A classic Chinese dish gets a new (lighter) twist in my Mongolian Chicken. Tender pieces of chicken, marinated and pan-fried until crispy, get coated in a sweet and savory sauce that can hold its own against any takeout!

Mongolian Chicken Recipe

I love combing over the menu at a new restaurant, even though other guests get a little impatient with me when it’s time to make a decision. Most of the time you can tell what you’re getting by the title of the dish, but sometimes the names can be deceiving.

French toast? Neither French nor toast-like. Buffalo wings? I’m pretty sure bison can’t fly, and if they could their wings be bigger than those tiny things. Rocky Mountain oysters? Definitely not on the menu at your favorite seafood restaurant.

Mongolian BBQ?  It may, indeed, be made on a grill, but it’s not a Mongolian recipe. The Mongols’ diet does include some beef, but they primarily eat mutton and lots of dairy and other animal fats (it’s cold there!). Their meat dishes are usually large roasts, even whole goats and sheep, or meaty stuffed dumplings or soups.

There’s not really a place for anything that’s not hearty (i.e., vegetables) in that extreme climate. So, if you skip all the veggies (and the part where the diner has to build their own stir-fry), you get Mongolian Beef . . . also not Mongolian.

There’s no definitive answer on the origin of Mongolian beef, but most suspect it was concocted in a Chinese American kitchen by some chef who needed a creative name for a new dish. Who could turn down a meal that might have been eaten by Genghis Kahn!

Mongolian beef is clearly the more popular choice if you do an internet search, and I love beef, but I’m also a big chicken fan (plus the Mongolian Chicken calories are a little lower). Since Mongolian chicken Chinese takeout isn’t usually an option, and I always seem to have chicken breasts on hand, I decided to create my own Mongolian Chicken recipe.

As we’ve already established, this isn’t an Asian dish, so it’s no surprise celebrity Asian chefs don’t have much to offer. There’s no Mongolian chicken recipe by Sanjeev Kapoor or a Mongolian chicken recipe by Chef Zakir. There’s also no Mongolian chicken recipe Allrecipes version, and, unlike the beef dish, there’s no Mongolian chicken wiki to find inspiration from either.

Mongolian Chicken Recipe

So, what is Mongolian Chicken Gonna-Want-Seconds-style? Well, it’s prepared like the beef dish – a quick marinade, followed by a double-cooking process, and just enough sauce to coat the meat. This isn’t your typical gravy-laden stir-fry that soaks into the rice. It’s a drier but really flavorful dish that will give you a good excuse to work on those chopsticks skills.

What does Mongolian Chicken taste like? It’s sweet and savory, with plenty of garlic, green onions, and sesame oil to bump up the flavor. The chicken has a wonderful texture too, thanks to a crucial frying step that comes after marinating in soy sauce and rice wine.

If you haven’t used rice wine before, it is different than rice wine vinegar, so don’t try to substitute with the latter. The vinegar has an acidic quality (although it’s milder than white vinegar) that you don’t want in this recipe.

Rice wine, which is made from fermenting glutinous rice (the stuff you’ll find in sweet Asian desserts like sticky rice with mango), is a mild, slightly sweet wine used a lot in Asian cooking. It adds a ton of flavor to the chicken in this recipe, plus has just enough acid to help tenderize it. Dry sherry has a similar flavor profile, so it is a good substitute.

Time to fry! The addition of some cornstarch to the marinade creates a light, crispy crust on the chicken that absorbs most of the sauce and makes a really flavorful crust on each piece. You’ll want to avoid crowding the pan during this frying step to make sure the oil stays hot and ensure there’s enough exposed surface area to get a nice crunch on the chicken.

Mongolian Chicken Recipe

Although we all love the convenience of our crockpot, I don’t recommend making a slow cooker Mongolian chicken. The main thing that gives this recipe such a great mouth feel is that frying step and just enough time in the sauce to absorb it while retaining some of the crispy exterior. If you make a Mongolian chicken slow cooker version, you’ll skip the frying step altogether.

The crockpot recipes also seem to have a lot of sauce, so you’ll basically be missing out on the qualities that make this dish so unique. That sauce is similar to the one used in scallion beef, or Szechuan beef (though without all the heat). It has plenty of umami flavor from soy sauce, bright and spicy fresh ginger, and a good amount of brown sugar.

Sweetness is one of the hallmarks of Mongolian Chicken (or beef) that’s balanced out with a little heat from red pepper flakes, plus the aromatics in the stir-fry. The toasted sesame flavor, from both oil and a sprinkling of crunchy seeds, also works really well with the sugary quality of the sauce.

You’ll want to serve this right away to preserve the texture, and steamed rice is the perfect accompaniment. I love Jasmine rice, but any white rice will do. You can also make this a little healthier by subbing brown rice (there’s even a brown Jasmine variety). Some steamed Bok choy or Chinese broccoli on the side, and you’re ready for those chopsticks!

Recipe Notes:

Oil – Good stir-frys rely on high temperatures to cook things quickly and create those characteristic crisp-tender veggies, so you’ll want to use a high-smoke-point oil for this recipe. The smoke point is simply the temperature the oil can reach before it starts smoking (and before you’ll need to pull out the fire extinguisher). I like to use vegetable oil, which is a plant-based blend, but others with a similar temperature range include canola and peanut oil, though peanut oil definitely imparts a little peanut-y flavor to your dish.

Mongolian Chicken Recipe

Thinner is better – At least when you’re talking about meat for a stir-fry. Sometimes you can find pre-sliced chicken breasts at the grocery store. If not, though, freeze the chicken for about 10-20 minutes to firm it up so you can slice it thinly and evenly. You also want to cut across the short side of the chicken breasts. Cutting against the grain is important to ensure tenderness.

More Chicken Recipes!

Brown Sugar Crock Pot Chicken–  One of those crock pot recipes that is super delicious, family friendly, and super easy to make!

Honey Garlic Chicken Recipe– Sticky sweet and savory, surely have you battling for the last piece!

White Chicken Enchiladas with Sour Cream Sauce-These are easy to make and off the charts delicious! Super Cheesy, Lots of Chicken and a Creamy Rich Sauce