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!
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.
Why You’ll Love Black Pepper Chicken
- 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 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.
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 You’ll Need
Here is a list of ingredients you will need to make Panda Express Black Pepper Chicken copycat. Make sure to scroll down to view the full recipe for exact measurements.
For the sauce:
- Chicken broth
- Oyster sauce
- Brown sugar
- Rice vinegar
- Black pepper
- Chili powder
- Ground ginger
For the rest of the dish:
- Chicken thighs, boneless and skinless
- Green bell pepper
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 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 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 from heat.
Substitutions and Variations
If you prefer using chicken breast, you may replace the boneless skinless chicken thighs with boneless skinless chicken breasts.
Oyster sauce replacement can be hoisin sauce or vegetarian oyster sauce (which is made from mushrooms).
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 with the 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.
Storage and Reheating Instructions
If you have leftovers, you may store them in an airtight container for up to five days in the refrigerator. To reheat, pop into the microwave for 45 seconds on high or reheat on the stovetop on medium heat in a skillet.
What to Serve with Black Pepper Chicken
I serve this with brown rice but I have also served this with white rice.
Craving more? Here are some takeout favorites:
Black Pepper Chicken (Panda Express Copycat)
For the sauce:
- ½ cup chicken broth
- ¼ cup oyster sauce
- ¼ cup 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 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
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.
- Whisk together all the ingredients for the sauce in a small bowl. Set aside.
- 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.
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.