Szechuan Chicken

This easy recipe for Szechuan Chicken is filled with spicy bites of chicken, bright, colorful vegetables, and a delectable sauce that’s a perfect balance of sweet, savory, and spicy.

What is Szechuan Chicken?

Szechuan Chicken is a stir fried dish that originated in the Szechuan province of China. (You may also see Sichuan as the spelling in some places, it’s referring to the same province and dish.) It’s spicy with a very unique ingredient that creates a tingling feeling and slight numbness in the mouth that is said to allow you to taste the different flavors of the chilis rather than just the effects of the spiciness.

Don’t let that scare you away. It’s absolutely delicious and you can moderate the spice to your level of comfort by decreasing or increasing the number of chilis.

What are Szechuan Peppercorns?

Well, they’re actually not a peppercorn or even related to peppers. They’re the berries of the prickly ash pear which is native to the Szechuan province of China.

They have a unique flavor that’s slightly citrusy with hint of pine. They’re famous for their mouth numbing affect which is a counterpoint to the heat produced by chilis allowing you to enjoy the flavors present in the chilis.

If you’re not able to find Szechuan Peppercorns, you can replace them with a combination of black pepper, coriander seeds, and lemon zest. Mix 2 teaspoons black peppercorns, 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds, and 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest.

Two fun facts:

  • They were banned from use in the US from 1968 – 2005 because they carry a canker that attacked citrus trees. The berry husks are now readily available after a heat treatment was discovered to destroy the canker.
  • They were mixed into the plaster used in the imperial palaces for their aromatics.

Stir Fry Tips

The most important thing about making any stir fry is to have everything prepped prior to starting to cook. The cooking times are quick and don’t leave a lot of time in between processes to chop, combine, or stir.

While prepping your ingredients, it’s also a good idea to arrange them on a plate or a baking sheet in the order that they are used in the recipe. This not only gives you a visual tool to ensure that you have all of your ingredients, it also makes it very easy to recall the order that the ingredients are added to the skillet.

When I first learned how to make Szechuan Chicken, one of things I found interesting is that you cut each of the ingredients in the same fashion. So, if you cut the chicken in cubes, you also cut the vegetables in cubes. If you cut the chicken in strips, you cut the veggies in strips. For this recipe, I like chunks of chicken. Which means the onion and red pepper are cut into a similar shape.

Making Szechuan Chicken

Like any recipe, there are several ways to create this dish. My favorite way is to coat the chicken in cornstarch and then fry it in hot oil. I also like to keep the vegetables very simple and opt for red peppers to carry that spicy red theme through the dish. If you prefer green, yellow, or orange, you can use any of those or a combination.

The number of chilis that are used can be tailored to your taste. I like to start with 15 chilis, because my tendencies are on the spicier side. I soak them for 15 minutes in hot water to help release more flavor. Be careful not to soak too long as the chilis will start to get bitter.  NOTE: I do like to warn my family and friends not to eat the dried chilis unless they really LOVE a big hit of spice.

Combine the ingredients for the sauce are in a medium bowl and stirred until the sugar is dissolved. You will need to stir again just before adding it to the skillet. As the sauce sits, the cornstarch settles out of suspension, so it’s important to stir again just before pouring it over the chicken and vegetable mixture.

Start by coating the chicken with cornstarch. Using a large resealable plastic bag makes this process quick and pretty mess-free. Shake the bag with cornstarch and chicken, turning over a couple of times to ensure that all of the chicken is coated evenly.

When frying the chicken, you’ll likely have to work in batches. I usually do three batches when I’m making the dish. It’s important not to crowd the pan so that the chicken cooks evenly and quickly. Also, allow the oil to come back up to 350˚F in-between batches.

After the chicken has been fried and transferred to a paper towel-lined plate or baking sheet, discard the frying oil being very careful to avoid burns. I use a strainer specifically designed to filter out bits of coating and food so that I can reuse my frying oil.

This is where the stir-frying starts. Return the skillet to the stove-top and heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat until it’s shimmering. Add the onions and stir fry until they just start to soften, 1 – 2 minutes max. Then add the red peppers and stir fry until they just start to soften. This shouldn’t take any longer than 3 – 4 minutes total. The most important thing to remember when stir frying is that the vegetables are not cooked completely through. There should be a nice crunch left once the dish is completed.

The aromatics – the chilis, Szechuan peppercorns, garlic, and ginger – go in next and are cooked until they just start to become fragrant, about 1 – 2 minutes. Be careful, the capsaicin from the chilis starts to waft into the air and it can get a little spicy.

Add the chicken, pour over the sauce, stir until everything is coated, and then call everyone in for dinner.



Szechuan Chicken

  • Author: Leigh Olson
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings


This easy recipe for Szechuan Chicken is filled with spicy bites of chicken, bright, colorful vegetables, and a delectable sauce that’s a perfect balance of sweet, savory, and spicy.


  • 1 small onion cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 15 dried red chilis, soaked in warm water for 15 minutes*
  • 1 Tbsp. Szechuan peppercorns, crushed**
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 tsp. minced ginger
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. chili garlic sauce
  • 3 Tbsp. rice wine
  • 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. sesame oil
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch plus 1 Tbsp. cornstarch
  • 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • Oil for frying – canola, vegetable, or peanut
  • 2 Tbsp. canola or vegetable oil
  • Sesame seed for garnish
  • Sliced green onions for garnish
  • Cashews for garnish


  1. Place all ingredients except the chicken on a plate or rimmed baking dish in the order that they are added to the skillet: onions, red peppers, dried chilis, Szechuan peppercorns, garlic, and ginger.
  2. Make the sauce. In a medium bowl whisk together soy sauce, chili garlic paste, rice wine, brown sugar, sesame oil, and 1 tablespoon cornstarch stirring until sugar is dissolved. Set aside.
  3. Place 1/2 cup cornstarch in a large resealable plastic bag. Add the chicken and shake to coat all pieces thoroughly.
  4. In a deep skillet, add enough oil to come up 2 inches. Heat over medium-high heat to 350˚F.
  5. Add chicken without crowding, frying until golden brown, 5 – 7 minutes. You may need to work in batches. Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate.
  6. Once all chicken has been cooked, discard frying oil, and wipe out skillet, being very careful to avoid burns.
  7. Add 2 tablespoons oil to the skillet and heat over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onions, stir-frying for about 1 – 2 minutes.
  8. Next, add the red peppers and cook for another 1 – 2 minutes.
  9. Add the chilis, Szechuan peppercorns, garlic, and ginger, cooking until fragrant, about 1 – 2 minutes.
  10. Add the chicken and stir to distribute through the vegetables.
  11. Whisk the sauce just before adding to the skillet. Pour over chicken and vegetables, stirring to coat.
  12. Bring to a boil and cook until sauce is just thickened, about 1 minute.
  13. Garnish with sesame seeds, green onions, and cashews.


*The number of chilis can be increased or decreased, depending on spice level preference.

**If unable to find Szechuan peppercorns, you can substitute a mix of 2 teaspoons black peppercorns, 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds, and 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest.