Get ready to impress with my Empress Chicken – tender, crispy nuggets of chicken dripping with a sweet and tangy glaze that packs a spicy punch.
Don’t bother looking for an empress chicken Wiki – there isn’t one. But if you’ve perused many Chinese restaurant menus in the U.S. you’ve likely stumbled across this spicy cousin of sweet and sour chicken.
It has a unique breading that creates a crave-able crunch.
The Empress Chicken sauce, a mouthwatering blend of flavors, clings to the crispy exterior like its life depended on it and makes for a dinnertime dish that wows with both texture and taste.
WHAT IS THE TASTE OF EMPRESS CHICKEN?
Dishes like Empress chicken taste like the perfect complement of ingredients they are – tangy vinegar with a touch of sweetness; pungent garlic, ginger, and chilies paired with mild chicken. It’s savory and satisfying, with a subtle sweet-and-sour going on.
Empress Chicken has opposing textures too – light, crunchy chicken pieces with a thick, sticky sauce.
Opposites attract, and when they do they make for one special meal, a really meat-centered dish (just like my Hunan Beef) where the focus is on the uniquely crispy exterior and the complexity of the sauce without any superfluous veggies to get in the way!
IS GENERAL TSO CHICKEN THE SAME AS EMPRESS CHICKEN?
Many Chinese-American fried chicken dishes have similar descriptions, but they are different.
Empress Chicken vs General Tso – General Tso Chicken has a darker, soy-based sauce and is spicier than Empress Chicken.
Empress Chicken vs Sesame Chicken – Sesame chicken has sesame oil and seeds, no chilies, and is sweeter than Empress Chicken.
This isn’t one of those dishes you can put together with your eyes closed, but it’s definitely worth the little bit of care it takes to get the chicken cooked to crusty, plump perfection.
HOW DO YOU MAKE EMPRESS CHICKEN?
To make Empress Chicken, you marinate chicken breast pieces, then bread and fry them until crispy.
The sauce gets prepared in the same pan – a combination of soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, garlic, ginger, green onion, and chilies, then the chicken takes a dip in the sauce before serving.
This recipe uses big chunks of boneless chicken breasts, rather than the sliced chicken breasts you often find in other stir-frys like Mongolian Chicken, and the pieces undergo a magical transformation that requires a flavorful marinade and a special bready coating that creates lots of nooks and crannies for the sauce to stick to.
My Empress Chicken recipe starts with the marinade, and you’ll notice some of the old standbys including egg whites, rice vinegar (a milder, slightly sweet version of regular white vinegar), and cornstarch. These are the necessary ingredients for the classic Chinese cooking technique called “velveting.”
HOW DO I VELVET CHICKEN?
To velvet chicken, you marinate the meat in a combination of egg whites, cornstarch, and rice wine, plus any other seasonings specific to the dish. This technique tenderizes the meat, which is then often blanched (or “passed through”) hot water or oil to protect the meat from overcooking during the stir-fry.
The other ingredients are important in the marinade, but they’re really critical in the upcoming breading step. The egg white helps to tenderize, but it also works as a binder, and the baking soda will lend some poof to the breading while breaking down the proteins in the chicken to ensure that melt-in-your-mouth quality.
The really unusual ingredient in the marinade is vodka.
No, it’s not to sip on while you’re slaving away in the kitchen – it has magic powers that will perfect our breading.
Vodka fights the gluten in the batter which keeps it from getting overly thick and doughy like other versions that use milk or water. It also evaporates more quickly than non-alcoholic liquids which means more (and bigger!) air bubbles that create covetable lacy edges around the chicken and tons of extra crunch.
It’s really a game-changer in this batter, but it’s a secret ingredient you can try in other fried dishes too.
Once the chicken has marinated, we’ll use a whole new batch of dry ingredients, mixed with some reserved marinade, to create a crumbly coating.
You’ll combine the two until the texture resembles breadcrumbs, something like a good piecrust mixture looks before you start adding the cold water. We’ll toss the chicken in this crumb mixture and make sure it’s pressed into the sides of each piece before deep frying.
Yes, the breading/frying process in this recipe is a little more complicated and time-consuming than just rolling the pieces in panko or using a simple tempura batter, but nothing else creates the bumpy, scrumptious, sauce-saving spaces on the surface of the chicken quite like this technique.
The next Empress Chicken ingredients to talk about are the ones for the sauce.
There are only a few, but each works to hit a different flavor receptor on your tongue – salty, sweet, spicy, and sour.
Fresh ginger and garlic provide some wonderful aromatics for the dish too, and you’ll smell them the second they hit the hot wok.
By the way, woks are great at what they do, but not everyone wants to buy a specialized piece of equipment, especially one that’s a pain to clean and store.
Woks also don’t work as effectively on an electric stovetop, for those of us who don’t have a gas range, and you can still create a perfect stir-fry without one of those round, Chinese kitchen staples.
WHAT CAN I USE INSTEAD OF A WOK?
If you don’t have a wok, simply use a large skillet with high, slanted sides. Since there’s less surface area, you’ll just need to avoid overcrowding the pan and cook in batches if necessary.
A large skillet works great (it’s what I use to make dishes like Shrimp Lo Mein), plus you can use a non-stick option to help with clean-up. No need to make a special trip to the Asian market just for this recipe!
The only step left is bringing the heat, which I like to do with a little chopped jalapeno and red pepper flakes, then your restaurant-quality Empress Chicken is ready for the dinner table. I
serve this dish with steamed rice and usually have more fresh chopped jalapenos and pepper flakes on the table since I like a little extra heat.
The sauce is really flavorful on its own, so a simple steamed veggie is all you need to call this a meal. You can even use one of those steam-in-the-bag microwave options.
That should give you just enough time to sneak in a little taste-test of the beautiful chicken you just prepared and pop open a cold Tsingtao.
RECIPE NOTES FOR EMPRESS CHICKEN:
Breading/Frying Tips – Don’t skip the resting step on the wire baking rack.
Not only does it let the chicken tenderize a little while longer, it also helps the coating ingredients stick.
I always pull out my thermometer when I’m doing this kind of frying too since consistent temperature is critical to cooking the chicken without burning the breading.
If you need to keep some of the chicken warm while you’re batch-frying, put the cooked pieces on a cooling rack set inside a cookie a sheet and place it in a 250 degree oven while you continue frying.
Wok vs. Skillet – If you have a wok, you’ll be able to fry all the chicken at once.
If you end up using something in place of it, you’ll probably need to cook the chicken in batches so you don’t crowd the pan. Overcrowding will reduce the temperature of the oil significantly, and you’ll have soggy, greasy chicken instead of the delicate, crispy morsels we’re after.
Skip the Chicken: Forget Empress Chicken and make Empress Shrimp!
What is Empress Shrimp, you might ask? The same dish but with shrimp instead.
Substitute a pound of peeled and deveined shrimp for the chicken in this dish, and you’ll shave off a few of the Empress Chicken calories.
Get ready to impress with my Empress Chicken - tender, crispy nuggets of chicken dripping with a sweet and tangy glaze that packs a spicy punch. Skip the Chinese takeout tonight and try our recipe for Empress Chicken for dinner instead.
Chicken and Marinade:
- 1 Large Egg White
- 2 Tablespoon Soy Sauce
- 2 Tablespoon Rice Wine Vinegar
- 2 Tablespoon Vodka
- 1/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
- 3 Tablespoon Cornstarch
- 1 Pound Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast, Cut Into 1 Inch Cubes
- 1/2 Cup All-Purpose Flour
- 1/2 Cup Cornstarch
- 1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
- 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
- 1 Cup Chicken Broth
- 1/4 Cup Sugar
- 1/4 Cup Soy Sauce
- 1 Tablespoon Seasoned Rice Vinegar
- 3-4 Cloves Fresh Garlic Minced
- 1 Teaspoon Fresh Ginger Peeled and Grated
- 1 Tablespoon Corn Starch
- 1 3/4 Cup Peanut Oil
- 1 Bunch Green Onions Thinly Sliced on the Diagonal
- 1 Fresh Jalapenos Seeded and Chopped
- 1 Teaspoon Dried Red Chili Flakes
Make the Marinade: In a large mixing bowl, whisk the egg white until foamy. Stir in soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, and vodka. Pour half of this mixture into a small bowl and set aside. Add 1/4 teaspoon baking soda and 3 tablespoons cornstarch to the half of the marinade remaining in the large bowl. Add Chicken pieces and using your hands, toss to coat evenly. Set aside.
Make the Dry Coating: In a large mixing bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup cornstarch, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir in reserved egg marinade and mix, breaking up large clumps, until mixture has coarse, smaller or granular clumps. Add chicken pieces and using your hands, toss to coat evenly. Press to help coating adhere. Remove well-coated chicken pieces, shaking off excess coating, and spread out on a wire baking rack. Allow to stand for 10-15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, Make the Sauce: Add all sauce ingredients to a small bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.
In a wok, heat peanut oil to about 350 degrees. Working in batches so as not to crowd the pan, carefully lower pieces of dry coated chicken into hot oil, cook, stirring frequently, so pieces don't stick together, monitoring the temperature of the oil and maintaining a temperature of 325-370 degrees. Cook until chicken is cooked about 3-4 minutes. Remove cooked chicken to a paper towel lined plate and drain well.
- Drain all but 1 tablespoon oil from wok. With the heat on high until just smoking, add the half the green onions, jalapeno, and red chili flakes and cook just until fragrant, about 20-30 seconds. Add the chicken back to the wok along with the sauce and bring to a boil. Cook until the sauce has thickened. Garnish with the remaining half of the green onions and a few red pepper flakes and serve.