There’s a good chance you’ve seen both Szechuan Chicken and Hunan Chicken as menu items at your favorite local Chinese restaurants. While both are known for their rich and savory ingredients, are notable distinctions between the two dishes.
Both are typically served with steamed white or brown rice, and they work perfectly as an afternoon lunch or satiating evening meal. However, the two dishes differ significantly in consistencies, ingredients, and flavor profile.
They also originate from two different regions in China. To better understand their main differences, we’ve decided to compare and explore them for you in this article.
So, if you’re debating between ordering (or making) Hunan or Szechuan Chicken, you’ve come to the right place.
Difference Between Szechuan and Hunan Chicken
The main difference between Szechuan Chicken and Hunan Chicken is the spiciness level and additional ingredients.
Hunan Chicken tends to be a bit spicier and tangier and is usually mixed with vegetables, whereas Szechuan Chicken has a robust and less spicy flavor, and is usually only combined with peppers.
Here are the main things to note when comparing the two dishes.
Spiciness: Even though both of these dishes can be spicy, their flavor profiles are created from different ingredients. For example, Szechuan Chicken usually has dried red chili peppers and peppercorns.
This explains why it’s often known to cause a bit of “mouth numbness” and tingling on the tongue when consumed.
Hunan Chicken, on the other hand, gets its fiery yet subtle spiciness from spicy chili bean powder or paste (the paste is also known as “doubanjiang”).
Additional ingredients: Hunan Chicken is usually served with a medley of ingredients – or broccoli, at the very least. For example, your dish may contain vegetables including bell pepper, carrots, green onion, mushrooms, corn, and zucchini.
It’s easily customizable based on your vegetable preferences. Szechuan Chicken is typically only served with peppers, sesame seeds, and in some cases bell peppers – but don’t be surprised if you find the chicken served by itself.
Preparation: The chicken in Szechuan dishes is usually cut into cubes and then thrown into a flour-based batter and pan-fried. While the chicken is still cooking, the red chili peppers, peppercorns, red chilis, and other ingredients are added to the mix and sauteed.
With Hunan Chicken, the chicken itself is often sliced into thinner strips, marinated, and then stir-fried in hot oil with veggies.
Caloric Content: Overall, you will find that Szechuan Chicken typically has more calories due to its cooking method. The chicken is first deep-fried than stir-fried. It’s also covered in batter (egg or flour) that adds to its caloric content.
Even more oil is used to prepare it, which can give it about 36 more calories per 100 gram of serving. Hunan chicken, on the other hand, is a bit healthier, as it only has about 100 calories per 100-gram serving.
Dish Sauce: Hunan Chicken will typically have a light gravy covering the vegetables and meat. Szechuan chicken, however, will usually have a dryer texture and no sauce or gravy.
However, there are some restaurants that include a small amount of gravy in their Szechuan dish, which is usually derived from the broth of the chicken.
Appearance: Szechuan Chicken is a dish known for its reddish hue, which can be attributed to the chili bean paste or powder used to make it. It is more on the dry side due to the lack of sauce, but the chicken itself should be moist and tender.
Hunan chicken is typically covered in brown gravy and looks more like a meat and vegetable medley in appearance.
Szechuan vs Hunan Chicken Comparison Table
|Szechuan Chicken||Hunan Chicken|
|Spiciness||Robust but plain, with a tingly spice level that dances on your tongue.||A spicy and tangy flavor profile, but less of a tingling sensation|
|Additional ingredients||Made with Doubanjiang, peppercorn, sugar, and wine or sherry.||Has dried chilis and garlic for flavor. Typically served with veggies such as bell pepper, carrots, green onion, mushrooms, corn, and zucchini.|
|Cooking techniques||Meat is cut into cubes, battered, deep-fried then pan-fried.||Meat is thinly sliced. Often marinated in oyster sauce and wine. Stir-fried with sauce and veggies.|
|Caloric Content||Has about 150 calories per 100 grams of serving.||Has about 100 calories per 100 grams of serving.|
|Dish sauce||Is typically served dry with no gravy.||Covered in a light brown gravy.|
|Appearance||Cubed chicken with a reddish tint and crispy crust.||Thinly-cut, crustless chicken mixed with various vegetables.|
Can You Substitute Szechuan for Hunan Chicken?
Szechuan Chicken and Hunan Chicken can be substituted for one another.
However, it would require a major difference in their preparation and a significant difference in the ingredients. If you are looking to turn Hunan Chicken into Szechuan Chicken, you’ll need to start by cutting the chicken into cubes instead of slices.
Next, batter and deep-fry the chicken before tossing it into a pan for stir-frying. You also need to make sure that you add the chilis and peppercorns to the sauce to give it its unique flavor.
If you’re looking to turn Szechuan Chicken into Hunan Chicken, you will need to add oyster sauce, chicken broth, and other ingredients to marinate the chicken ahead of time.
You’ll also need to determine which veggies to use and then chop them up to add to the chicken. What you’ll end up with will more likely be a combination of the two dishes, rather than a full substitute, but there’s no denying it’ll still be tasty.
Don’t be afraid to mix and match certain ingredients from each dish depending on the level of spice you like, how many vegetables you want, and whether you want your final dish to be saucier or drier.
What Is Szechuan Chicken?
Szechuan chicken is a Chinese-based dish known for its pungent, aromatic, and bold taste. It’s often recognized by the way it “tingles” the tongue.
How to use Szechuan Chicken
This dish originated in southwestern China within the province of Sichuan. That particular area of China is known for serving dishes that are rich with savory aromas and often include chili peppers, peppercorn, bell peppers, and garlic.
The great thing about Szechuan Chicken is that it has the perfect mix of sweetness and spiciness. It is known for causing a mouth-tingling sensation and has a citrusy, salty taste.
Some of its main ingredients include dried red chili peppers, corn, green onion, and sugar.
It also usually includes cured ingredients, ginger, and in many cases, sesame paste. Szechuan Chicken has a very distinctive smell and taste and works wonderfully as a filling lunch menu item or a complete dinner meal.
The most notable things in Szechuan chicken are the red chiles and peppercorns. The paste made from the chilis gives it a dry, spicy, and robust taste. You can also use cooking wine, sherry, or rice wine when preparing the meal.
To prepare the dish, you will need to gather your list of ingredients and add them to the chicken. Mix everything to allow the chicken to marinate for a few minutes. Next, cut the chicken into cubes, batter them, and then pan-fry for a few minutes.
For the batter, you can use eggs, cornstarch, or all-purpose flour. Afterward, stir fry the chicken with any additional ingredients or sauce (if needed) and top it off with a few sesame seeds.
Lastly, combine the chicken with rice for an even more filling dish.
What is Hunan Chicken?
Hunan Chicken is also a Chinese spice dish that’s known for imploring Doubanjiang (a spicy bean sauce) for its fiery and savory flavor.
It’s a saucier dish than Szechuan Chicken, which can often make it seem richer and denser.
How To Use Hunan Chicken
Hunan Chicken is also known as “Xiang” chicken due to the region where it originated. This meal originated near the Xiang River region, which is located in the Western Hunan territory of China.
This particular Chinese recipe includes a liberal amount of chili peppers (or Doubanjiang), which provide it with its popular mouth-watering (and slightly numbing) flavor profile.
Its main ingredients also include soy sauce, garlic, shallots, ginger, rice wine, sugar, and various light vegetables such as baby corn, mushrooms, and carrots.
The usage of various vegetables is what often distinguishes this meal from Szechuan Chicken. You will also find that Hunan Chicken is often cooked with cured or smoked meat to add a more salty, earthy, and tangy flavor.
To prepare Hunan Chicken, you’ll need to cut your chicken into thin slices or strips and marinate them in your chosen sauce (soy sauce, sherry, etc.). Next, add additional ingredients, including chili peppers, chicken broth, scallions, sugar, and cornstarch.
After letting the chicken marinate for about 15 to 20 minutes, stir-fry it in a pan and cook it until it’s tender. Afterward, combine the chicken with white or brown rice for a tasty meal.
You can also serve it with noodles, and add a cooked scrambled egg for more of a “fried rice” feel.