Easy salt and pepper chicken is fuss free to make at home with this simple recipe. Tender, juicy chicken coated with a crispy seasoning, accompanied by crunchy onions and chilli.
Make this takeaway favourite effortlessly without the need to deep fry. Tweak the heat to enjoy it the way you like it!
Salt & pepper chicken
Salt and pepper chicken is a British Chinese takeout must-have that is so easy to make at home from everyday pantry ingredients.
It is one of those dishes that is completely fuss free and scores high on the effort to glory ratio – minimal effort, but sure to impress.
I love the mix of flavours, textures and colours in this dish.
Tender, juicy chicken with a light, crispy spiced batter, two types of crunchy onions and lots of heat from the chilli, and a good kick of garlic!
It’s so good that you will want to make a double batch next time!
Serve this salt and pepper chicken on its own as a starter, or with rice or noodles as a main.
Once you have made it, it will become a regular part of your repertoire. You will never need to order it in again.
Why make salt and pepper chicken
- It is easy – follow my step by step instructions and you will be making this like a pro.
- Salt and pepper chicken is delicious! Spices, salt, pepper, heat and the crunch of the chicken coating.
- No deep frying or need for a thermometer. Fuss-free cooking at its best.
- It is quick – less than 30 minutes from start to finish!
- It is a one pan dish so less washing up!
- Cooking from scratch means you know what is in your food – no added artificial ingredients or hidden allergens.
Salt and pepper chicken ingredients
- Chicken – I prefer chicken thighs for this dish. They have more flavour, and the fat content makes them juicer. If you are feeling lazy or especially short of time, buy skinless and boneless. If you buy whole thighs, it is easy to remove the skin and bone You will need one big thigh per person. If you prefer to use chicken breast, that’s fine too.
- Five Spice – This is essential to get that that distinctive Chinese flavour. Use it sparingly to avoid overpowering the dish. When buying, check the ingredients. Some jars sold as five spice seasoning can contain sugar as the main ingredient! Stick to ones that only contain spice. They all taste a bit different, so find one that you like.
- Cornflour/Corn starch – to coat the chicken. This is one of my pantry essentials for making a lightly crispy coating and thickening dishes and sauces.
- Pepper and salt – Medium ground black pepper and crunchy sea salt. I keep a jar of ground black pepper to save the time and effort of grinding it.
- Chilli – I use a red chillies. but you can also use green, and go as hot or mild as you like. Use a bell pepper instead if you don’t want any heat.
- Onion & garlic – a small onion is perfect.
- Spring onions / scallions
- Oil (not pictured) – This is one of the few dishes I fry in vegetable oil rather than olive oil. You want something light with little flavour.
How to make Chinese salt and pepper chicken – step by step
Before you start, read my step-by-step instructions, with photos, hints and tips so you can make this salt and pepper chicken recipe perfectly every time.
Scroll down for the recipe card with quantities and more tips at the bottom of the page.
Step One – First, prepare the vegetables:
- Onion – Peel, top and tail and cut into chunks of about 1 cm / half an inch.
- Spring Onions – Top and tail, peel off any tough, or dried off outer layers. Then cut one lengthwise into strips and the other cross wise into slices.
Helen’s Fuss Free Tip
Cutting the spring onions two ways is a really easy way to make the final dish look far more interesting.
- Garlic – Peel and finely chop.
- Chilli – Finely chop. To reduce the heat, remove and discard the membrane and seeds.
Helen’s Fuss Free Tip
Spare/leftover chillies can be chopped up and frozen in an airtight container. Add to the pan and fry from frozen.
If you are preparing a large quantity of chilli, then I highly recommend a pair of latex gloves. Even if I am preparing one very hot chilli, I usually wrap my fingers in a piece of cling film. I often accidently touch my face and with chilli juice fingers, this can be painful.
Step Two – Next, prepare the chicken. Trim and discard any fatty bits and then cut into bite sized chunks. I nearly always use a sharp pair of kitchen scissors rather than a knife. Freeze offcuts, skin and bone and save for making stock.
Step Three – Prepare the coating for the chicken. Mix the cornflour (cornstarch) and the spices together. I usually do this in a plastic tub with a sealable lid, because this allows me to shake it. You can use a bowl if you prefer.
Step Four – Add the chicken to the spice mix. Then put the lid on the tub and give it all a good shake (or stir in, if using a bowl). Make sure the chicken is well coated with the mixture.
Step Five – Add the oil to a large heavy frying pan and set over a medium high heat. When it seems ready, test the temperature by adding a piece of chicken, which should sizzle. If it does, add the rest of the chicken and fry for 8 minutes until cooked through and starting to turn golden.
Turn the chicken pieces from time to time, but don’t stir continuously. Leaving it to cook undisturbed will result in a crisper coating.
Step Six – Once cooked remove the chicken pieces from the pan onto a double layer of kitchen paper on a plate or bowl to soak up some of the oil.
Step Seven – Drain most of the oil from the pan and then add the onions and fry for a few minutes until golden, fragrant and starting to turn crispy. While they are cooking, give the bottom of the pan a good scrape to loosen any of the delicious crispy cornflour mixture.
Helen’s Fuss Free Tip
The culinary term for those crispy bits at the bottom of the pan is fond, French for base or foundation. They are full of flavour so that’s why we carefully scrape them up.
Add the spring onion, chilli and garlic and cook for another minute.
Step Eight – Finally, add the chicken pieces and cook for another couple of minutes to ensure they are piping hot
Serve and enjoy immediately.
I like this as a simple starter. For a more substantial meal, it is also delicious served with my Chinese rice as a main, or go double salt and pepper and serve with salt and pepper chips.
Serve as a canape on a blini, or add some salad, mayonnaise or sweet chilli, and then roll up in a wrap for a quick lunch.
- Use more or less five spice to taste.
- Add some extra heat with extra chilli or add a little grated fresh ginger.
- Add some extra vegetables by frying sliced bell peppers, or blanched green beans along with the onion.
Storage and freezing
This salt and pepper chicken recipe is really best enjoyed fresh out of the pan because that’s how you get the crispy finish. I don’t recommend freezing.
Reheat – Add a splash of oil to a hot pan and fry for a few minutes until hot throughout.
Make ahead – Prepare all the ingredients up to step 3. Once coated in the cornflour mix, cook the chicken immediately.
Hints and tips
- I like to use a tub with a sealable lid to make the coating. It’s so much easier when you can shake the flour and spices together, and then shake the chicken pieces in the flour. It’s a great way to avoid mess.
- Don’t forget to let the oil drain off the chicken pieces in a piece of kitchen paper, for a crispy coating that isn’t greasy.
Five spice is an East Asian blend of spices popular in China, Taiwan, Vietnam and beyond. It consists of star anise, fennel seed, Szechuan pepper, clove and cinnamon. Warm and earthy, it lends a distinctive character to Chinese dishes. The five spices may originally have related to the five elements of traditional Chinese philosophy.
Absolutely, you can bake the chicken pieces, but you will still need to fry the vegetables for best results. If I were making this with chicken wings, I absolutely would bake them.
The cut of chicken won’t affect the cooking time at all, as long as the pieces are about the same size.
Cornflour should be gluten free but check your brand is suitable just in case. If the cornflour is safe, the recipe is safe. It is best to read every label to be safe.
Related Recipes / You may also love
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- Chinese Rice – Lightly spiced, this Asian-inspired rice goes with everything. You can even make it in the pressure cooker.
- Sticky Asian Chicken Wings – Just like take out, but homemade in 45 minutes with 3 minutes hands on time,
- Sticky Soy Chicken – Delicious, with just four ingredients.
- Chicken Chow Mein – Takeout style at home.
Salt and Pepper Chicken
- 1 small onion
- 2 spring onions (scallions)
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 red chilli
- 2 chicken thighs (200–250 g)
- 30 g cornflour ( a scant ¼ cup corn starch)
- ½ tbsp sea salt
- ½ tbsp Chinese five spice mix
- ½ tbsp black pepper (medium ground)
- 3 tbsp vegetable oil
- Peel, top and tail the onion and then cut into quarter inch chunks.1 small onion
- Top and tail the spring onions, and peel off any tough, or dried off outer layers. Cut one lengthwise into strips and the other crosswise into slices2 spring onions
- Peel and finely chop the garlic.1 clove garlic
- Remove seeds and membrane from the chilli and finely chop.1 red chilli
- Next, prepare the chicken. Trim and discard any fatty bits and then cut into bite-sized chunks. I nearly always use a sharp pair of kitchen scissors rather than a knife. Freeze offcuts, skin and bone and save for making stock.2 chicken thighs
- Mix the cornflour (corn starch) and the five spice, salt and pepper together thoroughly in a container big enough to take the chicken. If you use a sealable plastic tub, you can shake to mix and then shake again to coat.30 g cornflour, ½ tbsp sea salt, ½ tbsp Chinese five spice mix, ½ tbsp black pepper
- Add the chicken to the flour mixture and coat well.
- Heat the oil in a heavy frying pan over a medium-high heat. When it is very hot, add one piece of the chicken to test. If it sizzles, the oil is hot enough and you can add the rest of the meat. Cook for about 8 minutes, turning only occasionally. Don't stir.3 tbsp vegetable oil
- Once cooked, remove the chicken pieces from the pan onto a double layer of kitchen paper on a plate or bowl to soak up some of the oil.
- Drain most of the oil from the pan before adding the onions. Fry until golden and starting to crisp. Loosen any bits of coating left in the pan, as you want to include these in the dish.
- Add the spring onion, chilli and garlic and cook for another minute.
- Finally, add the chicken pieces and cook for another couple of minutes to ensure they are piping hot. Then serve and enjoy.
- Nutrition calculated with one tablespoon of oil
- This recipe is 10 Weight Watchers Smart Points per portion