This crunchy, sweet, and slightly spicy Black Pepper Chicken Stir-fry recipe makes the speediest dinner, perfect for a weeknight. Tossed in a bold and feisty peppery sauce with lots of veggies, the faster you cook it, the better it tastes.
During quarantine, clean-out-the-fridge stir-fries quickly became our go-to meals. This snappy little black pepper chicken stir-fry, made mostly from pantry ingredients, comes together in a flash, and is one of our favourites. You get so much freshness from the sweet peppers, celery, onions, garlic, and ginger with the black peppercorns adding the crave-able, lightly-spicy bite. The soy sauce slurry gives the dish the perfect amount of salty-sweetness to balance it all out. Sure there is a bit of chopping to begin with, but and as soon as the ingredients release their aroma when they hit the hot pan, and you are enjoying dinner in less than 30 minutes, you will know it was all worth it.
This quick single-skillet recipe for black pepper chicken is of course based on the popular (North American) Chinese take-out dish. It is perfect for a weeknight, or to satisfy the craving for Chinese take-out, only its far better and healthier, too. Leftovers are even better the next day making the most scrumptious lunches.
Ingredients for black pepper chicken
- Chicken: Surprisingly, I really enjoy this recipe with boneless, skinless chicken breasts which remain tender due to the thin cut pieces and quick searing. Here, the blandness of boneless chicken breast that I typically avoid, works in your favour as it lets all the other flavours shine through. You could use boneless chicken thighs, if you prefer.
- Black Peppercorns: Coarsely crushed black peppercorns are the star of the show in this quick weeknight stir-fry. Don’t be tempted to use black pepper powder as it will completely change the flavour profile of this dish.
- Onions: For stir-fries I like to use white onions but shallots, or red or yellow onions also work.
- Sweet bell peppers: I like a lot of thinly sliced bell peppers in this dish. Use any peppers you prefer or a combo of peppers with other veggies (options listed below) that you may have on hand.
- Celery: Adds a perfect fresh crunch to this dish.
- Ginger and garlic: The essential aromatics for most stir-fries.
- Soy sauce: I prefer to always use low-sodium soy sauce. Tamari, or a mix of of dark and light soy sauce, will also work well.
- Oil: It is best to use a neutral vegetable oil for stir-fries. I use avocado oil for this recipe because the pan doesn’t need to be as extremely hot as with other stir-fries. Peanut, grapeseed, or other vegetable oils will also work.
- Mirin: Many Chinese recipes, including stir-fries, call for Shaoxing wine, a Chinese Cooking Wine that is not something most of us would stock in our pantries. A good substitute is Mirin, but this ingredient is also hard to find. You can sub Mirin with dry sherry, or for this recipe, I find unsweetened rice vinegar works just fine.
- Sweetener: A touch of sugar or honey helps add a little more complexity to this dish. I use honey but you can use your sweetener of choice; maple syrup, agave, coconut sugar, etc.
- Cornstarch: For this recipe the cornstarch is used to aid in browning the chicken and to thicken the sauce. I use it more sparingly than most stir-fry recipes call for and I am very happy with the results.
How to make tender Black Pepper Chicken
This pepper chicken is bright and flavourful with crunchy veggies tossed in a bold pepper-boosted soy sauce. Here is the quick summary of how easy it is to make:
1. Prep all you ingredients
- The sauce: Crush the black peppercorns in a mortar and pestle or place in a ziplock bag and crush with a mallet or glass jar. Alternatively, use freshly cracked black pepper from a pepper mill (not pepper powder!). In a small bowl, mix the crushed peppercorns with the rest of the sauce ingredients until well combined. Set aside.
- The vegetables: Trim the celery and cut it diagonally into 1-inch pieces. Place in a medium-sized bowl. Thinly slice the onion and sweet peppers and add to the bowl. Mince or grate the garlic and ginger and place in a separate small bowl.
- The chicken: cut the chicken into bite sized pieces (about 1-inch cubes) and place in a medium-sized bowl. Season with a pinch of salt and add the soy sauce. Toss to combine then add the cornstarch and toss again to evenly coat.
2. Cook the black pepper chicken
- Place a large skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium-high heat, and add the oil. When the oil is very hot but not smoking, add the chicken to the skillet in a single layer. Cook the chicken until golden brown and cooked through, about 2-3 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside.
- Add the celery, bell peppers, and onion to the same skillet and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are slightly tender, about 4 minutes total. Add the garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, about 1 more minute.
- Reduce the heat and stir in the sauce. Cook until the sauce thickens slightly and coats the vegetables, about 2 minutes. Return the chicken to the skillet, and toss to coat in the sauce. Sprinkle with a little more pepper and serve over warm white rice or with rice noodles.
Tips for foolproof stir-fries
- Have all the ingredients prepped ahead of time. Stir-fries come together fast and you don’t want your vegetables to get overcooked so it is crucial to have all ingredients chopped and ready before you start cooking
- Your ingredients should be dry. Before any of your stir-fry ingredients hit the pan, they should be really dry so they sear nicely without losing their crunch.
- Heat the pan until the oil is hot but not smoking. Your pan should be hot, but not smoking hot or you will create too much of a burnt flavour on all your ingredients.
- The protein should be room temperature. Cold food, especially meat, will cool down the pan and the oil will cause the meat to poach instead of sear.
- Let the food sit on the hot pan before stirring. This is always the hardest thing to do as we all feel the urge to begin flipping food the second it hits the pan. But the meat and/or veggies will not get a nice sear if you start stirring too quickly. Food will also release easier if left alone.
- Don’t walk away. Once you start cooking a stir-fry, stay put and pay close attention to your pan. Stir-fries cook in about 3-5 minutes and you don’t want any of your precious ingredients to burn or overcook.
- Cook in batches. If you don’t have a large skillet, cook your stir-fry ingredients in batches, then combine together at the end. This allows for the chicken and vegetables to sear rather than boil in the pan.
- Make it kid-friendly. The black peppercorns do not make this dish super spicy but it might have too strong of a bite for kids. If serving young kids, reduce the amount of pepper by half or leave the pepper out of the sauce entirely and then sprinkle it over everyones dish individually.
Make it vegan: Omit the chicken and use any plant-based protein such as tofu, or simply add a lot more vegetables (listed below).
Other vegetables: This stir-fry is also delicious with similar vegetables that will cook quickly such as sugar snap peas, snow peas, edamame, green beans, boy choy and even broccoli florets.
To serve and store leftovers
Like all stir-fries, this black pepper chicken is phenomenal served over white jasmine rice. It is also delicious served with rice noodles, soba noddles, or udon noodles – shown in photo below – which cook in 4 minutes and are so good. Note, be sure to make the side ahead of time so it’s ready to serve as soon as the stir-fry is done.
Store leftovers in a tight-lid container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. You can eat the leftovers cold-dish or reheat gently on a skillet.
Black Pepper Chicken Stir-Fry
For the sauce
- 1/4 cup chicken broth or vegetable broth
- 3 Tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
- 2 Tablespoons *mirin or unsweetened rice vinegar
- 1 Tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 Tablespoon honey or maple syrup, or regular sugar
- 2 Tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper or more or less to taste
For the stir-fry
- 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- pinch of salt
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided I use avocado
- 1 small onion (white, red, or yellow) thinly sliced
- 3 celery stalks ends trimmed and cut diagonally into 1-inch pieces
- 2 bell peppers thinly sliced (green or mixed colors)
- 1 Tablespoon fresh ginger grated or minced
- 2 cloves garlic grated or minced
- In a small bowl, whisk together the broth, soy sauce, mirin (or vinegar), honey, cornstartch, and crushed black pepper. Set aside until ready to use.
- Place the cubed chicken in a medium bowl and season with a pinch of salt. Add the soy sauce and toss to combine, then add the cornstarch and toss again to evenly coat. Set aside.
- Place a large skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium-high heat, and add 1 tablespoon of the oil. When the oil is very hot but not smoking, add the chicken to the skillet in a single layer. Cook the chicken until golden brown and cooked through, about 2-3 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside.
- Over medium-high heat, add the remaning tablespoon to the skillet. Once the oil is hot, add the bell peppers, celery, and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are slightly tender, about 3-4 minutes total. Add the garlic and ginger and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds more.
- Lower the heat to medium, quickly whisk the sauce again, then pour it into the skillet. Stir until the sauce coats the vegetables and thickens slighlty, about 1 minute. Return the chicken to the skillet, give it a few more stirs to coat the chicken with the sauce, then turn off the heat. Sprinkle with a little more pepper, if desired, and transfer to a large serving platter. Serve over warm white rice or with rice noodles.