Looking for a dish to celebrate the Chinese New Year? Try our Panda Express firecracker chicken. It's full of flavor from the fermented black bean sauce, and has a sharp salty bite with a small hit of heat. The red and yellow bell peppers, onions, and green beans are freshly chopped and are tossed together with the marinated chicken. It is an easy, mouthwatering dinner option that cooks in under 15 minutes.
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Most of the ingredients for this recipe can be found at your local grocery store, except for the dried red chilies and the black bean and garlic sauce. You can purchase these items at an Asian grocery store or online from Amazon.
The black bean and garlic sauce keeps in the fridge for up to 6 months. Use it in Chinese stir fries and other dishes for a unique umami flavor. Think of it as your secret ingredient!
- Protein: boneless, skinless, chicken breast is the standard choice, but chicken thighs, shrimp, or tofu would all be great choices.
- Aromatics: fresh garlic, ginger, and yellow onion. Avoid using garlic/onion powder and ground ginger, as they won't taste as good as fresh.
- Vegetables: red and yellow bell peppers and green beans. Please use fresh and not frozen, or they won't be as crispy.
- Oil: use a high smoke point oil for stir frying, and sesame oil for the stir fry sauce.
- Acid: add rice vinegar to the stir fry sauce.
- Sweet: we used white granulated sugar in the stir fry sauce, but another sweetener would also work.
- Heat: dried red chiles from China and sambal oelek add some kick.
- Thickener: cornstarch or substitute with arrowroot.
- Dairy: egg white is used in the marinade, but you could substitute that with 2 teaspoons of soy sauce or 1 tablespoon of oyster sauce.
- Wine: 2 teaspoons of white wine or Shaoxing wine is used to deglaze the wok when the chicken is done cooking.
- Umami: fermented black bean garlic sauce purchased in a jar in an Asian market or online.
What is firecracker chicken?
It is a special entree that Panda Express brings back once a year to celebrate the Chinese New Year (February 12, 2021). It consists of "tender chicken breast with fresh chopped veggies wok tossed in a savory Chinese black bean sauce." It is very colorful with the dried red chilies, red and yellow bell pepper, green beans, and the yellow onion. It is one of their "wok smart" dishes, which means it has at least 8g of protein and is under 300 calories.
When is firecracker chicken available at Panda Express?
This entree is part of Panda Express' limited time offerings and is available in January and February of 2021. They release this dish to celebrate Chinese New Year, a 15-day celebration marking the start of the lunar year.
Is this firecracker chicken spicy?
The Panda Express firecracker chicken has a tiny bit of heat in the sauce, which is why it is labeled with a red pepper in their advertising. But to be honest, it really isn't spicy unless you are a little kid. My 9 year old found it spicy, but no one else thought the heat level was above mild.
Our version of this entree is mild, so if you like heat, increase the dried chili peppers and the sambal oelek.
How many calories are in firecracker chicken?
At Panda Express, for a 6.1 ounce serving size, there are 220 calories, 12g of carbs, 9g of fat, 24g of protein, 6g of sugar, and 970 mg of sodium. For a one cup serving size, our copycat recipe has 318 calories, 25.g of carbs, 19.6 g of fat, 18.7g of protein, 6.6 g of sugar, and 727 mg of sodium. For more nutritional information, please scroll to the end of the recipe card.
Our version is higher in calories because we used more oil. Panda Express uses 2 tablespoons of oil (we used 5) to cook all the ingredients. We also significantly increased the amount of sauce and vegetables in our version. (The original Panda Express recipe uses ⅓ cup of bell peppers and green beans with ½ cup of onion.)
How to Make
Gather all the marinade ingredients, then whisk it together and pour it over the chicken. Mix until it is well coated, then cover and put in the fridge for 15 to 20 minutes.
Gather the the ingredients for the stir fry sauce, then whisk them together in a bowl or 2 cup measuring cup. Set it aside.
Gather all the ingredients for the stir fry.
Heat the wok over high heat, then add 1 tablespoon of oil. Reduce the temperature to medium high and stir fry the dried red chilies for 15 seconds. Add the garlic and ginger and stir fry for another 15 seconds, then add the black bean sauce and the sambal oelek and cook for 15 seconds. Remove the aromatics from the wok and place in a small bowl.
Over medium high heat, add 2 tablespoons of oil, then add all the vegetables. Stir fry until they are slightly softened and a bit charred, roughly 1 ½ to 2 minutes. Remove the vegetables from the wok and place in a bowl.
Over high heat, add 2 tablespoons of oil, then add the chicken and reduce the heat to medium high. Spread the chicken in one layer and let it cook until lightly browned, then flip and cook the other side. If the oil is spitting, lower the temperature a bit.
Increase the heat back to medium high and pour the wine into the wok and deglaze the pan by scraping off any browned bits from the bottom. Cook for 30 seconds, then remove the chicken to a bowl.
Whisk the stir fry sauce, then pour it into the wok on medium high heat. Stir for a minute until it has thickened.
Add the chicken and aromatics to the sauce and stir until coated, then add the vegetables. Stir fry for another 2 minutes to make sure everything is heated through.
Serve immediately with steamed rice or another Panda Express side dish like super greens, chow mein, or fried rice.
- Need this vegan? Swap the egg white for soy sauce, and the chicken for tofu or cauliflower florets.
- Need this gluten free? Use gluten free, reduced sodium soy sauce, liquid aminos, or tamari, and swap the cornstarch for arrowroot.
- Need more vegetables? Keep the vegetables to a total of 6 cups, but swap them out with other colorful veggies.
- Want a different meat? Switch out the chicken for shrimp or beef.
- Need this with lower calories? Reduce the amount of oil used in the recipe.
- Have all the ingredients prepped and ready to go.
- Take the time to marinate the chicken for the best flavor and texture.
- If possible, use a wok, as it will easily hold all the ingredients.
- Use fermented Asian black beans or Asian black bean and garlic sauce.
- Use dried red chilies from China, not Mexico.
Looking for other Panda Express copycat recipes?
- Teriyaki Chicken
- Kung Pao Chicken
- Sweet Fire Chicken
- Mushroom Chicken
- String Bean Chicken
- Black Pepper Chicken
- Eggplant Tofu
- Fried Rice
- Chow Mein
- Super Greens
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Panda Express Firecracker Chicken Copycat
For the Marinade
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 3 tablespoons water
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 egg white or 2 teaspoons reduced sodium soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
For the Stir Fry Sauce
For the Stir Fry
- 5 tablespoons olive oil
- 8 dried red chili peppers, whole
- 2 teaspoons fresh garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated
- 1 ½ teaspoons Asian black bean sauce with garlic
- 2 teaspoons sambal oelek
- 1 ¼ cup red bell pepper, cut in ½-inch squares
- 1 ½ cup yellow bell pepper, cut in ¼-inch strips
- 1 ½ cup yellow onion, sliced
- 1 ½ cup green beans, cut in 3-inch lengths
- 12 ounces boneless skinless chicken breast, cut thinly in bite size pieces
- 2 teaspoons white wine or Shaoxing wine
- Mix the ingredients together for the marinade and then pour over the meat. Stir until well coated. Let the meat marinate for 15 to 20 minutes.
- Whisk the ingredients together for the stir fry sauce and set aside.
- Over medium high heat, let the wok just start to smoke, and then add 1 tablespoon of oil. Add the dried red chilies and stir fry for 15 seconds, then add the ginger and garlic and stir fry for 15 seconds. Add the black bean garlic sauce and the sambal oelek and stir fry for 15 seconds. Remove from the wok and place in a small bowl.
- Add 2 tablespoons of oil, then add all the vegetables (roughly 6 cups) and stir fry for 1-2 minutes, or until the veggies are tender crisp. Remove and place in a bowl.
- Over high heat, allow the wok to heat up a bit, then add 2 tablespoons of oil. Reduce the heat to medium high, spread the thinly cut meat out in an even layer and allow to cook, then flip to cook the other side. Add the wine and cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Remove the meat and place in a bowl; it should be a little bit golden brown.
- Re-whisk the sauce you made earlier and pour it into the wok over medium high heat. Allow it to thicken by cooking it for a minute.
- Add the chicken and aromatics back to the wok and stir to coat in the sauce, then add the vegetables. Stir fry for 2 minutes so the food is reheated. Serve hot with other Panda Express-inspired sides like fried rice, super greens and chow mein.
- Prep all the ingredients before you begin.
- Marinate the chicken.
- Use a wok instead of a frying pan.
- Don't use Mexican black beans. Use fermented Asian black beans or jarred Asian black bean garlic sauce.
- Use dried red chilies imported from China, not Mexico.