The flavor of this version of the popular takeout dish, Black Pepper Chicken, is going to blow you away! The spicy kick of crushed pepper is layered with savory shallots, peppers, and seasoned chicken, then brightened with a hit of sliced green onions and cilantro. It’s amazing served over cooked rice, which soaks up that wonderful sauce!
Making Black Pepper Chicken
Like most of our recipes, this one is pretty straightforward. Start by cooking bite-sized chicken pieces in a bit of oil. We use chicken thighs here for their flavor and because it is much more difficult to dry them out. If you prefer, you can certainly sub in chicken breasts here.
After the chicken cooks, it will rest on a plate while you build the sauce in the same pan. Melt butter, then add shallots and peppers. They are going to cook for a bit until they are soft but not mushy. Garlic and ginger round out the flavors of the sauce, which combines soy sauce and rice vinegar for a perfect balance of salty, tangy, umami flavor.
The pepper is, of course, key here. If you can, start with fresh peppercorns and crush them by hand using a mortar and pestle. This creates rougher, more uneven pieces and really makes a difference in the flavor of the finished product. Without a mortar and pestle, the next best method is to put the peppercorns in a plastic bag (you might want to layer two together) and crush with a heavy pan or meat pounder. This method is messier and a bit more difficult, though! A third alternative is to use a spice grinder, or a coffee grinder, set to a coarse setting. Finally, you can buy coarsely-ground black pepper, but it will likely have quite a bit less flavor depending on when it was ground. Freshly ground is always better, especially when it comes to pepper!
Choosing a Mortar and Pestle
This comes in handy for all sorts of things, and is used quite a bit for hispanic foods. Look for one that has some texture to it on the inside, as this will help the process of grinding and mashing foods. Smooth surfaces don’t grab the pieces quite as well, making the job harder. This one, made from granite, has over 15,000 5-star reviews and is a perfect size for grinding peppercorns or making guacamole.
The Peppers and the Pepper
This recipe calls for serrano peppers, which can be quite spicy. Taste your pepper to gauge it’s spice level before deciding how much to add. Or use a jalapeno instead, which carries a lot milder spice than the serranos. You can’t go wrong here – they all taste wonderful. So choose according to what you and your family like. (Curious about different peppers and how spicy they are? Here’s a great explanation from The Spruce Eats!)
Maybe your jaw is dropping at the amount of pepper in this recipe. Don’t be scared! Yes, it’s a lot. Yes, it’s all necessary for the depth of flavor we want in this dish. It does add some spice, but won’t burn your mouth. Even our most spice-averse family member loved it!
We recommend serving this over cooked rice, which is the classic accompaniment and perfect for soaking up that flavorful, peppery sauce. You can, of course, cook your rice in a large pot following the directions on the package. Or make it even easier by using a rice cooker. Set it and forget it! This is a game-changer if you cook rice a lot. We recommend this large-capacity cooker or this smaller version. The simple controls actually makes it much easier and more straightforward to operate. Start it before you begin cooking the chicken and the rice will be ready to serve when you need it!
Don’t Forget Dessert!
A peppery dish calls for a light, cooling dessert with bright flavors. Here are some great options!
Better Than Takeout Black Pepper Chicken
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1-½ pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs cut into even bite-size pieces
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 4 medium shallots thinly sliced
- 1 medium red bell pepper or other mild red pepper, thinly sliced
- 6 cloves garlic crushed
- ½ cup low-sodium soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoons coarsely crushed black peppercorns
- 3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
- 5 thin green onions sliced into 1-inch pieces
- 3-4 tablespoons chopped cilantro
- Cook the Chicken: Heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken pieces in a single layer in the heated oil, stirring and turning occasionally. (Cook in batches if necessary.) When the chicken is golden brown all over and cooked through, remove to a paper towel lined plate and set aside.
- Cook the Veg: Return the pan to medium-low heat and add the butter. When the butter is melted, add the shallots, red pepper, and garlic. Saute and stir occasionally until the shallots and pepper are soft, about 10 minutes.
- Make the Sauce: Whisk together the soy sauce, honey, vinegar, crushed peppercorns, and ginger. Stir this into the vegetables once they are soft then add the chicken to warm it through, stirring to coat the chicken with the sauce. Remove from the heat and stir in the green onions and cilantro.
- Serve: Serve hot over cooked rice.
- Crushing the peppercorns by hand with a mortar and pestle creates the best flavor for this dish, so we highly recommend doing that. Alternatively, you can use a spice grinder (or electric coffee grinder used only for spices) set to a coarse grind. Start with fresh peppercorns for the best, and fullest spicy pepper flavor.
- Keeping fresh ginger in the freezer is a great way to preserve it so you always have some on hand. The frozen ginger can be grated easily for use in recipes that call for minced or grated ginger.
- The best and easiest (and our favorite!) way to make rice is in a rice cooker. Simply set it and forget it!