What, you ask? Szechuan Popcorn Chicken? Yes, Dear Reader, Szechuan Popcorn Chicken! This recipe is almost as fun to say as it is to eat!
If you haven’t guessed already, I’m a huge fan of sauce on chicken. Plain and simple seasoned chicken is okay for a Sunday night dinner, but when I’m indulging in something delicious on a Friday night (or on a Saturday afternoon while watching back to back episodes of the Pioneer Woman) I need sticky, sweet, spicy, crispy, salty, and pretty much every flavour profile in between!
Szechuan Popcorn Chicken satisfies the toughest critic and the most stubborn food cravings. Easy and fast to prepare, cheap ingredients, and large taste, this dish is far from mediocre. In fact, I’d say it’s perfect, but I could be a little biased.
Szechuan is a style of Chinese cuisine which has bold flavours, in particular, the pungency and spiciness resulting from liberal use of garlic and chili peppers. Rather than just coat chicken in sauce, I decided to up my game and try my hand at a take on Kentucky Fried Chicken’s famous popcorn chicken recipe.
With its mixture of chili, ginger, brown sugar, and soy sauce, Szechuan has a hot and spicy flavour with a bit of sweetness. If you have a tolerance for dishes spiced with chilies, you’ll enjoy this dish. If by chance you prefer a milder heat level, simple lower the amount of chili flakes and you’re set to go!
You’ll note that I fried the chicken bites first, then tossed them with the sauce, and then baked them in a skillet for a little while. The last step is completely optional, but I wanted the sauce to bake onto the chicken itself rather than just provide a spicy coating.
Szechuan Popcorn Chicken
- 8-10 chicken tenders, cut into bite-sized pieces
- ¼ cup corn starch
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
- 1 teaspoon dried red chili flakes, or substitute fresh chillies
- 1 tablespoon dried onion flakes
- 1 bunch green onions, chopped in 2-3 inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons chili sauce
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons white vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
- ½ cup water
- Vegetable oil for frying
Begin by setting up a dredging station. To do so, beat the eggs in a large bowl and set aside. In another bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and pepper; set aside. Lastly, toss the chicken pieces with the corn starch and set aside.
In a deep skillet or pot, add enough vegetable oil to deep fry the chicken pieces. Bring the oil to proper frying temperature, somewhere between 350-375 degrees.
In the meantime, shake off the excess corn starch and add the chicken pieces to the eggs. Toss to coat.
Remove the chicken from the eggs and toss into the flour mixture. Toss well to coat each piece.
When the oil has reached the right frying temperature, carefully fry the chicken pieces in batches. Once a golden brown crust has been achieved, drain onto a paper towel-lined baking sheet.
In the meantime, in a sauce pan, add the sesame oil, garlic, ginger, chili flakes, and dried onion flakes. Sauté on a medium heat for 2 minutes.
Add the chili sauce, tomato paste, brown sugar, vinegar, and water. Stir together and bring to a low boil. Turn off the heat and allow to rest.
Once the chicken has been fried, transfer to a large bowl, add the green onions and sesame seeds, and toss with the sauce.
Transfer the entire chicken dish to a large lightly oiled skillet. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.