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Hunan Chicken is a spicy stir-fry dish with sliced chicken breast and mixed vegetables in a delicious Hunan sauce. Spicy chili bean paste lends a wonderful salty and spicy flavor to this easy recipe that rivals authentic Chinese takeout!
Hunan Style Chicken
Hunan style cooking is all about spicy and savory flavors. This homemade Hunan chicken is ready in less than 30 minutes and much healthier than restaurant versions. For this dish, it’s important to make the chicken extra tender so it can soak up all the delicious flavors. The trick is to marinate the chicken to lock in the moisture before frying quickly in a hot wok or large pan.
In this recipe, the secret ingredient is chili bean paste which adds a wallop of heat to create the characteristic spicy flavor. The best part is that you can adjust the heat and make it as spicy as you like when you cook it at home!
How to make authentic Hunan chicken
- Make the marinade: Marinate thinly sliced chicken breast in egg white, vinegar, soy sauce, and cornstarch for 20 minutes or as long as overnight in the fridge.
- Make Hunan Sauce: Whisk together chili bean paste, chicken broth, soy sauce, oyster sauce, vinegar, sugar, and cornstarch.
- Par-cook the Chicken: Cook the marinated chicken for about 3-4 minutes in a wok or large skillet until lightly browned (it will get cooked more later). Remove from the pan.
- Stir-fry the Vegetables: Stir fry garlic, ginger, and the vegetables for several minutes until near-tender.
- Add Hunan sauce and chicken: Add the sauce and chicken to the pan.
- Combine everything: Bring to a boil and stir fry until the sauce thickens. Remove from heat and you’re done!
Velveting – the Chinese restaurant secret for tenderizing meat
Velveting is a super easy Chinese cooking technique for creating tender and juicy stir-fried meat.
First, thinly slice the chicken and marinate in a mixture of rice vinegar, cornstarch, and egg white, and soy sauce. Then quickly fry (par-cook) the meat in hot oil. Finally, finish the process by stir-frying the marinated chicken with other ingredients.
The marinade mixture forms a barrier that prevents moisture from escaping when heated. The flash-frying then sears the meat quickly while sealing in the juices.
What is Hunan sauce made of?
Soy sauce, oyster sauce, and chicken broth form the base for Hunan sauce. Chili bean paste adds heat and vinegar a bit of tangy flavor. You can add optional sugar if you’d like to add a hint of sweetness. Cornstarch acts as a thickener so the sauce coats the chicken and vegetables nicely. Make sure to stir well so that the cornstarch dissolves and distributes evenly.
Chili bean paste (Doubanjiang)
Chili bean paste is the heart and soul of Hunan sauce, creating the bold, spicy flavor that Hunan chicken is known for! It’s an ingredient used in many Hunan and Szechuan dishes in China.
Also called Doubanjiang, chili bean paste is fermented bean paste with red chili peppers. You can find it in Asian grocery stores, or online from Amazon. It’s important not to confuse La Doubanjiang (spicy) with regular Doubanjiang (non-spicy). The trick is to look for the one with chilis in the ingredient list. Lee Kum Kee is one of my favorite brands and you can easily find it in the U.S.
This recipe uses 2 teaspoons of chili bean paste, which yields medium level spiciness. You can start with 1 teaspoon if you prefer it less spicy, and gradually add more. Don’t worry if you can’t find the right chili bean paste. There are some great subs…
Spicy doubanjiang substitute
Alternatively, mixing regular Chinese black bean paste (or oyster sauce) with dried chili flakes also makes a decent substitute. In a small bowl, add 2 teaspoons black bean paste or oyster sauce, and add 1/2 teaspoon dried chili flakes. Do a taste test and adjust to your liking.
Hunan chicken stir fry
After you’ve marinated and par-cooked the chicken, the next step is to stir fry the vegetables until near tender. For this recipe, I’ve included broccoli, carrots, and red bell pepper because I like the bright color.
Finish up by adding Hunan sauce and par-cooked chicken to the wok. Bring to a boil and stir fry for a few minutes. Watch the liquid bubble and turn into a beautiful thick sauce that coats the chicken and vegetables perfectly.
What does Hunan chicken taste like?
Hunan chicken is hot and spicy with savory flavors. It can also be slightly sweet with a hint of sourness. The unique bold flavor is highly irresistible with enough aromas to tantalize the taste buds!
Hunan chicken vs Szechuan chicken
Hunan Chicken and Szechuan Chicken are both spicy Chinese dishes, although they hail from different regions (Hunan vs. Szechuan provinces).
Hunan chicken consists of sliced chicken breast that’s stir-fried with vegetables. In contrast, Szechuan chicken uses cubed chicken thighs that are deep-fried until crispy.
The other major difference is that Hunan chicken uses chili bean paste to create its characteristic “dry heat” flavor, while Szechuan chicken uses Szechuan peppercorns and dried chili peppers to produce a fiery and mouth-numbing sensation.
Hunan chicken is also different from Kung Pao chicken, another Szechuan chicken recipe that uses Szechuan peppercorn and peanuts.
- Other vegetables like sliced zucchini and mushrooms also work well with this recipe.
- Swap chicken for beef or shrimp.
- Make it crispy? You can marinate the chicken in a batter and then deep fry like we did in Sweet and Sour Chicken.
- Like extra heat? Add more chili bean paste.
More Popular Chinese Stir-fry Chicken Recipes:
Hunan Chicken Recipe
- 1 pound chicken breasts, boneless/skinless (454g)
- 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce, low sodium recommended
- 1 egg white
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic, (3 cloves garlic)
- 1/2 tablespoon minced ginger
- 1 head broccoli, cut into florets (3 cups)
- 1/2 red bell pepper, sliced
- 1 carrot, sliced
- Slice chicken into thin slices. (You can freeze the chicken for about 30 minutes to firm it up for easy slicing.)
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the rice vinegar, cornstarch, soy sauce, and egg white.
- Add the sliced chicken and toss several times to coat.
- Cover and marinate for 20 minutes in the fridge. (Meanwhile, prepare the rest of the ingredients).
- Combine Hunan Sauce ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk until the cornstarch dissolves. Set aside. (This recipe uses 2 teaspoons of chili bean paste for medium spiciness. You can start with 1 teaspoon if you prefer less heat and gradually add more.)
- Place a wok or large pan over medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon oil.
- When hot, add the marinated chicken and fry for 3-4 minutes until the edges are lightly browned (the chicken is not fully cooked yet and will be cooked more later). Remove from the pan and set aside.
- Lower the heat to medium. In the same wok/pan, add remaining oil. Stir in garlic and ginger and fry for 30 seconds or until fragrant.
- Add broccoli, carrots, and red bell pepper. Stir fry for about 3 minutes until barely tender.
- Give the prepared sauce a quick stir and pour into the pan.
- Add back the par-cooked chicken and bring the sauce to a boil while stirring.
- Stir fry until the chicken is evenly coated and the sauce has thickened (about 2-3 minutes).
- Serve immediately with rice.
- *Chili bean paste or Spicy Doubanjiang (辣豆瓣酱) is the secret ingredient for authentic Hunan Chicken. Find it at a local Asian grocery store or online and adjust the spiciness to your own liking.
- Use Chinese bean paste and chili flakes as a substitute when you can't find chili bean paste. In a small bowl, add 2 teaspoons black bean paste or oyster sauce, and add 1/2 teaspoon dried chili flakes.
- You can add other vegetables like zucchini and mushroom.
- The recipe can be made in advance and meal prepped up to 3 days in advance.
Please read our nutrition disclaimer.
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Editor note: Originally published May 27, 2019 and updated Sept 23, 2019.