This Hunan Chicken Recipe is a delicious chicken and vegetable stir-fry in an authentic sweet and spicy Hunan sauce. Ready in under 30 minutes and so much better than your favorite takeout.
Hunan chicken is one of my absolute favorite Chinese chicken stir-fry recipes to both cook at home or order from my local Chinese restaurant. Filled with tender, juicy chicken pieces and perfectly cooked vegetables coated in savory and spicy sauce, it’s the perfect weeknight dinner.
What is Hunan Chicken?
Hunan Chicken is a popular Chinese dish originating in the Hunan province of China. Hunan cuisine is known for being gān là (干辣; ‘dry and spicy’) or purely hot, and Hunan chicken, when prepared authentically, is no exception.
Made with a bold, spicy, and flavorful sauce mixed with tender, bite-sized pieces of chicken and a colorful array of mixed vegetables, Hunan chicken gained popularity in Chinese restaurants all over the States – although here, you’ll usually find a much milder and less spicy Chinese stir fry.
Is Hunan Chicken Spicy?
Yes, Hunan chicken is known for its spiciness. As mentioned above, the dish derives its heat from the use of fresh and dried chili peppers, which are a signature ingredient in Hunan cuisine. This spiciness sets Hunan chicken apart from other Chinese dishes and is a key characteristic of the dish.
If you’re not used to spicy foods, you may find this recipe to be quite spicy. Control the spiciness by reducing the amount of dried red chilies and chili paste added to the recipe or leaving them out altogether.
Is Hunan Chicken the Same as Szechuan Chicken?
Although they both originate from China and are known for their spicy flavors, Hunan chicken and Szechuan chicken are not the same. The primary difference is in their spice profile.
Hunan chicken relies on the heat from fresh and dried chili peppers, resulting in a straightforward spiciness or gān là (干辣; ‘dry and spicy’) spiciness. Szechuan chicken, on the other hand, often incorporates Szechuan peppercorns, which impart a numbing sensation along with the heat from chili peppers, creating a unique má là (麻辣; ‘spicy and numbing’) seasoning.
- Dark soy sauce: Darker, thicker, and slightly less salty than regular or light soy sauce, dark soy sauce is aged for a longer period and often has molasses or caramel added, giving it a sweeter, richer flavor and a deep, dark color. If you can’t find dark soy sauce, you can substitute it with regular soy sauce, but I recommend adding a couple of tablespoons of brown sugar or honey for added sweetness.
- Chicken broth: The sauce needs a little liquid – chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water will all work.
- Oyster sauce: A dark, thick, and savory sauce widely used in Chinese cuisine. The flavor of oyster sauce is complex, but this handy ingredient really makes at-home Chinese cooking taste like the real deal.
- Sake: This Japanese rice wine adds a mild, slightly sweet taste to sauces and stir-fries. You can substitute it with mirin (a sweet Japanese cooking wine)
- Chili paste: Doubanjiang paste, sambal oelek, or gochujang.
- Ketchup: Perhaps somewhat less traditional, ketchup adds sweetness, tanginess, and color.
How to Make Hunan Chicken
1. Prepare the chicken: Sprinkle the sliced chicken pieces with cornstarch, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Gently massage the cornstarch and seasoning into the chicken, ensuring each piece of chicken is evenly coated. Set aside.
2. Combine the sauce: Mix the dark soy sauce, water (or chicken broth), oyster sauce, sake, chili paste, and ketchup together in a small bowl. Set aside.
3. Sauté the chicken: Cook the chicken in a hot skillet or wok set over high heat. Fry until golden brown, crispy around the edges, and cooked through. Remove the chicken to a clean plate and set aside.
4. Stir-fry the veggies: Reduce heat to medium-high heat. Add the whole red chilies, broccoli florets, and carrots to the same pan. Sauté for a minute or so, then add the green and red bell peppers and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Stir in the baby corn, peanuts, ginger, and garlic and cook for 1 minute or until the garlic becomes fragrant.
5. Add the sauce: Pour the Hunan sauce over the vegetables and cook for 3-4 minutes or until the sauce starts to simmer. Return the chicken back to the skillet and toss to coat in the sauce.
6. Cook until sauce has thickened: Stir and cook for an additional 2 minutes or until the sauce thickens. Serve over cooked rice and garnish with freshly chopped green onions if desired.
How to Serve Hunan Chicken
I like to pair this stir-fry dish with a side of cooked white or brown rice. Other delicious sides include,
- Fried rice or cauliflower fried rice
- Chow mein or Asian garlic noodles
- Chinese broccoli (gai lan)
- Garlic bok choy
Storage and Freezing
Leftovers: Keep leftover Hunan chicken stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2-3 days. Reheat in a hot pan or skillet or in the microwave until warmed through.
Freezing: I do not recommend freezing Hunan chicken once it’s been cooked and mixed together because the vegetables will turn mushy after thawing. For best results, freeze the chicken and the sauce separately, then thaw when ready to cook the dish.
More Stir-Fry Recipes:
- Easy Szechuan Chicken Recipe
- Beef and Broccoli Recipe
- Kung Pao Chicken
- Mongolian Beef
- Easy Chicken Stir Fry Recipe with Bok Choy
- Moo Goo Gai Pan Recipe
If you try making this Hunan Chicken Recipe, please leave me a comment and let me know! I always love to hear your thoughts.
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs - chopped into small bite-size pieces
- 2 tablespoon cornstarch
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- ½ head broccoli - (approximately 2 cups broccoli florets), chopped into small florets
- 2 large carrots - peeled and cut on a diagonal
- 3 dried red chili peppers
- 1 green bell pepper - seeded and roughly cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 red bell pepper - seeded and roughly cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 (15-ounce) can baby corn - drained
- ¼ cup peanuts - or cashews (optional)
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger - roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh garlic - rough chopped
- Sprinkle the chicken with cornstarch, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Gently massage the cornstarch and seasoning into the chicken, ensuring each piece of chicken is evenly coated. Set aside.
- Next, mix the dark soy sauce, water, oyster sauce, sake, chili paste, and ketchup together in a small bowl. Set aside.
- Heat the vegetable oil in a large stainless steel wok or skillet set over high heat. Add the coated chicken pieces and fry until golden brown and cooked through then remove the chicken to a clean plate. Set aside.
- Reduce heat to medium-high heat. Add the whole red chilies, broccoli florets, and carrots to the same stainless steel wok or skillet. Sauté for a minute or so, stirring frequently, then add the green and red bell peppers and cook for an additional 2 minutes.
- Stir in the baby corn, peanuts, ginger, and garlic and cook for 1 minute or until the garlic becomes fragrant.
- Pour the Hunan sauce over the vegetables and cook for 3-4 minutes or until the sauce starts to simmer. Add the chicken back to the skillet and toss well to coat with the sauce.
- Stir and cook for an additional 2 minutes or until the sauce thickens.
- Serve over cooked rice and garnish with freshly chopped green onions if desired.
- Keep leftovers stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2-3 days.
(Nutrition information provided is an estimate and will vary based on cooking methods and specific brands of ingredients used.)