Chinese Salt and Pepper Chicken Stir Fry

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If you have never tried Chinese Salt and Pepper Chicken, here’s the perfect recipe to get you started! This recipe is healthier than take out, but has the flavors of traditional salt and pepper chicken, without the deep frying and the super heavy taste of five spice–I’ve mellowed this dish out to be the perfect, 30 minute stir fry!

Salt and pepper chicken on a white plate with chop sticks.

I LOVE LOVE pretty much any and all Asian food…if it’s Americanized Asian food I still love it and just call it “Asian-y.” I love the fresh flavors of Vietnamese food like in my Vietnamese Summer Roll Noodle Bowl and the flavors of Thai food that I have incorporated into my Easy Thai Basil Pork dish. And my current FAVORITE “Asian-y” dish: The Viral TikTok Salmon and Rice Bowl!!!

Asian dishes and flavors can be complex and tough to make, so I am always looking for ways to write recipes that are EASY and ACCESSIBLE.

In Chinese cooking, five spice is a staple. Personally, I am not a huge fan of five spice, IF IT’S OVERUSED. Used in moderation, as a complement instead of the main spice, is KEY when using five spice, in my opinion.

I’ve written this recipe to make this more balanced, downplaying the use of five spice. Therefore, this is not an AUTHENTIC recipe…it’s “Asian-y.” 🙂

WHY YOU’LL LOVE THIS RECIPE

  • No deep frying, MSG or trip to the Chinese takeout joint.
  • Great balance of flavors between savory/salty and a tiny bit sweet.
  • On the table quick–in less time than it takes to make rice!
  • You can easily adjust the heat level by the type of peppers you use.

RECIPE INGREDIENTS

You’ll need the following ingredients to make this delicious Salt and Pepper Chicken Stir Fry:

Ingredients needed to make Chinese salt and pepper chicken, healthy version.

INGREDIENT NOTES

Chicken: Boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs are perfect for this dish.

Chinese Five Spice: Any brand of five spice powder at your local grocery store is fine. I use this Simple Organic Five Spice Powder.

Salt: I always use coarse sea salt just like this one.

Pepper: I use regular, finely ground pepper for this dish. I also use some freshly cracked ground pepper over the top to finish it.

Peppers: Traditional Chinese salt and pepper chicken uses red and green chili peppers. I always use bell peppers since it’s the most family friendly option! See my substitution suggestions for peppers below.

Sugar: This is not typically included in an AUTHENTIC salt and pepper chicken recipe, but since this is an “Asian-y” dish, I felt it was necessary to balance out the salty/savory flavors. Brown sugar or white sugar are both fine.

HOW TO MAKE THIS RECIPE: STEP BY STEP

Here are some quick visual instructions. Remember that full instructions with exact ingredients will be in the recipe card below!

How to make salt and pepper chicken step by step.

Step 1: Toss chicken with cornstarch, salt, pepper, sugar and five spice.

Step 2: Fry chicken in oil until golden brown on both sides. Remove from pan.

Step 3: In the same pan quickly stir fry onions, pepper and garlic.

Step 4: Add chicken back to pan, sprinkle with a little more salt and pepper (as needed) and serve!

RECIPE TIPS & TRICKS

  • If you are used to more “saucy” Chinese dishes, using a drizzle of Sweet Soy Sauce or regular soy sauce over the top is delish.
  • Make sure the oil is super hot before adding the chicken. You can test the oil by putting a wooden spoon, skewer or chop stick into the oil. If you see the oil form little bubbles around it, it’s ready to go!
  • Resist the urge to stir or disturb the chicken for at least 3-4 minutes on each side to ensure the nice, golden brown color (check around the 2 minute mark).
  • Since you are pan frying the chicken in oil at a pretty high heat, you are going to get some splatters. I always like to save my stove (and my hands!) by using a splatter guard like this one.

STORAGE & REHEATING

Leftovers: You can store leftovers in the fridge in an airtight container (these are my favorite!!) for up to 3 days and reheat in the microwave for a minute or two until warmed through.

Freezing: Because of the high water content in the peppers and onions, I do not recommend freezing this dish.

Close of up Chinese salt and pepper chicken in the skillet.

ADDITIONS & SUBSTITUTIONS

  • Peppers: The biggest substitution you can make in this recipe is to control the spice (heat) level. Traditional Chinese salt and pepper chicken uses red and green chili peppers. I always use bell peppers since it’s the most family friendly option! Here are the substitutions you can make to change up the heat level. You can also use a combination of these peppers and create your own heat level!
    • Mild: Red and Green Bell Peppers
    • Medium: Fresno Chilis, Serranos, Jalapeños (any combination).
    • Hot/Super Hot: Thai Chilis…Use sparingly 🙂
  • Meat: Chicken thighs work beautifully in this dish! Less healthy, but I love the tenderness! Pork tenderloin would also be great.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What is Chinese Salt and Pepper Chicken? How is this recipe different from take-out salt and pepper chicken?

Traditional Chinese Salt and Pepper chicken is typically deep fried chicken pieces that are tossed with chilis, garlic, salt and pepper. Salt and pepper chicken WINGS are also very popular. This recipe is a healthy spin on this traditional dish. We skip the deep frying, but still incorporate all of the yummy flavors into the dish!

What is Chinese five spice?

The ingredients and amounts vary depending on the region and particular person’s recipe. But the 5 main spices are: 1) Star Anise 2) Fennel Seeds 3) Peppercorns 4) Cloves and 5) Cinnamon

If you have ever been to a Chinatown and pass a place where they serve Peking Duck, chances are the aroma you are smelling is five spice. Every single time I take a bite of this salt and pepper chicken, it reminds me to San Francisco’s Chinatown!

What do you serve with this?

This dish goes best with plain old white or brown rice or even this Bacon Fried Rice! You can also make these Chinese Style Air Fryer Green Beans for a side dish as well! Super yum!

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Bowl of salt and pepper chicken on a white plate with a bowl of rice and chili peppers.

OTHER “ASIAN-Y” RECIPES YOU’LL LOVE

I hope you love this Salt and Pepper Chicken! If you make it be sure to leave a comment and a rating so I know how you liked it. Enjoy, xo!

Chinese Salt and Pepper Chicken

If you have never tried Chinese Salt and Pepper Chicken, here's the perfect recipe to get you started! This recipe is healthier than take out, but has the flavors of traditional salt and pepper chicken, without the deep frying and the super heavy taste of five spice–I've mellowed this dish out to be the perfect, 30 minute stir fry!
4.84 from 12 votes
Prep Time 1 hour 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Course Dinner, lunch
Cuisine Asian, Chinese
Servings 4
Calories 355 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 2-3 chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch cubes about 1 lb.
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 2 tsp brown sugar white sugar works too
  • 1 tsp sea salt, divided plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1 tsp black pepper, divied plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1/4 tsp Chinese 5-spice
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil enough to coat the bottom of your skillet
  • 1 green bell pepper, cut into 1/4" dice See Note 1
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/4" dice See Note 1
  • 1 small onion, cut into 1/4" dice about a cup
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced (the best garlic chopper)
  • green onions, for serving optional
  • sweet soy sauce, for serving optional, see Note 2

Instructions
 

  • In a medium bowl, combine cornstarch, brown sugar, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp pepper and Chinese 5 Spice. Add chicken pieces and toss well.
  • In a large skillet or wok, heat oil over high heat. Heat for at least a minute or two to ensure the oil is very hot. You can test the oil by putting a wooden spoon, skewer or chop stick into the oil. If you see the oil form little bubbles around it, it's ready to go! Carefully drop in chicken pieces, spreading them in an even layer.
  • Fry chicken WITHOUT TOUCHING for 2-3 minutes on one side (check for a nice, golden brown, caramelized color). Then, carefully turn chicken (with tongs or a metal spatula) and cook about 2 minutes more. You want the chicken to have a nice, deep golden brown color. Just be aware the sugar will burn if you leave it too long 🙂
  • Remove chicken from pan and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.
  • In the same pan over medium high heat, add onions and peppers. Season with remaining 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally for 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and cook one minute more.
  • Add chicken back into pan. Cook for another minute, tossing until chicken, veggies and garlic are all well-mixed.
  • Top with green onions and a sprinkle more of salt and pepper, if you like. Serve over rice with a drizzle of sweet soy sauce, if desired.

Notes

Note 1:
  • Peppers: The biggest substitution you can make in this recipe is to control the spice (heat) level. Traditional Chinese salt and pepper chicken uses red and green chili peppers. I always use bell peppers since it’s the most family friendly option! Here are the substitutions you can make to change up the heat level. You can also use a combination of these peppers and create your own heat level!
    • Mild: Red and Green Bell Peppers
    • Medium: Fresno Chilis, Serranos, Jalapeños (any combination).
    • Hot/Super Hot: Thai Chilis…Use sparingly 🙂
Note 2: Sweet Soy Sauce is a thick, molasses like sauce made from a reduction of soy sauce and sugar. You can easily find it at most Asian markets and I have even see my chain grocery store carry the Lee Kum Kee brand. 
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Nutrition

Calories: 355kcalCarbohydrates: 12gProtein: 34gFat: 19gSaturated Fat: 4gCholesterol: 101mgSodium: 570mgPotassium: 450mgFiber: 1.6gSugar: 6gCalcium: 38mgIron: 2mg
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4.84 from 12 votes (4 ratings without comment)

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Recipe Rating




10 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    So yummy! And much more healthy and affordable than ordering takeout. I might be making this on a weekly basis now, thanks so much for the recipe!

  2. 5 stars
    As an Asian, I was MINDBLOWN by this recipe!!! I love how easy and healthy this is while keeping the authentic flavors of Chinese cooking!! A+!!!

  3. 5 stars
    Literally looks like my perfect stir fry, and kid friendly too! Can’t wait to make this for a quick weekday dinner next week, thanks for the recipe and inspiration!

  4. 5 stars
    I love that this takes no time at all to cook. I get the prep all done ahead and then dinner is ready in 15 minutes. Thanks!

  5. 5 stars
    I love how easy and delicious this is. Salt and pepper chicken is one of our favorite dish when ordering a Chinese take-out, so it’s really fun to be able to make this at home.

    1. Hi Dorothy! Honestly I don’t love it either !! I wrote this recipe to totally down play it with the sugar! I’d encourage you to try it as written but if you really dislike it, leave it out !! Let me know what you think!!