Better-Than-Takeout Black Pepper Chicken

published Mar 9, 2020
Black Pepper Chicken

Inspired by Panda Express black pepper chicken, this version has the same tender chicken and bold black pepper sauce you expect, but it's naturally low-carb and Whole30-compliant.


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Credit: Kristin Kilpatrick

Do you have those days when you look in your fridge and think, What in the world will I do with all this celery? Well, that happens pretty often to me. And those are the times I turn to this stir-fry, which makes celery the star of dinner.

It’s inspired by the takeout favorite from Panda Express, the popular Chinese drive-through chain. It has the tender, juicy chunks of chicken and bold sauce with plenty of garlic and freshly ground black pepper, but there are a couple things that make my version even better: more wholesome, low-carb, gluten-free, and Whole30-friendly.

You’ll want to use freshly-ground black pepper over the pre-ground stuff, which loses its vibrant kick as it ages. The fresh stuff will reward you with a bigger, more present flavor. If you’re looking to keep the carbs trimmed back, partner this with cauliflower rice or zucchini noodles; otherwise, traditional white or brown rice, or even quinoa, make a nice side.

Black Pepper Chicken

Inspired by Panda Express black pepper chicken, this version has the same tender chicken and bold black pepper sauce you expect, but it's naturally low-carb and Whole30-compliant.

Serves 4

Nutritional Info


For the black pepper sauce:

  • 1/4 cup

    chicken broth

  • 1/4 cup

    coconut aminos

  • 1 tablespoon

    rice vinegar

  • 1 teaspoon

    fish sauce (I use Red Boat)

  • 1 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper (see Note)

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    ground ginger

For the chicken:

  • 2 pounds

    boneless, skinless chicken breasts

  • 1/4 cup

    plus 2 teaspoons avocado oil

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    freshly ground black pepper, plus more for serving

  • 2 tablespoons

    arrowroot starch

  • 4 stalks

    celery, ends trimmed and cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces

  • 1

    medium white onion, halved and thinly sliced (2 cups)

  • 3 cloves

    garlic, very thinly sliced

  • Cooked cauliflower rice, for serving (optional)


  1. Make the black pepper sauce: In a small bowl, whisk together the broth, coconut aminos, vinegar, fish sauce, black pepper, and ground ginger. Set aside until ready to use.

  2. Make the chicken: Place the chicken breasts on a cutting board and cover with parchment paper. Use a meat mallet or the bottom of a skillet to pound the chicken until it is an even 1/4 inch thick. Discard the parchment, then cut the chicken into 1-inch cubes.

  3. Place the cubed chicken in a medium bowl with 2 teaspoons of the avocado oil, salt, and pepper. Toss to evenly coat, then add the arrowroot and toss again.

  4. In a large, nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, heat the remaining 1/4 cup avocado oil. When the oil is very hot but not smoking, add the chicken to the skillet in a single layer (you may need to do this in 2 batches). Cook the chicken until golden brown and cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside.

  5. Add the celery and onion to the same skillet and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are slightly tender, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, being careful not to burn, 1 minute.

  6. Return the chicken to the skillet with the sauce and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes, until the sauce is thick and coats the chicken and vegetables.

  7. Remove the pan from the heat and season with salt to taste. Serve as is or with cauliflower rice, and top with a sprinkle of pepper.

Recipe Notes

Regular old ground black pepper just doesn’t work in this dish! It’s essential that you use freshly cracked black pepper.

Recipe is reprinted with permission from The Defined Dish: Healthy and Wholesome Weeknight Recipes © 2019 by Alex Snodgrass, reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.