Sichuan Steamed Chicken in Chili Sauce Recipe

Sichuan Steamed Chicken in Chili Sauce Recipe

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This is an authentic recipe from our team in China, featured in our Sichuan Recipe Box. The ingredients labeled with a * below are hard-to-find ingredients that we’ve sourced from China and are all included in our recipe box which is available for shipping throughout the USA and China. For more information and to purchase online, click here.

The Story of Sichuan Steamed Chicken

This dish (kǒu shuǐ jī) literally translates to “saliva chicken” in English. As the Chinese word’s appetizing connotation is lost in translation, this dish is usually translated figuratively to “mouth-watering chicken” or  “steamed chicken with chili sauce” in English.

Classified as a cold dish in Sichuan cuisine, this cold chicken dish is enriched with multiple seasoning condiments, tasting spicy, fresh, fragrant, and tender all at the same time.  

The name of the dish actually came from a literary piece called “Tianbo Qu (賟波曲)” written by a renowned Chinese author, Guo Moruo, in the early 20th century. He wrote in the piece: “Till this day, I still can’t stop drooling for the dish every time it crosses my mind, the dish that I always ate when I was a child at my hometown in Sichuan, the boiled soft chicken meat infused with the fragrance of homemade red chili oil.” Written with unintentional care by Guo, the word “saliva” was surprisingly favored by people when describing this dish. As time went by, this Sichuan dish was referred “formally” by many restaurants as “Saliva chicken”, and was known today to be a common home cooking dish in Sichuan.

Recipe Notes:

Before hot chiles were brought to China from the New World, peppercorns were used to give a mild heat to dishes. As the availability of blind, raw hellfire spice increased in China, it actually increased the usage of the numbing Sichuan peppercorns as a balancing element, which allows you to appreciate the flavor of the chili. Because of this, having a delicious chili full of actual flavor, color, and aroma, becomes paramount- and it’s what we’ve included in our boxes. The rise and prominence of chili and Sichuan peppercorns in the imagination and practice of Sichuan cuisine are relatively recent and also should be viewed hand-in-hand.

The spiciness from the Americas first comes overseas to Europe, then make their way overland into the heart of China via the Silk Road in the form of dried chilis. Sichuan peppercorns played perfectly with chili, balancing out the heat with its numbing qualities. Together this created the intense mala flavoring, one of the three Chinese spicy flavorings and perhaps the most famous. 

With this box, we have included popular selections, the exact variants of chili and Sichuan peppercorn widely used in the Sichuan province. They aren’t dull or without aroma, like generic supermarket chili flakes. A teaspoon or half a teaspoon will go a long way for 1.2kg/2.5kg of chicken. You’ll learn to make mala flavors in its endless variations, experimenting with finishing oils and sautéed sauces, to see how chili as a flavor can be layered and nuanced in Sichuan cuisine. 

Serves 3
Prep Time: 5 mins
Cook Time: 30 mins
Skill Level: Intermediate


Items marked with a * are included in our Sichuan Recipe Box.

For the Sichuan Chili Oil:

1 cup cooking oil (we always use canola oil, but soy or peanut oil also works well)

2 thin slices of ginger, about a 1cm knob

1 green onion

1/2 tsp whole Sichuan peppercorn*

1 whole star anise*

1 cinnamon stick*

1/3 cup chili powder/flakes*

1 tsp sesame seeds

1/2 tsp five-spice powder*

For the Chicken:

3 chicken legs or around 2.5 pounds (1.2kg) of dark chicken meat

2 thumbs of ginger (sliced)

2 stalk of green onions

1 Tbsp cooking wine

For the Sauce:

6-8 Tbsp your prepared Sichuan chili oil

2 Tbsp Chinese vinegar*

1 Tbsp sesame oil

2 Tbsp cooking wine

1 tsp to Tbsp Sichuan peppercorn powder* (Adjust amount based on your spice level) 

2 Tbsp sugar

pinch of salt

2 Tbsp soy sauce

4 garlic cloves, minced

For Garnishing:

1/2 Tbsp minced green onion

1/2 Tbsp minced coriander

2 tsp of skinless peanuts, toasted

White sesame seeds


  1. To make the Sichuan chili oil: In a small pot, add oil, ginger, green onions, Sichuan peppercorns, cinnamon stick, and star anise. Over medium heat, slowly fry until the ingredients turn brown, and then turn off the heat. Remove the peppercorns, cinnamon stick, and star anise from the oil. In a heat-safe bowl, combine chili powder/flakes, 5-spice powder, and sesame seeds. Pour the hot oil over the chili powder mixture and let it steep. Chili oil should be kept in a glass jar and refrigerated for future use once cooled.
  2. For the Chicken: Place chicken, prepared ginger slices, green onions, and cooking wine into a small pot filled with water (just enough to cover the chicken).
  3. Bring it to a full boil then turn the heat down to low. Leave to simmer with a lid on for 10 minutes.
  4. Turn off the heat and keep the chicken in the pot (covered) for a further 10 minutes. Check that the chicken is fully cooked before moving on to the next step.
  5. Transfer the chicken into a bowl of cold water (ideally with ice cubes). Leave to cool for 10 minutes.
  6. Carefully remove the bones of the chicken legs. Slice the flesh into 1-2 inch wide strips.
  7.  Mix around 6 to 8 tbsp of your prepared chili oil with the sauce ingredients to prepare the sauce.
  8. Pour the sauce over the chicken.
  9. Toast peanuts in a pan until they smell fragrant. Do this in a dry pan on medium heat for a few minutes, constantly stirring so they don’t burn.  
  10.  Garnish the dish with toasted peanuts, minced green onion, coriander, and white sesame seeds. 
  11. Ready to serve! Enjoy with rice. 


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