Going Numb – Szechuan Chilli Chicken 干锅鸡丁

A friend of mine recently made a major discovery. She found a restaurant that serves a very spicy Szechuan chilli chicken. She loved it so much it was all she talked about for weeks and insisted that I go and try it out myself. So we made the two hour trip (yes, you read that right) to Zurich to have this chicken dish. After all, there is no distance too great for good food, am I right?

Usually when we think Szechuan dishes, we think Ma La; which is that numbing spiciness typical of Szechuan dishes and it’s Szechuan peppercorns that give it this flavour. Most Szechuan dishes you find in Europe are barely spicy, let alone numbingly so. So it was very satisfying to finally have a Szechuan dish in Switzerland that actually had the Ma La factor.

Gorgeous Szechuan peppercorns
Compare from left to right: Black Pepper, Szechuan Pepper and White Pepper

It was, however, not practical to make the two hour trip whenever we wanted to eat this. So I promised her I would try to re-create it. In the span of three weeks I’ve made this dish so many times I might have made some permanent damages to my tastebuds. (Teehee!) Totally worth it though because I’m 99% sure I got it right.

Something also very typical of Szechuan dishes is dried chilli. A note on dried chilli: The uglier and wrinklier the chilli, the spicier it is. This recipe uses the smooth pretty, i.e. the barely spicy kind, so if you use the wrinkly spicy kind, be sure to adjust accordingly.

Dried Chilli. Left: A toddler could eat this. Right: Will burn a hole in your mouth. Also, I exaggerate.

I grind up the chilli and the pepper in this dish for two reasons. Firstly, it makes it so much easier to adjust the spice level. Secondly and more importantly, I hate biting into whole peppercorns. Some say  roasting the whole peppercorns make the dish more fragrant and intensifies the Ma La factor but personally, I don’t feel it to be lacking in fragrance when I use only ground Szechuan pepper. But if that’s what you like, feel free to throw some into the wok with the dried chilli.

Ground chilli and pepper

That trip to Zurich was the first time I’ve ever had this dish so it’s all I had to go on. I cannot promise you that this is what they serve in Szechuan but it still is pretty tasty. If you’d like to find out what it’s like to have your tongue covered in fire ants, give it a try!


Szechuan Dry Wok Chilli Chicken ( 干锅鸡丁 )

Serves 2

  • 4 chicken thighs¹, deboned and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • Handful of dried chili, cut in half
  • ½ tsp Szechuan peppercorns
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced
  • 3-4 thin slices ginger
  • ½ tsp grated garlic
  • ½ tsp grated ginger
  • 2 stalks green onion, sliced thin
  • 2-3 tsp chilli oil
  • salt (approx.½ tsp)
  • sugar (approx. ¼ tsp)
  • half a beaten egg
  • 1 Tbsp Chinese cooking wine (Shaoxing or Huatiao. Sherry will do in a pinch)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp sugar
  • a few shakes of white pepper
  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  1. Mix chicken pieces in marinade and set aside for 15 mins.
  2. Grind up 5 dried chilli and 1/2 tsp of peppercorn. Set aside.
  3. Heat 3 – 4 Tbsp of oil in a wok over medium high heat and shallow fry the chicken pieces till golden brown and just cooked. Drain and set aside.
  4. Drain the oil but leave 1 tbsp of oil in the wok. Lower heat to medium and add ginger and garlic slices, dried chili and optional whole peppercorns. Sauté till fragrant but be careful not to burn the chili.
  5. Return chicken to wok. Add grated garlic, grated ginger, chilli oil, salt, sugar, ground chilli and pepper ( I used 2 tsp; adjust the spice level to your liking by adding more or less.) Mix well and and cook till heated through.
  6. Add green onions, give it a toss and serve with warm white rice.


¹ I used chicken thighs simply because I prefer it. Use chicken breasts for less hassle or if you prefer dry white meat.




6 thoughts on “Going Numb – Szechuan Chilli Chicken 干锅鸡丁

  1. “if you prefer dry white meat”. lol
    Actually, if you velvet the cutlet meat like your recipe calls for, it does come out pretty darn good. But yeah, thighs are king.


    1. Haha! Yeah, I have tried the recipe with chicken breast before and it did come out pretty darn good i.e. tender and juicy. I still prefer thighs though. All hail the king!


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