I'm delighted to share this recipe for crispy salt and pepper chicken with you. It's one of my all-time favourite Chinese meals made with juicy chicken thighs, lots of onions and red peppers and is packed with flavour. It's incredibly easy to make and it comes together in minutes making it the perfect option for a busy weeknight.
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I hope you are going to love this salt and pepper chicken recipe as much as we do.
Just imagine bite-sized pieces of juicy chicken thighs marinated in a classic Chinese salt and pepper spice mix with sesame oil and sweet sherry for extra flavour. Add a coating of cornflour for crispiness, and mix in some crunchy flash-fried onions and red peppers for taste and texture and you have a classic Chinese takeaway in no time.
The spice mix is a simple blend of salt, black pepper and Chinese 5-spice powder. My favourite brand of 5-spice powder is made by Schwartz (in the UK). I believe a similar blend is available in the US, manufactured by McCormick.
For extra heat and flavour, I added a few Sichuan (also spelled Szechuan) peppercorns to fry with the onions and red peppers. They add a barely discernable citrus flavour, and give an interesting tongue-tingle which is very different to the heat from a chilli.
If you are expecting a saucy dish, then you might be disappointed. This isn't saucy in the way of sweet and sour chicken or beef and broccoli stirfry. However, salt and pepper chicken is one of the most popular items on any Chinese menu for a reason - and proof that you don't need tons of sauce to get an amazing-tasting dish. Once you've tasted this Chinese-style salt and pepper chicken recipe I'm sure you'll be making it again and again.
What you will need
This recipe makes enough pieces of salt and pepper chicken for 4 people.
And here are the salt and pepper chicken ingredients:
For the chicken and vegetables:
- Chicken thighs - these are boneless, skinless chicken thighs. I think the thigh meat is far juicier than breast meat, but it's a matter of opinion - you can use chicken breast if you prefer. I deboned the thighs myself - you can either buy them ready-deboned or ask your butcher to do it for you. If you want to debone the thighs yourself I've provided visuals on how to do it below. The chicken should be cut into large bite-sized pieces.
- Onion - this is a large white onion, which should be quartered and separated into petals. If your onion is very big you may want to cut it into smaller pieces. You can use red onion instead.
- Red pepper - you may know it as capsicum. It should be deseeded and deveined, and cut into approximately one-inch pieces.
- Chilli - the type of chilli you use depends entirely on your heat tolerance. I prefer mild, but it's entirely up to you how spicy you make this dish.
- Garlic - this should be finely crushed. You can use either fresh cloves or ready-minced garlic from a jar.
- Sichuan peppercorns - these are optional. I like them so I use them, but if you are trying this recipe for the first time and don't want to buy them that's perfectly fine - just leave them out.
- Sunflower oil - (not pictured) - this is used both for frying the chicken and for sauteing the onions and peppers.
For the marinade:
- Salt - there is quite a lot of salt in this recipe - it's called salt and pepper chicken for a reason 🙂 . If you are worried about the amount of salt you could use a low-sodium salt instead.
- Black pepper - this is finely ground black pepper. You can grind your own peppercorns or buy ready-ground black pepper. You could substitute it with white pepper.
- Chinese 5-spice powder - not all 5-spice powder is created equal! You get good brands (that taste amazing) and bad brands (that taste awful). It all depends on the ratio of spices that the manufacturers use. I've found a brand that I like so I stick with it.
- Sesame oil - don't go overboard on adding sesame oil - one teaspoon is plenty for this dish. Sesame oil is used as a flavouring rather than a cooking oil. I certainly wouldn't recommend you use it for frying.
- Sherry - or Shaoxing rice wine. I ran out of rice wine so I used sherry instead. If you have Shaoxing wine you could use that. Mirin also makes a good substitute.
- Sugar - (not pictured) - this is optional, but a half teaspoon of sugar helps balance the flavours.
- Cornflour - this isn't part of the marinade - it gets mixed in just before the chicken is fried.
**You can find the exact measurements on the printable recipe card at the end of this post**
What to do
Salt and pepper chicken is easy to make at home. In a nutshell, these are the steps:
- Cut up the chicken and mix it into the marinade.
- While the chicken is marinating, cut up the onions and red peppers.
- Mix the cornflour into the marinated chicken and fry the chicken until it is crispy.
- Fry the onions, garlic and red peppers for a few minutes.
- Mix everything together and serve.
How to debone chicken thighs
If you want to debone your chicken thighs, this is how to do it. It's a bit tricky the first time you do it, but by the time you've deboned all your chicken thighs, you'll be an expert!
Pull the skin off the thighs - it will come away easily. Using a sharp knife, make a cut through the chicken along the bone. Pull the meat away from the bone using the knife to help you, then insert the knife below the bone to loosen the meat.
Work the knife around the 'ball' on one end of the chicken bone to release the meat and do the same on the other end of the bone. When doing this, keep the knife as close to the bone as possible.
Marinate the chicken
Cut the chicken thighs into bite-sized pieces and mix with the marinade ingredients (except the cornflour). Leave to stand for 15 minutes.
When you are ready to fry the chicken, mix in the cornflour. It will be quite sticky.
Fry the chicken
Heat the sunflower oil in a wok or large frying pan. Once the oil is hot add the chicken, one piece at a time, to keep it separate. The oil should be hot enough to sizzle gently when the chicken goes in.
Fry the chicken on moderate to high heat, using a spatula to turn it occasionally, until it is nicely browned on all sides and cooked through. This should take between 4 to 5 minutes. Remove it to a plate lined with paper towel.
If you are worried about whether the chicken is cooked or not, use a digital thermometer to check the temperature. It should register 74C or 165F when the probe is inserted into the thickest part of a piece of chicken.
If you don't have a thermometer, cut one of the thickest pieces of chicken in half. It should be completely white, with no pink showing.
Top tip for frying the chicken - don't overcrowd the pan or you will lower the temperature of the oil and the chicken will draw moisture and steam rather than brown and you'll end up with soggy chicken. Rather cook the chicken in batches so that it crisps nicely.
Remove all but 2 tablespoons of oil from the pan that the chicken was cooked in. Add the chopped onions, red peppers and chilli, with the remaining salt, pepper and Sichuan peppercorns, and stir-fry them for 3 to 3 minutes on moderate to high heat until the onions start to turn translucent and the pepper is softened slightly.
Now add the garlic and spring onions and continue to stir-fry for another 2 minutes.
Add the cooked chicken pieces, stir well to combine and cook for a further minute or two until the chicken is heated through.
Transfer to a serving dish, garnish with additional chopped spring onions and serve immediately with white rice or noodles.
Don't overcook the onions and peppers - you want them to be softened but still have some bite to them.
I find the easiest way to get the vegetables done as I like them is to cover the pan with a lid and turn the heat to low. The onions and peppers will sweat in their own juices and turn translucent in around 4 minutes.
This recipe goes well with Chinese egg fried rice.
You could also continue with the salt and pepper flavours and serve it with salt and pepper chips. Although that said, it might be a bit much to have 2 salt and pepper-flavoured dishes in one meal!
The last time I made this dish, hubby said 'let's have it with sauteed potatoes and peas', and they went surprisingly well together!
You can store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to three days and reheat them in a saucepan or frying pan on the stove.
While it is possible to freeze this dish I wouldn't recommend it because the onions and red peppers won't be as crunchy once the dish has been frozen and defrosted.
Sichuan (sometimes spelled Szechuan) peppercorns are not actually peppers! They are the berries of the prickly ash tree which is a member of the citrus family and they have a mild citrus flavour.
Once harvested, the berries are allowed to dry naturally until they open and release their inedible seeds. Only the outer casing of the berry is eaten.
The heat from these little peppercorns is not a burning heat as you would get from a chilli. It is more of a sensation that causes the mouth to tingle.
5-spice powder is a blend of fennel seeds, star anise, cinnamon and cloves. The fifth spice may vary depending on the brand of 5-spice powder you buy. Some brands contain Sichuan peppercorns, but others may contain ginger or black or white pepper. The brand that I like to use contains ginger instead of Sichuan pepper which I why I've added a few Sichuan peppercorns to this recipe.
There are many regional variations of this seasoning blend, but it is generally made from a mixture of salt, black or white pepper, chilli flakes, Chinese 5 spice powder, garlic powder, ground ginger and a small amount of sugar.
I've substituted the chilli flakes and garlic powder with fresh chilli and garlic and omitted the ginger as the 5-spice powder that I used already contains ginger.
Yes, if you don't want to fry the chicken you could marinate it and arrange the cornflour-coated pieces of chicken in a single layer on an oven tray. Spray the chicken lightly with oil and bake in a preheated oven at 200C/400F for 10 minutes. Turn the chicken and continue to bake for another 5 to 10 minutes until the chicken is crispy. Check for doneness after the first 5 minutes.
Add the baked chicken to the sauteed onions and red peppers as per the recipe instructions.
Save for later
If you would like to make this salt and pepper chicken recipe, why not save it to one of your Pinterest boards so you can find it easily? Just click the image below.
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If you enjoyed this recipe, you may also enjoy these other Asian-inspired recipes:
Salt and pepper chicken
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Chicken and vegetables
- 1½ pounds / 680 grams skinless boneless chicken thighs cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 large onion peeled, cut into quarters, separated into petals
- 1 large red pepper (capsicum) seeded and deveined and cut into 1-inch pieces
- medium red chilli as hot or as mild as you prefer - deseeded and finely chopped
- 2 - 3 cloves garlic finely minced
- 1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ½ cup / 120 ml sunflower oil for frying
- 2 - 3 spring onions sliced
- 1 teaspoon salt use low-sodium if you prefer
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper or use white pepper
- 1 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice powder
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons sherry or Shaoxing wine or mirin
- ½ teaspoon sugar optional
- 3 - 4 tablespoons cornflour for coating
- Cut the chicken thighs into bite-sized pieces and mix with the marinade ingredients (except the cornflour). Leave to stand for 15 minutes.1½ pounds / 680 grams skinless boneless chicken thighs, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon Chinese 5-spice powder, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, 2 tablespoons sherry, ½ teaspoon sugar
- When you are ready to fry the chicken, mix in the cornflour. It will be quite sticky.3 - 4 tablespoons cornflour
- Heat the sunflower oil in a wok or large frying pan. Once the oil is hot add the chicken, one piece at a time, to keep it separate. The oil should be hot enough to sizzle gently when the chicken goes in.½ cup / 120 ml sunflower oil
- Fry the chicken on moderate to high heat, using a spatula to turn it occasionally, until it is nicely browned on all sides and cooked through. This should take between 4 to 5 minutes. Remove it to a plate lined with paper towel.
- Remove all but 2 tablespoons of oil from the pan that the chicken was cooked in. Add the chopped onions, red peppers and chilli, with the remaining salt, pepper and Sichuan peppercorns, and stir-fry them for 3 to 4 minutes on moderate to high heat until the onions start to turn translucent and the pepper is softened slightly.1 large onion, 1 large red pepper (capsicum), medium red chilli, ½ teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon ground black pepper, 1 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns
- Add the garlic and spring onions (reserve a few spring onions for garnish) and continue to stir-fry for another 2 minutes.2 - 3 cloves garlic, 2 - 3 spring onions
- Add the cooked chicken pieces, stir well to combine and cook for a further minute or two until the chicken is heated through.
- Transfer to a serving dish, garnish with additional chopped spring onions and serve immediately with white rice or noodles.
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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