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Hunan Chicken – A Spicy Chicken Stir Fry

Written by Peter Allen on . Posted in food

There are many Chinese chicken stir fry recipes worth a try, but the recipe we are about to unveil today is especially famous for its distinct taste along with an appealing combination of vegetables and meat.

This recipe is no longer purely Chinese but has now become partly American because of all sorts of new variations added to the traditional recipe. Yes! We are talking about Hunan Chicken. Like many Chinese recipes, it offers both health and great taste on a single plate.

Simply put, it is comprised of tender chicken slices cooked with a vegetable and tossed with a special sauce. When done right, the chunky and saucy combination is irresistible. Today we will take deep dive into Hunan chicken, from the amazing varieties to all its different features.

The first time I heard about Hunan Chicken was when I visited a local Chinese restaurant. My friend suggested Hunan Chicken takeout and I decided to trust him and give it a shot. I still thank him to this day for introducing me to this delicious combo. I would usually just try Szechuan chicken, and play it safe.

But the experience of Hunan Chicken was a game-changer for me. At first, I was amazed by the variety of vegetables used in the recipe but the freshness of the ingredients is what made me fall for this dish. And if that’s not enough, the crispy chicken in concert with the vegetables was heavenly.

The moment I took the first bite I knew I needed to look for the recipe right away. And that is exactly what I did. I searched for the recipe and found many varieties and different inspiring flavors. I know that you too would like to bring such an amazing experience to your family at home.

What is Hunan Chicken? Read On to Find Out!

To make it easier to understand, Hunan Chicken can be viewed as the American version of General Tso’s chicken or Szechuan chicken.

It evolved from its traditional Chinese recipe into something more adapted for the American palate. Today it is served at every good Chinese restaurant in the states. Many people are still not familiar with the name Hunan Chicken though.

The dish may not be familiar to many, but Hunan Chicken ingredients are all well known and basic. It takes less than 30 minutes to put them together into a luscious stir fry.

Getting the best out of Hunan Chicken

Boneless chicken breasts are used for the preparation of Spicy Hunan Chicken. Like many other Chinese recipes, the chicken is fried with flour batter or breadcrumb coating which gives it a unique crisp and texture.

Besides the selection of a good meat cut, here some steps that are important to follow to get the best Hunan spicy chicken at home:

Cut the Chicken Thinly: For Hunan chicken, the chicken used should look exactly like the meat in Mongolian beef, thin sliced. The logic behind cutting the meat into thin slices is better absorption of the spices and the marinade. For a nice cut, first freeze the chicken breast in the freezer for about 1 hour.

Once the chicken is frozen, it is easier to slice it into equal-sized pieces.

Now cut the chicken breasts against the grain diagonally into slices. Do not slice too thin, as the chicken will turn soggy during cooking. After cutting the chicken, let it sit at room temperature. Do not add the chicken to the marinade until it achieves room temperature.

Only optimal temperature allows optimal absorption. When you dip the chicken in the marinade, keep it aside and cover the bowl during the process.

Special Chicken Marinade: The crisp of the Hunan Crispy Chicken comes from this special marinade. Unlike other marinades which are all sauce and spice, this marinade makes good use of whisked eggs. Eggs are great for adding texture to meat. In this case, the egg is beaten with cornstarch and spices, and the chicken is dipped into it.

This marinade not only infuses flavors but also creates a nice coating over the chicken, rendering it crispier than ever. Remember this coated chicken is not deep-fried, but rather seared lightly in a pan. So it achieves a combination of being both soft and crunchy at the same time.

You cannot preserve this marinade for later use because of the eggs. It is always better to prepare fresh marinade for each session.

Chinese Hunan Sauce: Another important step that accounts for delicious Hunan chicken is the special sauce used in the stir-fry. This sauce is nothing but a combination of all the right sauces mixed in perfect proportion. This sauce is the signature ingredient of this recipe, and it is what makes Hunan Chicken Hunan!

So, if you miss out on this sauce, you will be missing everything. It is prepared by mixing oyster sauce, soy sauce, spices, stock, and sugar. Avoid directly adding these ingredients to the stir-fry, but instead mix them well together and then add them to the recipe. Cornstarch makes it saucy enough, so do not overcook or else it will get too thick and lose its perfect consistency.

Hunan on the Menu

You can always offer something unique for your table, just by making just small changes like adding some extra toppings or a delicious side dish and so on. These changes are even easier with Hunan chicken. It can be served in many wild varieties, depending on the flavors you enjoy the most.

Good taste comes with creativity, but don’t worry too much about that as I am about to share with you all some exciting ways to add Hunan to the menu:

Super Spicy: Not everyone is a spice lover and especially not the people of the region where Hunan originated. The basic recipe has a very balanced mix of spices which is not too tangy.

But those of you who love to enjoy a spice it up every now and then can simply add an extra teaspoon of hot sauce or chili sauce. You can also add some white pepper or black pepper ground instead. Whatever you use, it should be added to the sauce and mixed well before adding to the chicken.

Rice Bowl: the most popular and commonly enjoyed way of serving Hunan chicken is to top it over a bowl of rice. This can be plain white boiled rice or mixed vegetable fried rice. If you want to serve the chicken with rice, make sure to keep it saucy enough.

You can do that by adding some extra liquid to the sauce. Brown rice or cauliflower rice are some healthier options to serve the chicken with. To add a little crisp, sprinkle some crispy popped rice on top.

Hunan with Noodles: Many people, especially young people and young adults, love to have Hunan chicken with noodles. These can either be the typical egg noodles or any type you want to serve it with. Simply boil the noodles or spaghetti, and top a bowl of it with freshly prepared Hunan chicken.

There is yet another way to add more nutrients to your plate.

Take zucchini and pass it through a spiral, this will give you zucchini noodles. Parboil these noodles and serve them with the chicken. Serving the chicken with these noodles makes this recipe even more tempting and exciting. Give it a shot, it is worth a try!

A drizzle of Cheese: if you want to add a rich and earthy twist to the recipe, there is a creative way to do so! Cheese lovers will love this idea. It was merely a spur of the moment idea, but I and my have family certainly enjoyed it. Once the chicken is cooked, you can serve it with a drizzle of finely shredded parmesan on top.

This method increases the nutritional value of the chicken. Besides, a little cheese never hurts anyone. You can also try it with other varieties of shredded cheese. Make sure to keep it to just a drizzle.

Nut Crunch: There is a classic way to add some extra crunch to the recipe. Sesame seeds are usually sprinkled on top of the basic recipe, but you can replace this topping with finely chopped nuts or other seeds. You can use practically any variety, from chopped pecans to almonds, cashews or crushed walnuts.

Remember to not to go overboard with this, keep it just as a slight topping. Toasted coconut flakes can also be used for the crunch but personally, the taste does not go super well with the chicken. You can use it you want to experiment, some seem to like it.

Hunan Chicken Vs. Szechuan Chicken – Lets Satisfy Your Curiosity!

To this day, the confusion between Hunan chicken and Szechuan chicken exists. Many people mistakenly order the latter in place of the former. Since we are talking about Hunan chicken today, it is essential to settle the case.

There are many differences between the two, from flavors to the method of preparation, preservation, serving style, and ingredients. Here we will share all those differences while establishing what separates Hunan chicken from the rest.

This Sino American dish is nothing to be confused about. We have already discussed Hunan chicken at length, but when compared to other Chinese recipes, its origin has to be taken into consideration. Chinese cuisine is basically divided into eight different traditional cuisines that belong to different regions in China.

These include Anhui, Cantonese, Fujian, Zhejiang, Shandong, Jiangsu, Hunan, and Szechuan. Each of these regions has its own culinary traditions, and that is why a single recipe is cooked differently in all of these regions. Hunan chicken originated from the Hunan region of China and from there became popular all over the country.

Hunan chicken is viewed as one of the warming recipes of the region because it has a hot and spicy nature. It is slightly oily as both the chicken and the vegetables are sautéed in oil, sesame oil in most cases. You can add ginger, peppers, scallion, additional chicken, cornstarch, sauce, and other vegetables.

This dish is spelled differently in every language.

Sichuan, Szechwan are two other names of this recipe. As the name indicates, this chicken stir fry originated from the Sichuan province of Southwestern China. The recipe was later named after the region when it got popular outside of China. This region is famous for its strong, spicy flavors.

Szechuan chicken thus has a healthy dose of that, as the locals add special ‘Sichuan peppercorn flavor’ to the recipe to kick up the spice. This peppercorn spice is quite aromatic and has a strong tangy taste with a citrus-like effect. When added to the chicken, it becomes sweet and spicy like other Sichuan recipes. The use of sauces is different in this chicken.

It can utilize dry sherry, egg whites, brown sugar, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, cornstarch, red bell pepper, green onions, chicken, chili paste, red chili, and cayenne pepper. There is a great variety to choose from, both spices and sauce. The chicken is first battered and then pan-fried with vegetables along with the sauces.

How Nutritious is this Dish?

Let’s talk a little about the nutritional values of its ingredients. With that many colorful vegetables on your plate and the saucy chicken along with it, this dish is certainly nutritious. With veggies comes a dozen essential vitamins, minerals, and dietary fibers. You can also enhance the nutritional value by adding more vegetables to the recipe.

Some people add a little variety by adding corn kernels or sliced mushrooms, sesame seeds or chopped nuts. One of the great things about stir frys is that you can mold the recipe easily to your own health preference. If you like you can reduce the sodium or substitute the sugar, omit a certain spice, etc.

If you calculate the caloric count of Hunan Chicken, a single serving or a bowl provides as much as 385 calories. This is sufficient to satisfy your energy needs during the day or at night. 120 of these calories come from fat. There is not much fat in the recipe except for the oil, which is used for sautéing.

The major macronutrient present in the recipe besides fat, is either carbohydrates or protein. A single bowl can provide about 13 grams of carbohydrates. And this value increases if the chicken is served with rice or bread.

With not only chicken used in the stir-fry but a black bean mixture or similar used for the sauce, Hunan chicken can be a great source of protein. A single bowl of Hunan chicken can give you about 51 grams of protein. That makes for the highest value among all the nutrients.

Fat is present in a considerably low amount and constitutes only 14 grams of the total nutrients. Luckily the amount of saturated fats is also quite low also, at about 3 grams per serving. Hunan Chicken only contains 135 mg of cholesterol. This makes this recipe ideal for people suffering from high cholesterol levels.

One negative which hurts the nutritional value of Hunan chicken is its high sodium content. This fact is important to consider if you are suffering from hypertension or any other sodium-related disorder.

It contains about 1040 mg of sodium per serving. To reduce the sodium content you can simply cut the salt or replace soy sauce with other low sodium substitutes. Patients with hypertension should try to augment to sodium content of the recipe as much as possible.

The amount Hunan Chicken adds to your plate in terms of minerals and vitamins is commendable. Vegetables are always good news, as they are rich in all sorts of minerals especially potassium, and phosphorous. Bell peppers are a great source of vitamin B and carrots can give you vitamin A.

Super Delicious Hunan Chicken Recipe

Finally, we are about to make some Hunan Chicken. Grab your notepads. However, pretty much everything used here is basic, and you will easily find it in your pantry. As far as vegetables are concerned, only use fresh and organic ones for the best taste and aroma.

Do not go overboard with the sauce, and keep the soy sauce to a small amount as it is rich in sodium. If you are on a sodium free diet, you replace it with coconut aminos. Here zucchini is used im combination with red bell pepper and carrot.

You can always use other vegetables of your choice like broccoli florets or some cabbage, etc. Always serve fresh for the best experience.

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 pound skinless (boneless chicken breast, chopped bite-size)
  • 1 large egg (whisked)
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 clove garlic (minced)
  • 1 thumb size ginger (peeled and finely chopped)
  • 2 cups mixed zucchini, red bell pepper and carrot (sliced bite-size)

For the Sauce:

  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons chili bean paste or chili paste (such as tobanjan, Sambal Oelek)
  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup low sodium chicken stock
  • white ground pepper

Instructions

The journey towards spicy Hunan chicken starts here. Take a bowl and whisk the egg with cornstarch, salt, and pepper. Mix well until the mixture has a smooth consistency. Add the chicken pieces to this egg marinade and let it sit for 5 minutes to infuse all the flavors.

Meanwhile, you can mix all the ingredients for the sauce in a bowl and blend them well to get a smooth sauce. Set this sauce aside.

Take a large non-stick pan and heat it with 1 tablespoon vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Now add the marinated chicken pieces to the pan and sauté these pieces until golden brown and al dente. Transfer these pieces to a plate lined with paper towel.

Set the chicken aside for a while.

Heat the remaining tablespoon of vegetable oil in the same pan over medium-high heat. Add ginger and garlic. Stir cook for 1 minute then stir in the vegetables. Sauté all the vegetables for 5 minutes until they are soft and al dente.

Add the sautéed chicken and prepared sauce to the vegetables. Continue cooking the mixture for 1 minute with constant stirring. Then take off the heat.

Your Hunan chicken is ready! Serve it with steaming white rice.  Or you can also serve the dish with a warm piece of bread.

Conclusion

Hunan chicken is an excellent entrée to serve on all occasions. It is a balanced mix of colorful vegetables and spicy chicken. It is normally served with boiled white rice, which is irresistible when served immediately. Keep in mind tha the marination of the chicken in an egg mixture gives better taste and texture to the chicken.

What makes this recipe special is the use of a sweet and savory sauce. This sauce adds quite a complementary flavor to the entire assembly of vegetables and chicken. Enjoy folks!.

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Peter Allen

Peter Allen

Peter's path through the culinary world has taken a number of unexpected turns. After starting out as a waiter at the age of 16, he was inspired to go to culinary school and learn the tricks of the trade. As he delved deeper, however, his career took a sudden turn when a family friend needed someone to help manage his business. Peter now scratches his culinary itch on the internet by blogging, sharing recipes, and socializing with food enthusiasts worldwide.

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