This Empress Chicken recipe tastes just like your favorite Chinese take-out dish. Lightly breaded chicken is pan-fried until golden then tossed in a tongue-tingling sweet and tangy stir fry sauce.
Skip your next takeout order and have a cozy dinner at home with this hot and tangy homemade empress chicken! This is a mouthwatering Chinese-style chicken stir fry filled with sweet, salty, tangy, and spicy flavors (all at once) and it’s so simple to make.
Why You’ll Love This Empress Chicken Recipe
- Full of flavor! You’re going to love these crispy bites of breaded chicken tossed in spicy, sticky stir-fry sauce enhanced by the flavors of ginger, sesame, and garlic.
- Made in One Pan. As a bonus, everything comes together in one skillet!
- Easy. Serve your empress chicken over sticky rice for an effortless weeknight meal.
What is Empress Chicken?
Empress chicken is a bit like the spicier cousin of General Tso’s chicken. The dishes have many ingredients in common. The difference is that Empress Chicken is hot and spicy, while General Tso’s is sweet and tangy. Empress chicken is made with breaded chicken that’s fried up golden and crispy, and the sauce combines the sweetness of sugar with the tanginess of rice vinegar, plus a nice chili kick.
What You’ll Need
You don’t need any overly fancy or complicated ingredients to make this easy Chinese chicken recipe. Check out a short summary of the ingredients for the chicken and sauce below, and remember to scroll to the recipe card for the full recipe details.
- Chicken – You’ll want to use boneless, skinless chicken breasts, diced into 1-inch pieces.
- Eggs – Dipping the chicken pieces into an egg wash before coating them in flour helps the breading stick.
- Flour – For coating the chicken.
- Cornstarch and Baking Powder – Replacing some of the flour with cornstarch prevents gluten development and absorbs more moisture, making the coating crispier. Baking powder is another secret ingredient perfectly tender crispy chicken.
- Sesame Oil – Essential for that distinctive Asian take-out-style flavor. Make sure to use regular sesame oil when frying the chicken, and not toasted sesame oil. Toasted sesame oil has a lower smoke point.
- Garlic – Fresh garlic, minced.
- Ginger – Powdered ginger works great.
- Chili – Crushed red pepper flakes and deseeded chopped jalapeños bring the heat.
- Green Onions and Sesame Seeds – For garnish.
For the Sauce
- Chicken Broth – Alternatively, use vegetable broth. We recommend low-sodium stock or broth so that the sauce doesn’t turn out overly salty.
- Soy Sauce – You can’t make this dish without it!
- Rice Vinegar – For a hint of acidity to balance out the salty-sweetness.
- Sugar – You can use regular granulated sugar, or light brown sugar.
- Cornstarch – To thicken the sauce.
How to Make Empress Chicken
After a bit of prep, this empress chicken recipe cooks up in just 20 minutes using a single skillet or wok on the stovetop. There’s no deep-frying involved and clean-up is just as quick and easy! Here’s how to make crispy and juicy empress chicken:
- Prepare a breading station. This recipe begins with a Chinese cooking technique known as “velveting” the chicken. It’s the secret to perfectly tenderized chicken! It involves tossing the chicken in a light breading of flour and cornstarch that also contains baking soda before frying. To make your chicken velveting station, first, whisk together the eggs for an egg wash. In a separate bowl, mix up the cornstarch, flour, and baking powder.
- Coat the chicken. Add the chicken pieces first to the eggs, then to the flour mixture, and toss to coat. This is easiest to do using your hands.
- Fry. Working in batches, add the chicken to a hot skillet with sesame oil to fry until golden and crispy. This should take about 5 minutes per batch. After, transfer the fried chicken to a plate while you prepare the sauce.
- Make the sauce. In another bowl, whisk up the sauce ingredients. Next, in the same skillet you used to cook your chicken, sauté the minced garlic, ginger, pepper flakes, and jalapeño until fragrant. After about 30 seconds, add the sauce to the skillet and continue to cook, stirring until thickened.
- Combine. Finally, add the chicken pieces back into the skillet and stir to coat. Serve your empress chicken hot over fluffy white rice, garnished with green onions and a sprinkle of sesame seeds. See below for more easy serving ideas!
Tips for Success
Below are some final tips for the best homemade empress chicken:
- Fry in batches. Make sure to cook the chicken in batches to avoid overcrowding the skillet. Overcrowding prevents the chicken from crisping up, resulting in soggy chicken.
- Keep an eye on the oil temperature. Ideally you want your oil to be about 350F when you start frying your chicken. If it is hotter than this your chicken will cook too quickly on the outside and be under-cooked on the inside. If it less than 350F, your chicken will take too long to cook and the breading will become gummy instead of crispy. You can use a candy thermometer to test the temp.
- Keep the chicken warm. When frying in batches, transfer the fried chicken pieces to a plate and tent them with foil to keep them warm. You can also keep the finished chicken in a 250ºF oven while you finish frying the rest.
Another perk of making your favorite take-away food at home is that you can adapt it any way that you like! Here are some easy variations for empress chicken:
- Spiciness – This recipe packs a spicy kick, but you can adapt the heat levels to suit your family’s tastes. For a milder dish, or if you’re serving this to kids, skip the jalapeños or omit the chili altogether. You can also up the chilis for more heat if desired.
- Veggies – Add extra vegetables to the dish and sauté red bell peppers, onions, broccoli, and cauliflower in the same pan you use to fry your chicken.
- Shrimp – Use peeled shrimp in place of chicken for a seafood twist.
- Add Nuts – Sprinkle in some crushed peanuts or cashews for extra crunch.
- Vegetarian – Replace the chicken chunks in this recipe with cauliflower florets or cubed tofu for easy vegetarian empress chicken.
Serve Empress Chicken with white rice and spicy ramen noodles. You can also add some crispy spring rolls on the side!
Storing and Reheating Leftovers
Empress chicken stir fry is great for meal prep. While the chicken will lose some of its crispiness when stored and reheated, it still tastes great the following day. Store any leftovers airtight in the fridge for up to 3-4 days. You can also freeze your chicken, see below.
To reheat, microwave the chicken for 30 seconds or so, or add it to a skillet to cook until warmed through.
Can I Freeze Empress Chicken?
Yes! Store your cooked empress chicken in an airtight container to keep frozen for up to 3 months. Defrost the chicken in the fridge before reheating.
- 1 ½ lb chicken breasts boneless and skinless, cut into pieces
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup flour
- ½ cup cornstarch
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 4 tablespoons sesame oil
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- ½ teaspoon ginger powder
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 jalapeño seedless and chopped
- 2 stalks green onions chopped
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
- 1 cup chicken broth
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- Bread the chicken. In a small bowl whisk the eggs. In a separate bowl add cornstarch, flour, salt, and baking powder, and mix well. Add the chicken pieces to the bowl with the beaten eggs to be fully coated. Then place it on the plate with dry coating, and using your hands, toss to coat evenly.
- Cook the chicken. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once the skillet is hot enough, add the chicken pieces and cook in 2-3 batches until golden on all sides, about 4-5 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate.
- Make the sauce. In a separate bowl, whisk together all ingredients for the sauce. Set aside.
- Add minced garlic, ginger, red hot pepper flakes, and chopped jalapeño in the same skillet. Sauté the ingredients for 30 seconds on high heat, then pour the sauce into the skillet. Stir the ingredients together and continue cooking until the sauce thickens.
- Add the chicken back to the skillet. Give a good stir to ensure the chicken pieces are fully coated in the sauce.
- Serve. Garnish with sliced green onions and sesame seeds. Serve hot with rice.