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Black pepper chicken is a delicious Chinese-inspired dish made popular by Panda Express. It has bold flavors from the black pepper sauce and the celery and onions. The chicken is coated in a thick, tangy, and somewhat spicy sauce that makes this dish out of this world!

black pepper chicken in grey bowls with brown rice next to plastic chopsticks
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There is nothing better than being able to make a copycat Panda Express recipe at home. I personally think Panda Express is a decent alternative for takeout Chinese food if you’re in a pinch. They have that fast food appeal and it’s generally a crowd favorite with popular dishes like Beijing beef, eggplant tofu, and orange chicken.

But, now you can do their black pepper chicken from the comfort of your own kitchen! This chicken is so juicy, and covered in a rich, tangy sauce that you’ll just adore. Serve it over a bed of fluffy rice, and it’s the perfect easy weeknight dinner that you can have on the table in 30 minutes!

Looking for more easy Asian recipes? Chicken katsu, Chinese sweet and sour chicken, and these scallion pancakes are a few of my dinnertime favorites!

Why You’ll Love Black Pepper Chicken

There are so many reasons to fall in love with black pepper chicken! Here are just a few:

  • Better than takeout. Of course it’s easy to get in the car and drive to Panda Express (or even place a DoorDash order) but there’s nothing better than making this copycat at home. It tastes a million times better and you can control what goes into it.
  • Bold flavors. The thick, tangy sauce of this chicken recipe is so addicting! It’s sweet, mostly tangy, and has that spicy kick to it thanks to the ground black pepper.
  • Diet-friendly. When I mean diet-friendly, I mean if you’re watching your intake on certain things, this particular item on Panda Express’ menu is on the “healthier” side because it’s not deep fried. It’s low-carb, but you don’t sacrifice on flavor.
black pepper chicken in a grey bowl with brown rice with chopsticks laying on the bowl

What Does Black Pepper Chicken Taste Like?

It definitely has spice thanks to the ground black pepper, and I’m relatively sensitive to black pepper so it seems a lot spicier to me than others. The sauce is thick, rich, and tangy. It kind of tastes like a sweet and sour sauce.

ingredients for black pepper chicken

Recipe Ingredients

Here is a list of ingredients you will need to make copycat Panda Express Black Pepper Chicken. Make sure to scroll down to view the full recipe for exact measurements.

For the Sauce

  • Chicken broth – You can use low sodium chicken broth if you like.
  • Oyster sauce – This adds a complex, sweet-and-salty flavor.
  • Brown sugar – Dark brown sugar adds some caramel notes into the mix, enhancing the sweetness.
  • Rice vinegar – You might only see rice wine vinegar at the store, which is the same thing.
  • Garlic – Freshly minced garlic provides the strongest, boldest flavor.
  • Seasoning – Obviously you’ll need black pepper, but I also like to add chili powder for a little kick, and ground ginger for some warm spice.
  • Cornstarch – To thicken up the sauce a little bit.

For the Chicken

  • Chicken thighs – I recommend using boneless skinless chicken thighs for this recipe.
  • Green bell pepper – Green bell peppers have a slight bitterness to them that adds to the complexity of the flavors in this dish.
  • Onion & Celery – Yellow or white onions are both fine, you could use either.

How to Make Black Pepper Chicken

Here is a general overview of the steps involved to make this Panda Express favorite. Be sure to scroll to the bottom of this post for the full recipe.

  • Quick silking of the chicken thighs. Silking is the technique used in Chinese cooking where you quickly marinate protein in a tiny bit of cornstarch and soy sauce that helps tenderize it.
  • Make the sauce. Whisk together all the ingredients for the sauce.
  • Sear the chicken thighs and cook the vegetables. Sear and brown the chicken thighs in the skillet then put them on a plate and set aside. In the same pan, add the bell pepper, onion, and celery. Cook until soft and tender.
  • Add the chicken back in and pour in the sauce. Once the vegetables are soft and tender, add the chicken back in and then pour in the sauce. You’ll want to keep the skillet on medium heat so that it “activates” the cornstarch in the sauce to help it thicken. Once the sauce thickens, remove everything from the heat.

Tips for Success

I have a few tips and tricks below to help you make the best black pepper chicken.

  • Taste as you go. If you know you are sensitive to spice, start by making the sauce with half the amount of black pepper then add more as needed once the dish is completely cooked.
  • Don’t crowd the pan. We want nice crispy browned bits on our chicken and our vegetables to imitate a hot wok. You don’t want to boil your chicken or vegetables (they give off liquid as they cook) so if your skillet isn’t big enough, cook them in batches.
  • Save the sauce for the end. It might be tempting to just pour it all in at the start but trust me, you want the sauce to coat everything nice and well and slowly thicken. If you pour it all in the beginning, your sauce may get too thick and chunky.
black pepper chicken in a bowl with brown rice

Substitutions & Recipe Variations

This chicken and peppers recipe is great as-is, but feel free to switch it up a bit if you like! Here are some ideas:

  • Chicken. If you prefer using chicken breast, you may replace the boneless skinless chicken thighs with boneless skinless chicken breasts.
  • Oyster sauce. This can be replaced with hoisin sauce or vegetarian oyster sauce (which is made from mushrooms).
  • Bell peppers. Feel free to use red bell peppers instead, or another color if you prefer, and to add in other veggies, too!

What Goes With Black Pepper Chicken?

This chicken dinner can be served with a number of sides. Here are some of my go-to options:

  • Rice. I usually serve this chicken with brown rice, but I have also made it with white rice.
  • Green beans. Crisp, garlic roasted green beans would be fantastic with chicken and peppers!
  • Stir-fry. This simple cabbage stir fry is light, easy to make, and a perfect complement to black pepper chicken.
overhead image of black pepper chicken in a bowl with brown rice

How to Store and Reheat Leftovers

Want to save your chicken and peppers for later? No problem! Here’s the best way to do it.

  • To store. If you have leftovers, you may store them in an airtight container for up to 5 days in the refrigerator.
  • To reheat. Pop the chicken into the microwave for 45 seconds on high, or reheat on the stovetop over medium heat in a skillet.

Can I Freeze Black Pepper Chicken?

Yes! You can keep your leftover black pepper chicken in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 3 months. Be sure to thaw it in the fridge overnight before eating it again, and then follow the reheating instructions.

More Chinese Takeout Recipes

Ready to dig into some more homemade Chinese takeout recipes? Try these ones next!

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4.78 from 9 votes

Black Pepper Chicken (Panda Express Copycat)

In just about 30 minutes, you can have this popular (and discontinued in some areas) Panda Express favorite right in your own home! Take off that coat, you aren't going anywhere!
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 2

Ingredients 

For the sauce:

  • ½ cup (118 ml) chicken broth
  • ¼ cup (58 g) oyster sauce
  • ¼ cup (59 ml) rice vinegar
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
  • ½ tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper, see note below
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder
  • ¼ teaspoon ginger powder

For the rest of the dish:

  • 1 ¼ pound (567 g) boneless skinless chicken thighs, cubed into smaller pieces
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • Splash of low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 medium green bell pepper, cut into 1" pieces
  • ½ large white onion, cut into 1" pieces
  • 3 stalks of celery, sliced into 1" angles

Instructions 

  • Whisk together all the ingredients for the sauce in a small bowl. Set aside.
  • Place chicken, cornstarch, and soy sauce in a medium bowl and toss to coat.
  • Heat up a skillet over medium high heat and add a little cooking oil to it. Once the oil is hot, add the chicken cubes and cook until browned and half cooked through. Remove from skillet and put on a plate. We'll come back to it later.
  • In the same skillet, add green bell pepper, onion, and celery. Cook until tender and softened, about 5-7 minutes.
  • At this point, add the chicken back in and cook everything about 5 minutes more to ensure chicken is cooked through.
  • Reduce heat to medium and pour the sauce. Let simmer for 3 minutes and it should thicken up by then. Toss everything to coat in the sauce then remove from heat.
  • Serve with rice.

Notes

  • I’m very sensitive to ground black pepper so this dish was fairly spicy for me. If you feel the same, start with 1/4 teaspoon of ground black pepper or 1/2 teaspoon and taste the dish when cooked and go from there if you think you need more. You can always add more but you can’t take it out!
  • To store: If you have leftovers, you may store them in an airtight container for up to five days in the refrigerator.
  • To reheat: Pop the chicken into the microwave for 45 seconds on high, or reheat on the stovetop over medium heat in a skillet.
  • To freeze: You can keep your leftover black pepper chicken in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 3 months. Be sure to thaw it in the fridge overnight before eating it again, and then follow the reheating instructions.

Nutrition

Serving: 1serving, Calories: 438kcal, Carbohydrates: 22g, Protein: 57g, Fat: 12g, Saturated Fat: 3g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 3g, Monounsaturated Fat: 4g, Trans Fat: 0.1g, Cholesterol: 270mg, Sodium: 1281mg, Potassium: 922mg, Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 9g

This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. Nutrition information can vary for a variety of reasons. For the most precise nutritional data use your preferred nutrition calculator based on the actual ingredients you used in the recipe.

The default measuring system for this website is US Customary. Unit conversions are provided for convenience and as a courtesy only. While we strive to provide accurate unit conversions, please be aware that there may be some discrepancies.

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7 Comments

  1. Love this recipe. It took me a little bit longer than the instructions but I was doing a lot of multitasking. My husband absolutely loved it. It will be a repeat on our roster. Going forward! Thank you.

    1. hi, i’m sorry! in the post contents, it has step by step images and a description of what to do with that cornstarch but i forgot to put that in the actual recipe card so it’s there now, and if you’re not quite sure, check the images on how i just tossed it all together :)

  2. Black Pepper Chicken was delicious! I wasn’t worried about the pepper so I even added a bit more. And a couple of jalapeños. I had one red bell pepper and one green, so I included both and liked the look of it. Everything else the same as recipe. Took me back to sweet and sour dishes at my old favorite Chinese restaurant.