Chinese Black Pepper Chicken (黑椒鸡丁)
Forget about Panda Express! This is the best Chinese Black Pepper Chicken recipe with a delicious black pepper sauce you can make from home easily. Juicy and tender chicken breasts with intensely flavored black pepper sauce…you’ll want to drizzle it on everything! Throw in some crisp peppers and crunchy celery, so simple and easy to make, you can make this tonight!
Love more copycat recipes? Then, you’ll also love my String bean chicken panda express and black pepper beef!
This Chinese pepper chicken dish is super popular among the readers – juicy tender chicken breasts pan-fried to a little crisp outside and full of juice inside. If you ask me, always serve the pepper chicken with rice!
What makes my garlic pepper chicken extra special is my secret black pepper sauce. It’s not only gluten-free but also naturally sweetened. You’ll need –
- Chicken breasts:
- Coarse sea salt, coconut aminos, garlic powder.
- Baking soda: a small amount of baking soda helps tenderize the chicken breasts. Learn the science behind it in my chicken stir fry marinade article that’s coming up next!
- Vegetables: Yellow sweet onions, red bell peppers, and celery
- Black pepper sauce:
- Freshly ground black pepper, Fruit jam (peach or apricot), Chicken broth, Tapioca starch.
- Coconut aminos: this soy-free soy sauce has a naturally sweeter taste.
- Sichuan peppercorn powder: This is an optional ingredient that gives the sauce an extra lemony, peppery, and numbing effect. See more info below.
Substitutions and variations
- Chicken thighs are my second choice if breasts aren’t available. Dice them to similar bite sizes.
- For people who aren’t allergic to soy, you can use either dark or light soy sauce. Start with half of the recipe quantity as coconut aminos is less salty.
- You can also use different veggies – Broccoli, snow peas, or diced carrots are all great choices.
- If you are okay with a touch of cooking wine, add a tablespoon of dry sherry, mirin, Chinese Shaoxing wine, or Taiwanese rice wine to marinate the chicken. The dish will be extra tasty.
- Add extra garlic – garlic lovers can add more finely minced garlic to the stir fry for extra garlicky pepper chicken!
- Sichuan peppercorn alternatives: If you have Sichuan peppercorns at home, pan roasts them without oil for a few seconds then use a spice grinder to grind them into powder.
- Make the dish extra savory with a few teaspoons of Vegan oyster sauce
- Starch alternatives: arrowroot starch, potato starch, or cornstarch also work.
- Other sweeteners: Honey or date syrup are great choices. If you use dates, soak them in hot water for a few minutes before blending with the sauce.
- About vinegar – If you want to add a small amount of vinegar to the sauce, I recommend using Chinese Chinkiang Vinegar for a more authentic taste!
How to make black pepper chicken stir fry
Similar to my Chinese pepper steak, this panda express copycat black pepper chicken is super quick to assemble with minimum chopping!
- Slice and season: Cube the chicken breasts to similar sizes and season them with a quick marinate. Lightly dust them with starch before pan frying.
- Dice the vegetables: This dish comes together quickly so dice the peppers and the celery in advance.
- Make sauce: In a small bowl, combine the ingredients and set the sauce aside.
- Pan fry: pan fry the chicken in a single layer in a large skillet without disturbing for about 2-3 minutes per side. Set the chicken aside.
- Stir fry: Saute the vegetables until crisp but not mushy.
- Combine: combine the chicken and the black pepper sauce with the vegetables. Toss and serve!
Tips for the best black pepper sauce
With a few simple tweaks, our homemade pepper sauce is so much healthier than takeout! A touch of fruit jam helps thicken the sauce therefore we can use less starch (i.e. less carb). So what makes my sauce so special?
Freshly ground black pepper:
- Pre-ground black pepper in a can won’t do the job for this recipe. The flavor won’t be as intense. I recommend you grind the peppercorns in your own pepper mill.
Sichuan peppercorn powder (optional):
- This is my signature touch to make the sauce extra fragrant. It’s a ground version of the whole Sichuan peppercorns and it’s not hot at all.
- It adds a nice lemony flavor with a little tingly sensation in the mouthfeel. You can lightly toast the whole peppercorns and grind them into a powder.
- A little touch of sweetness to balance the heat and the piney flavor from the peppercorns. The fruit jam also acts as a thickener to round the sauce together. I use St. Dalfour brand apricot, peach, or orange. If you are on Whole30, use soft pitted dates or prunes and blend them with the rest to make a sauce.
How to make ahead, store, and reheat
This chicken pepper stir fry is perfect for make-ahead meals. The chicken tastes super tender and the veggies remain crisp.
- Cook the entire dish – let it cool to room temperature and divide them into individual serving containers. Pack with rice underneath for quick lunch to go the next day!
- Partially prep the dish – dice and season the chicken, combine the black pepper sauce, and dice the vegetables. Pack them separately in the fridge for a quick stir-fry dinner in no time!
- Storage: The leftover cooked pepper chicken is great for 4-5 days in the fridge in an airtight container. You can also store either the cooked or prepped but raw components in the freezer for 1 month.
- Reheat: To reheat the leftovers from the refrigerator, microwave on high for 1 minute. To reheat from the freezer, please thaw them a night before in the fridge.
What to serve with chicken black pepper stir fry
This panda pepper chicken is super versatile and goes well with many things. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Side dishes: pair the chicken with crispy rice paper dumplings and 2-ingredient sauteed bok choy on the side or pair it with my Chinese broccoli with garlic sauce to go with rice.
- Soup: In the winter, serve the Chinese garlic pepper chicken with chicken hot and sour soup or egg drop soup.
- Make a complete meal with shirataki fried rice or keto chicken lo mein to keep it low carb or my chili garlic noodles for an authentic Chinese-style dinner!
Umami tips for success
- Use freshly ground black pepper – This is the star of the dish! Freshly ground black pepper has a more robust flavor than pre-ground pepper so use the fresh version.
- Season the chicken with a touch of baking soda. It’ll tenderize the chicken breasts.
- Dice the chicken and the vegetables to similar sizes so they cook evenly at the same temperature.
- Black pepper sauce – use fruit jam to sweeten and it thickens the sauce as well.
- Sichuan peppercorn powder – Although optional, this spice adds extra flavor and depth to the sauce!
- Use a high smoke point oil – avocado oil is great for Chinese stir-fries!
- Mise en place – this dish comes together quickly so prepare the sauce and vegetables first before you start cooking.
- Work in batches – don’t overcrowd the saute pan. Work in batches if necessary.
Black pepper sauce is not usually spicy because it’s not made with chili peppers. Black peppers do give it a warm and peppery flavor but it’s different from heat-based spiciness. Chinese black pepper sauce actually tastes a little sweet and savory, balanced with a floral aroma from Sichuan peppercorns.
Black pepper chicken is a dish full of flavor and texture. The chicken is tender and juicy, while the black pepper sauce is a little sweet, garlicky, and with a peppery taste.
No, Sichuan peppercorns and black peppercorns are not the same. Black peppercorns have a peppery and pungent flavor. Sichuan peppercorns have a unique floral, numbing, citrus-like flavor. They are often used in Sichuan cuisine. The two have different flavor profiles.
Black pepper chicken recipe
For the chicken:
For the vegetables:
- 1 medium size red bell pepper, dice to 1-inch cubes
- 6 oz. celery stalks, sliced on diagonal, about 3-4 medium length stalks
- 3.5 oz yellow onion, diced, about 1 small onion
For the black pepper sauce:
- Slice the chicken breasts to 1-inch cubes and in a bowl add and mix well with the seasonings from coconut aminos to garlic powder. Set aside in the fridge while you prepare other items.
- Prepare the bell pepper, celery, and onion in one bowl.
- In a separate bowl, mix and stir-well the black pepper sauce.
- In a 10 to 12-inch saute pan, add the avocado oil and preheat over medium heat for about 3 minutes. Test the temperature with a wooden chopstick, if it shows bubbles around the chopstick when inserting it into the oil, the temperature is hot enough. You can also use a thermometer to reach 350F/177C.
- In the meantime, lightly coat the chicken with the starch. Toss well.
- Add the chicken pieces one-by-one into the pan. Turn up the heat to medium-high. Pan fry the chicken in a single layer without disturbing for about 3 minutes on the first side. Then use a chopstick or tong to cook the flip side for about 2 minutes. Transfer them out to a separate plate.
- You should have some oil left in the skillet, if not, add 1 more tablespoon of oil. Saute the pepper, celery, and onion with 2 pinches of salt over medium-high heat for 1 minute.
- Return the chicken to the pan and pour-in the black pepper sauce. Toss to coat the sauce over for 1 minute.
- Turn off the heat. Transfer the food to a serving plate. Taste and season with more freshly ground black pepper or salt, if desired. Serve hot.
- Freshly ground black pepper
Ground black pepper in a can won’t do the job for this recipe. The flavor won’t be as intense. I recommend you grind the peppercorns in your own pepper mill. Use ⅔ tsp freshly ground black pepper if you don’t have Sichuan peppercorn powder for this recipe.
- Sichuan peppercorn powder (optional)
This is my personal touch to make the sauce extra fragrant. Sichuan peppercorn powder is milder in flavor than the whole peppercorns. It adds a nice floral flavor. The powder version is also a good substitute for people who aren’t used to the whole peppercorn flavor. I ordered mine on Amazon. You can definitely skip this ingredient if you don’t have it handy.
- Fruit jam (or pitted dates/prunes)
A little touch of sweetness to balance the heat and the piney flavor from the peppercorns. The fruit jam also acts as a thickener to round the sauce together. I use St. Dalfour brand apricot, peach, or orange will work well for the sauce. If you are on Whole30, use 2-3 soft and moist pitted dates or prunes and blend them with the rest of ingredients to make a sauce.
- Chicken stock
I use chicken stock to thin the sauce. If you aren’t on a specific dietary requirement, you can use Chinese shao hsing wine, Taiwanese michu, or Japanese mirin to replace the stock in the same quantity.
- Small batch cooking – this recipe is written for 1 lb chicken. If you do a larger batch, I recommend you pan fry the chicken in a separate batch so each piece can crisp up beautifully.
If you give this Chinese pepper chicken recipe a try, please leave a comment and rate the recipe in the comments section below. It helps my blog grow organically so that I can continue sharing awesome free recipes on my website. Thank you!