Kick up the flavour of your chicken with this quick and easy spicy chicken. So quick to make it will be ready before your rice! Use it in a rice or grain bowl, a taco, or lettuce wrap or alongside simple steamed greens or vegetables.
I call this spicy chicken recipe a back pocket recipe. It’s the kind of recipe you just want to have handy for any night when time and/or cooking energy is short, but you don’t want to compromise on delicious.
This spicy chicken is also so versatile, as it can be the base for anything from a rice bowl to a noodle bowl to just a tasty protein with a simple salad.
Key Ingredients and Substitutions
Here are the ingredients you will need for this recipe. The notes include substitution suggestions, where appropriate.
✓ Chicken: As noted above, my first choice for chicken here will always be thighs and in this case, boneless, skinless chicken thighs. These are almost impossible to dry out while cooking and the dark meat of the thighs has a lot more flavour, in my opinion. Alternately, you can use boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Be sure to cut the chunks fairly small, so that they cook quickly.
✓ Cornstarch: Using cornstarch here will give your chicken a nice bit of crispness on the outside, that while not the same a fried breading by any stretch, does provide a nice bit of coating that definitely has shades of that, without the frying. If you don’t have or want to use cornstarch, try another starch, like arrowroot or potato starch, if you have it. If you have none of those, a coating of flour is ok, though it won’t produce the same sort of crispness and may impart a “floury” taste.
✓ Cooking Oil: Use whatever cooking oil you prefer. I like to use a vegetable or canola oil, as it takes higher heat well.
✓ Rice Vinegar: Unseasoned rice vinegar is recommended, if you have it only because we are already adding salt and sweet to the mix (through the honey), so you don’t necessarily need those seasonings in your vinegar. That said, if you only have seasoned rice vinegar, you can go ahead and use that. You can reduce the added honey and salt slightly, if you like.
✓ Soy Sauce: Use either regular or sodium-reduced soy sauce, as you like.
✓ Sambal Oelek: Sambal Oelek is an Asian condiment that I am never without! It’s great for so many dishes and is easily available at most grocery stores these days. It’s definitely worthy of a place in every kitchen. Sambal does pack a heat punch though, so always remember that a little goes a long way :) As written, 1 Tbsp will give you good heat, but not screaming heat. You can probably go up to 2 Tbsp if you have teflon tastebuds :) Likewise, if you are a bit heat-averse or for feeding kids, start with 1 tsp and see how it tastes after it has reduced. You can always stir a bit more in if you want at that point.
An alternative to Sambal Oelek would be Asian Chili Garlic Sauce. I find the Asian Chili Sauce not quite as potent, so you would want to use a bit more for the same heat equivalent. I can’t really recommend an alternative beyond that, as I can’t think of another sauce that would yield the same flavour profile.
✓ Honey: Any runny honey will work well here. Honey is acting as a sweetener here, as opposed to adding flavour, so I tend to stick with just regular honey that has a more neutral flavour.
✓ Sesame Oil: I love a splash of sesame oil in sauces like this, but if you don’t have sesame oil in your pantry, you can substitute extra virgin olive oil or you can just omit. It will still be a lovely sauce.
✓ Garnishes: Diced green onion and a scattering of sesame seeds are great, optional, but recommended garnishes for your spicy chicken.
Ways to enjoy this easy spicy chicken
- Make a bowl: Start your bowl with a layer of rice, quinoa or other grains. Top with some spicy chicken and raw or steamed vegetables.
- Make it a stir fry: Before cooking your chicken, stir fry some vegetables in hot oil, then remove to a bowl. Cook your chicken per the instructions and then return your vegetables to the pan at the end to re-warm (or simply serve on top or alongside your chicken).
- Try a noodle bowl: Soak some noodles in hot water (like shelf-stable udon) and add to your chicken at the end of cooking to warm. Serve in a bowl topped with grated carrot and lots of green onion. *You can use any noodle, but for a quick meal, go for a noodle that doesn’t need boiling, but rather one that just needs softening by soaking in hot water before using.
- Put it in a taco: Add your spicy chicken to a warmed tortilla and top with lots of vegetables.
- Use it in a lettuce wrap: Add some spicy chicken and cooked rice on top of large Boston lettuce leaves, top with grated carrot, green onion and sesame seeds for delicious and easy lettuce wraps.
- Enjoy simply: Enjoy your spicy chicken along with a salad or simple, steamed greens or vegetables.
This spicy sauce also works well with thawed salmon chunks! Or pork (especially pork tenderloin cut into pieces). Or try firm tofu pieces. Or just stir-fried vegetables. You really can’t go wrong!
A hot pan is the secret to both cooking quickly and getting a nice bit of browning and flavour. I love my cast-iron skillet for this job, but you can use any skillet that can take high heat. I don’t recommend a non-stick skillet, which doesn’t perform well at high heats.
Making ahead, storing and freezing
This chicken re-heats well, so don’t hesitate to quickly cook up a large batch and refrigerate or freeze as a base for future recipes or use for meal prep.
Get the Recipe: 15-Minute Spicy Chicken
- 6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, *or see Note 1 below
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 3 Tablespoons cornstarch, or similar starch such as arrowroot or potato starch
- 2 Tablespoons cooking oil, such as vegetable or canola
- 5 Tablespoons rice vinegar, unseasoned rice vinegar recommended
- 3 Tablespoons soy sauce, low-sodium recommended
- 1 Tablespoon Sambal Oelek, or a bit less or more, depending on spice tolerance *or see Note 2 below for other options
- 2 Tablespoons runny honey
- 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
- Diced green onion
- Sesame seeds
- Heat a skillet on the stovetop over medium high heat.
- Cut chicken into quite small, bite-sized pieces and place into a large bowl (cutting the pieces small ensure that they cook through quickly). Season with a bit of salt and freshly ground pepper. Sprinkle with cornstarch and toss well to evenly coat all the chicken.
- Add the oil to the hot pan and allow to heat briefly, then add all the chicken to the pan and distribute evenly. Allow to sit undisturbed for about a minute, then toss and allow to sit undisturbed for another minute. Continue cooking, tossing regularly, until chicken is cooked through and evenly golden.
- Meanwhile, combine all the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.
- Pour sauce into skillet and stir to combine. Allow to simmer, tossing occasionally, until sauce thickens and coats the chicken.
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Hi! I’m Jennifer, a home cook schooled by trial and error and almost 40 years of getting dinner on the table! I love to share my favourite recipes, both old and new, together with lots of tips and tricks to hopefully help make your home cooking enjoyable, stress free, rewarding and of course, delicious!