Chilli Chicken

The secret technique to the crunchiest chilli chicken in a hot, sour and mildly sweet sauce. Calcutta’s Tangra-style chilli chicken!

  • Cooking time
    1 hour
  • Calories
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In this series, we tip our hats to some of our favourite dishes available in the restaurants, cafés, and cabins of Calcutta. Our purpose in doing so is to document their existence, and give people a way to recreate them if they happen to live away from the city. Make these at home, or hunt them down from the source—irrespective of how you get your hands on these items, we hope you enjoy them.

Chilli chicken is perhaps the most popular Indo-Chinese dish found both in restaurants and street side stalls. No visit to Calcutta’s Chinatowns (especially Tangra) is complete without an order of chilli chicken. The dry chilli chicken works as a snack, appetiser as well as a side. The gravy chilli chicken is more popular as a side to either chowmein or with fried rice. There are various versions of the chilli chicken recipes. While you can play around with the sauces you like in your chilli chicken, most folks will agree that the best chilli chicken has the chicken still crispy when served. With that goal in mind we tested both the wet batter as well as the dry breading technique and finally went with breading. What yielded the crunchiest chicken was Kenji Lopez-Alt’s method which he had used in his General Tso’s Chicken recipe in Serious Eats Food Lab. Do give this a try and let us know how it goes!

Books in this recipe

The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science
J. Kenji López-Alt
Our note
Our note
The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science
J. Kenji López-Alt
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4 servings
  • 250 g boneless chicken thigh (3-cm cubes)

For the marinade

  • 15 g egg white of half and egg
  • 15 g dark soy sauce
  • 10 g Chinese cooking wine (optional)
  • 2 g ginger paste
  • 2 g garlic paste
  • 3 g salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 1 pinch baking soda
  • 12 g cornflour

For breading the chicken

  • ¼ cup (30 g) cornflour
  • ¼ cup (30 g) all-purpose flour (maida)
  • ¼ tsp baking powder
  • 3 g salt

For the sauce

  • 20 g vegetable oil
  • 2 pcs dried red chillies
  • 75 g onions (3-cm squares)
  • 50 g capsicum (3-cm squares)
  • 5 g ginger (finely chopped)
  • 5 g garlic (finely chopped)
  • 10 g green chillies (2-mm thick, cut on the bias)
  • 8 g dark soy sauce
  • 8 g light soy sauce
  • 10 g Chinese cooking wine (optional)
  • 10 g vinegar
  • 20 g tomato ketchup
  • 15 g red chilli sauce
  • 75 g chicken stock (or water)
  • 1 pinch MSG
  • 1 tsp ground pepper
  • 2 g salt
  • 20 g sugar
  • ~200 g oil for frying


Prep the chicken

  1. Cut the chicken in 3-cm cubes and set aside.
  2. Mix together all the ingredients under the 'For the marinade' section. Pour half of this mixture over the chicken cubes, and reserve the other half for use later.
  3. Coat the chicken well with the marinade, and set it aside to rest for at least 30 minutes.

Make the sauce

  1. Meanwhile, prep for the sauce. Cut onions and capsicum in 3-cm squares, chop ginger and garlic finely, and cut green chillies and spring onions on the bias. Keep everything chopped and ready.
  2. Make a sauce solution by mixing together dark soy, light soy, Chinese cooking wine, vinegar, ketchup, red chilli sauce, salt, pepper, MSG and chicken stock in the proportions given in the 'For the sauce' section. Keep this mixture ready as well.
  3. Make a cornflour slurry using ½ tsp cornflour and 1 tsp water. Set aside.
  4. Now, once the vegetables, sauce mixture and cornflour slurry are ready, heat up your wok. Add 20 g vegetable oil and allow it to smoke. Add dried red chillies, followed by onions and capsicum. Fry on high heat for a minute before adding sugar. Cook the sugar until slightly caremelised (1 minute). This will allow for the creation of the sticky sauce we've come to associate with chilli chicken.
  5. Next, add ginger and green chillies, and fry for 30 seconds before adding garlic. Then add the sauce solution. When it comes to a boil, add the cornflour slurry. Turn off the heat. We will come back to the sauce later.

Fry the chicken

  1. Back to the chicken: To bread the chicken prepare a mixture of cornflour, flour, salt and baking powder in the proportions given in the 'For breading the chicken' section. Now add the remaining half of the marinade we reserved right at the start. Rub it into the flour mixture thoroughly until you it resembles breadcrumbs in texture.
  2. Now, taking chicken pieces 2 or 3 at a time, coat them in the breading, pressing it down so that it sticks to the chicken. Drop them in oil on medium heat (at roughly 170°C). Fry until golden brown and crisp.
  3. On an adjoining burner, heat up the sauce again. Drain the chicken from the oil and immediately transfer it to the sauce. Toss to coat. Garnish with spring onions and serve immediately, while the chicken is still crisp.

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