How To Make Szechuan Chicken

published Jun 1, 2020
How to Make Szechuan Chicken

Szechuan peppercorns, dried chiles, and white pepper join forces in this spicy Chinese stir-fry.

Serves4

Prep15 minutes

Cook15 minutes

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chicken szechaun in wok
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

If you’re a spicy food fiend, Szechuan chicken is a stir-fry dish that should absolutely be in your weeknight dinner rotation. It’s aromatic, fiery, and even a bit tongue-numbing as you bite into juicy pieces of chicken perfumed with a dynamite trio of Szechuan peppercorns, dried chiles, and white pepper. It comes together quickly in one pan, making it a solid dinner contender that’s guaranteed to spice things up. Here’s how to do it.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

What Is Szechuan Chicken?

Szechuan chicken is named after the southwestern Szechuan province in China. The cuisine there is well-known for its bold, spicy flavors, with dried chiles and peppercorns making their way in generous quantities into many dishes. This flavor combination is best described as not just spicy, but slightly fruity and a bit tongue-numbing from the Szechuan peppercorns. Many variations of Szechuan chicken can be found, including some made with a chili bean paste. The chicken itself can be boneless or bone-in, deep-fried or stir-fried. Our version uses boneless chicken, which is easier to cut up, and skips the deep frying in favor of a quick stir-fry instead.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

The Key Ingredients of Szechuan Chicken

In addition to the chicken, here are the three key ingredients you’ll need for the signature spicy flavor.

  • Dried chiles: Small and inexpensive, red Asian dried chiles pack lots of heat and add a bright pop of color to the stir-fry. Look for them in Asian grocery stores, where they are sometimes labeled Japones. Use 15 in this recipe if you like things mildly spicy, and up to 20 if you like things really spicy.
  • Szechuan peppercorns: Whole dried Szechuan peppercorns can be found in the spice aisle. Although there are green Szechuan peppercorns, the commonly available ones and the ones used in this recipe are red, and they provide more tingle than spice to the stir-fry. If there’s no color indicated, it’s most likely red.
  • White pepper: Ground white pepper is more floral and earthy than its black counterpart and is commonly used in Chinese cooking. Use freshly ground if you can for the best punch of flavor.

The remaining ingredients are easy to find. You’ll need aromatics like garlic, ginger, and scallions, plus soy sauce, cornstarch, and sherry or Shaoxing wine for marinating.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

How to Make and Serve Szechuan Chicken

To make Szechuan chicken, start by marinating the chicken in soy sauce, dry sherry or Shaoxing wine, salt, pepper, and cornstarch, and let it sit while you fry the chiles.

Frying the dried chiles in some oil is an first important step in the cooking process because the chiles flavor the oil, which in turn flavors the whole stir-fry. The frying also helps crisp up the chiles so that they can be crumbled back into the stir-fry later.

After the chiles are fried, fish them out of the pan with a slotted spoon so that the oil is left behind and can be used to cook the chicken. Get a nice dark brown sear on the chicken, then throw the aromatics and the fried chiles into the pan. Finish by adding scallion greens for freshness and just a teaspoon of sugar, which adds the tiniest bit of sweetness to balance all the savory, spicy flavors. Serve with some simply sautéed greens like bok choy or spinach and steamed rice for a warming, comforting dinner.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk
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Here's how to make the best Szechuan chicken.

How to Make Szechuan Chicken

Szechuan peppercorns, dried chiles, and white pepper join forces in this spicy Chinese stir-fry.

Prep time 15 minutes

Cook time 15 minutes

Serves 4

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the chicken:

  • 2 tablespoons

    tamari or soy sauce

  • 1 tablespoon

    Shaoxing wine or dry sherry

  • 1 tablespoon

    cornstarch

  • 3/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 3/4 teaspoon

    freshly ground white pepper

  • 1 1/2 pounds

    boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts

For the stir-fry:

  • 4

    medium scallions

  • 3 cloves

    garlic

  • 1 (1-inch) piece

    fresh ginger

  • 1 tablespoon

    Szechuan peppercorns

  • 1 tablespoon

    white sesame seeds

  • 3 tablespoons

    vegetable oil, divided

  • 15 to 20

    small dried red Asian chiles, such as Japones

  • 1 teaspoon

    granulated sugar

  • Steamed rice, for serving (optional)

Equipment

  • Wok or large frying pan

  • Whisk

  • Measuring cups and spoons

  • Chef’s knife and cutting board

  • Small plate

  • Small and medium bowls

  • Flat metal spatula

Instructions

  1. Make the marinade. Place 2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce, 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine or dry sherry, 1 tablespoon cornstarch, 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and 3/4 teaspoon white pepper in a medium bowl and whisk to combine and dissolve the cornstarch.

  2. Marinate the chicken. Cut 1 1/2 pounds boneless chicken into 1-inch chunks, add to the marinade, and toss to combine; set aside.

  3. Prepare the aromatics for the stir-fry. Cut the dark green parts of 4 medium scallions into 1 1/2-inch pieces (reserve the whites) and place in a small bowl. Prepare the following, placing them all in the same small bowl: thinly slice the scallion whites crosswise, mince 3 garlic cloves, peel and mince a 1-inch piece of ginger until you have 1 tablespoon, and coarsely crush 1 tablespoon Szechuan peppercorns in a mortar and pestle or with the bottom of a frying pan. Add 1 tablespoon white sesame seeds to the bowl.

  4. Fry the chiles. Heat a flat-bottomed wok or large frying pan over high heat until very hot (a flick of water should sizzle and evaporate right away), about 2 minutes. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil into the pan. Add 15 to 20 dried Asian chiles (depending on the desired heat level) and fry until toasted and darkened in color, 30 to 45 seconds. Remove the pan from the heat. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chiles to a small plate (it’s okay if some seeds are left behind in the pan).

  5. Sear the chicken and crumble the chiles. Return the pan to high heat. Add the chicken and spread into an even layer. Let cook undisturbed until golden-brown and seared on the bottom, 3 to 4 minutes. Meanwhile, break each fried chile in half with your hands (they may crumble into smaller pieces).

  6. Finish stir-frying the chicken with the chiles. Return the chiles and their seeds to the pan and stir-fry the chicken with a flat metal spatula until just cooked through, 2 to 4 minutes more.

  7. Cook the aromatics. Push the chicken to one half of the pan. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon vegetable oil to the other side. Add the Szechuan peppercorn mixture to the oil and stir to coat in the oil. Stir fry with the chicken until combined and fragrant, about 1 minute.

  8. Finish the stir-fry. Add the scallion greens and 1 teaspoon granulated sugar. Stir-fry until everything is evenly combined, about 1 minute. Serve immediately over steamed rice if using.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to 4 days.