intended for information and guidance purposes only. If the nutrition information is important to you, you should consider calculating it yourself, using your preferred tool.
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