Need New Dinner Ideas? Try Our Signature Szechuan Chicken Recipes

You cannot talk about Chinese food without talking about Szechuan chicken. These beautiful chicken dishes are a traditional part of southern Chinese cuisine. In recent years, the popularity of Szechuan chicken has extended to the Western world where it is sold in Chinese food restaurants everywhere. Understandably, there has been a lot of buzz about it.

szechuan chicken

Chinese cuisine has a rich, storied history that plays a major role in Chinese culture. Given the sheer size and cultural diversity of China, each region has its own unique traditional foods and customs. The landscape of China is punctuated by mountains, valleys, deserts, and forests. Therefore, the ingredients you can access will depend on whereabouts in China you live.

To realize both the importance and the subtleties of Chinese cuisine, you will need a small history lesson. This provides the necessary context for understanding what makes foods like Szechuan chicken so special, and how to best prepare and serve them. So, bust out the notepad because we are about to dig into the details.

A Brief History of Szechuan Cuisine


The “Big Four” Chinese cuisines are Yue, Lu, Huaiyand, and Chuan. The last of which, Chuan, is the shorthand version of “Sichuan”, or what we call “Szechuan” in the West.

For millennia, Chinese society has always deeply valued the relationship between food and society. This is pretty clear when you recall the long history that the Chinese have with traditional medicines, of which most are foods or teas. Essentially, Chinese cultures have believed foods to have special properties for healing and enriching people’s lives.

Thanks to the influence of major Chinese leaders such as Confucius, the practice of gastronomy become a form of art. This practice would be refined all over the country as more and more chefs began experimenting with traditional cuisine. Among these, were the Szechuans.

As China developed trade routes with the Western world during the Middle Ages, chili peppers, and spices flooded into southern China. The Szechuan territory was considered “heavenly” thanks to the massive amounts of food being grown and cooked there. Soon enough, hordes of people traveled the world to try the new spicy foods from the Szechuan region.

The Basics of Szechuan Food


Szechuan food has maintained a distinct flavor palette since its inception centuries ago. There are seven essential elements to Szechuan food that make it so unique: hot, sweet, aromatic, salty, sour, and pungent.

From these basic elements, Szechuan food is usually divided into either banquet, popular, or household dishes. Mild plates call under the “popular” category, which is those that have been widely adopted in the West, such as Szechuan chicken.

While pork is far and away the most common variety of meat found in Szechuan cuisine, chicken has become the predominant choice in the West. In most dishes, they are garnished with the signature Sichuan pepper which provides extra spice and fragrance, as well as a slight numbing sensation. This makes Szechuan plates truly unlike any other.

Other popular spices used in Szechuan chicken dishes are garlic, star anise, ginger, and various Latin American chili peppers. Typically, sauces are poured over top of Szechuan dishes that are made from broad bean chili paste and used in stir-fry.

Now that you know everything there is about Szechuan cuisine, let’s give it a shot ourselves. Crack a window, because we are about to heat things up. So, let’s get started and go through some of our all-time favorite, mouth-watering Szechuan chicken recipes.

Fast Szechuan Chicken Stir Fry Recipe


This is a great introduction to cooking Szechuan chicken. Given its simple nature, mild flavors, and light aromatic qualities this is the perfect way to ease into cooking more sophisticated dishes. This is a basic 10-minute stir fry featuring seasoned Szechuan chicken. Give it a shot tonight!

Ingredients

Here’s everything you will need to prepare this Szechuan chicken dish:

  • 4 chicken breasts, cubed, skinless and boneless
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp canola oil or vegetable oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 5 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 ½ tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 3 green onions, julienned
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper

Instructions

To start, lay the chicken and cornstarch neatly in a ziplock bag and toss to coat. Then, put a skillet or wok over medium heat. Put the coated chicken in the wok with the garlic and stir until cooked throughout. Once cooked, add in the soy sauce, sugar, water, and apple cider vinegar. Cover the wok and cook for about 5 minutes.

After the chicken is cooked through, add in the green onion and pepper and let it cook for another couple of minutes before removing from heat. Serve the chicken over a bed of rice.

Spicy Pepper Szechuan Chicken


This is our personal favorite Szechuan chicken dish. Consider it the middle-of-the-ground meal between the 10-Minute stir fry and the super spicy dish. It is simply the best Szechuan chicken dish for those who don’t like it too hot or too pungent. If this sounds right for you, we recommend giving it a try tonight.

Ingredients

Here is everything you will need to make this dish:

  • two tsp Szechuan peppercorns
  • 2 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
  • two tbsp Chinese cooking wine
  • 3 chicken breasts, cut into strips
  • 2 tbsp peanut or canola oil
  • two tsp corn flour
  • 1 red capsicum, sliced
  • 1 carrot, julienned
  • 2 tsp white vinegar
  • 2 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp chili sauce
  • 2 green onion, sliced

Instructions

Begin by heating a frying pan over medium heat. Throw in the peppercorns and fry for a minute or until it steams. Remove the pan from the heat and grab a mortar and pestle (or, alternatively, a spice grinder). Then, add salt and peppercorn and grind until fine.

Add the cooking wine, chicken, and soy sauce to a mixing bowl and let marinate for 15 minutes in the fridge. Put the peanut or canola oil in a wok or large pan and heat over medium. Separate the marinade from the chicken, and then cook the chicken until browned.

Whisk the cornflour with 2 tablespoons of water until smooth, then set it aside. Heat up the remaining oil in the wok and add the carrot and capsicum until tender. Put the chicken and remaining marinade in the wok with the other ingredients and cook while tossing in the onions. Serve warm over a bed of white rice or noodles.

Super Spicy Szechuan/Sichuan Chicken


Be warned: this dish is only for the brave of heart. This a traditional Sichuan dish that originated in ancient China. It is tender, spicy, and extremely aromatic. It pairs perfectly with a cold glass of beer to wash down the tingling in the mouth and throat. Feel up for it? Give it a shot tonight, if you dare.

Ingredients

Here is the list of ingredients that you will need to prepare this dish:

  • one whole chicken (1 kg.)
  • 1 piece of ginger (2-3 cm.), crushed
  • one tsp Szechuan peppercorns
  • 6 spring onions, cut into strips
  • 4 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp white sugar
  • 5 tbsp hot chili oil
  • ½ tsp Szechuan peppercorn oil
  • ¼ tsp monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Sesame seeds to taste

Instructions

Ready to get started on this behemoth of a dish? Begin by bringing a large pot of water to a boil. While waiting, blanch the chicken and discard the water.

Next, add the chicken, ginger, and peppercorns to the boiling pot. If you feel like it, you can throw in more water to make sure the chicken is fully covered. Cover the pot and let it cook for 40 minutes on high. Once the juices run clear, remove the chicken from the pot and let it drain.

Next, chop the chicken into small pieces, and then into neat two-centimeter squares. Place these in a large bowl. Toss the soy sauce, MSG, chili oil, peppercorn oil, and sugar into another bowl and whisk thoroughly to prepare the sauce.

Drizzle the sauce over the chicken and toss the chicken to fully coat. Add the onions and sesame seeds to garnish on top. Serve piping hot on a bed of white or brown rice. Enjoy with a cold drink.

Pro-tips for Cooking Szechuan Chicken


There’s a lot to take in when it comes to cooking Szechuan chicken. If you are not too careful, you can seriously mess up the meal. Here are some quick tips to make sure you know everything there is about properly preparing a Szechuan meal:

  • Don’t be afraid to substitute pork or beef instead of chicken
  • In most cases, noodles and rice are interchangeable
  • Tofu also makes a great replacement for meat
  • Kung Pao chicken is a Western favorite adaptation of classic Szechuan food
  • Don’t be afraid to add in extra ginger or garlic
  • Always go for low-sodium varieties of soy sauce—the dish is salty enough as is

Featured image: CC BY-SA 2.0, La Zi Ji via https://commons.wikimedia.org.

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