La Zi Ji (Sichuan Mala Chicken, 辣子鸡)

4.89 from 9 votes
Email Facebook LinkedIn Mix Pinterest Reddit Twitter
This post may contain affiliate links. Read our disclosure policy.

Sichuan La Zi Ji features crispy chicken smothered in chili peppers, Sichuan peppercorns, and tons of aromatics to create an electrifyingly hot numbing sensation that’s so addictive. Take the challenge if you can handle the heat! {Gluten-Free Adaptable}

La Zi Ji with chili peppers close up

What is La Zi Ji

La Zi Ji is a signature Sichuan dish that is extremely popular in China. The chicken is coated with spices and flash fried until golden brown and crispy. It’s then stir fried with tons of dried chili peppers, Sichuan peppercorns, ginger and garlic to create a spicy numbing sensation. It is spicy yet you cannot stop eating it because it’s SO GOOD!

When introducing someone who’s new to Chinese food to the real deal La Zi Ji (辣子鸡), or Sichuan Mala Chicken, I’d describe the dish as “fried chicken covered in hot sauce” so it won’t completely scare them away.

During my years working in Beijing, I took every single foreign colleague to one of my favorite Sichuan restaurants, Yu Xiang Ren Jia (渝乡人家). Mala Chicken was one of the dishes that always appeared on our lunch table. Although my initial goal was to introduce genuine Sichuan food to the uninitiated, I confess that secretly I just loved my colleagues’ stunned faces on seeing the giant plate of chili peppers placed before them. After staring at the plate for a few moments, they would cautiously dig up a piece of hot chicken with suspicion written on their brow, fearful that it might burn a hole in their stomach. 

And you know what? My guests always ended up loving this dish. 

Homemade La Zi Ji in a large skillet
Plated Sichuan mala chicken close up

Authentic La Zi Ji

The flavor profile

La Zi Ji is spicy, but not as spicy as it looks. Sichuan cuisine pursues truly bold flavors that are well-balanced. In this chicken dish, the balance comes from the spiciness and smokiness of the chili peppers, the numbing tingling Sichuan peppercorns, the nuttiness of the sesame seeds, savory aromatics, salt, and a small amount of sugar. The dish offers a deep savory taste using heat as a medium. It is not like pure, tear-inducing Thai-style spiciness.

The presentation

Hiding the chicken under a mountain of peppers is just the authentic Sichuan way to display the food. The nutty, smoky fragrance of the vibrant peppers reaches your nostrils before your chopsticks do, and it makes your mouth water and makes you suddenly feel ten times hungrier.

Here are some fun facts about the authentic Mala Chicken we serve in China:

  • Chinese chefs usually use tiny bone-in chicken pieces to cook this dish. It takes some effort to pick the meat from the bones, which makes eating it extra satisfying. But here we make things easy by using boneless thighs.
  • The amount of chili peppers in the dish far exceeds the amount of chicken, so you’ll need to spend quite some time digging through the peppers in order to find a chunk of meat. I used a ton of peppers in the dish for the presentation, but feel free to reduce the amount because it doesn’t affect the flavor too much.
  • Tons of numbing, tingling, whole Sichuan peppercorns are used. You need to keep a sharp eye and shake off these fiery little corns before placing a piece of chicken on your tongue, otherwise your tastebuds will completely shut down for the next 10 minutes. I included two methods in the recipe below, so you can either include or exclude the peppercorns.
La Zi Ji (Sichuan Mala Chicken, 辣子鸡)

Key ingredients for La Zi Ji

To cook the real-deal La Zi Ji, Sichuan chili peppers and Sichuan peppercorns are the two irreplaceable key ingredients.

Ingredients for making La Zi Ji
Sichuan mala chicken in a skillet

Sichuan dried chili pepper

There are a few types of Sichuan chili peppers that are commonly used in Sichuan cuisine.

In the recipe for La Zi Ji, chefs usually use medium heat Facing Heaven Chili (Chao Tian Jiao, 朝天椒). The short, fat Lantern Peppers (Deng Long Jiao, 灯笼椒) are often added for their nice smoky flavor. And you can control the heat level by leaving the peppers whole for a milder dish, or slicing them to expose the seeds for a much spicier dish.

Sichuan peppercorns

Sichuan peppercorn (Hua Jiao, 花椒) is another key ingredient that you might not be familiar with. Fresh Sichuan peppercorns have a pungent aroma that lingers around the nose. Its taste is almost indescribable: numbing, tingling, and somewhat refreshing like mint. These corns add a savory, smokey and slightly citrusy flavor to a dish, and that is what makes it genuine Sichuan food. I consider it even more important than Sichuan chili peppers, truly distinguishing the dish and giving it a character unlike anything else. 

If you’re ready to cook up some authentic La Zi Ji or some other Sichuan dishes, order some premium Sichuan peppercorns and chili peppers now. You’ll be surprised how good your dish turns out simply by using fresher spices.

How to cook La Zi Ji

Cooking a great plate of La Zi Ji takes some extra steps, but it is totally worth the effort.

How to prep the chicken

To get the most flavorful chicken, you will need to

  1. Marinate the chicken with soy sauce and Shaoxing wine first to infuse the flavor. 
  2. Coat the chicken with a dry coating: a mixture of cayenne pepper powder and ground Sichuan peppercorns along with cornstarch.

I found the coating really makes this dish stand out and taste much more flavorful than if you directly add the seasonings during the stir fry process.

For the dry coating, I prefer the ziplock method the most. Because the mixture is quite spicy, you can massage the spices into the chicken without burning your hand.

Mise en place

Once you start cooking, the process is super fast. So you will want to make sure your table has these ingredients prepped before you start the cooking: marinated chicken with the dry coating, chopped aromatics, Sichuan peppercorns, the dry mixture of chili pepper and other spices, and chopped cilantro.

Cooking process

  1. Spread out the chicken in the hot pan and fry it with minimal touching to ensure browning.
  2. Once the chicken is browned on both sides and cooked through, transfer it onto a plate.
  3. Stir fry the aromatics.
  4. Roast the dry spices and chili peppers to release the fragrance.
  5. Add the chicken back to the pan and toss it.
  6. Stir in the cilantro.
How to cook La Zi Ji step-by-step
Plated La Zi Ji with chili peppers and cilantro

How to serve La Zi Ji

A bowl of steamed rice is the default side dish. I also highly recommend serving another cold appetizer or a light vegetable dish, so you have something to counterbalance the hot chicken.

Here are some great options for appetizers and side dishes:

Other delicious Sichuan dishes

Want to Know More?Receive our 5-Day Chinese Cooking Crash Course & Recipe Updates! Subscribe
Sichuan La Zi Ji features crispy chicken smothered in chili peppers, Sichuan peppercorns, and tons of aromatics to create an electrifyingly hot numbing sensation that’s so addictive. Take the challenge if you can handle the heat! {Gluten-Free Adaptable}

La Zi Ji (Sichuan Mala Chicken, 辣子鸡)

4.89 from 9 votes
Sichuan La Zi Ji features crispy chicken smothered in chili peppers, Sichuan peppercorns, and tons of aromatics to create an electrifyingly hot numbing sensation that’s so addictive. Take the challenge if you can handle the heat! {Gluten-Free Adaptable}
This recipe is slightly adapted from Chongqing Chicken With Chilies (La Zi Ji) by The Mala Project.
To make the dish gluten-free, use dry sherry to replace Shaoxing wine. And use tamari to replace soy sauce. Marinade
Author: Maggie Zhu
Course: Main
Cuisine: Chinese
Keyword: restaurant-style
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 4 servings

Ingredients

Marinade

  • 1 lb (450 g) boneless skinless chicken thigh , cut into 1” (2.5 cm) cubes (or breast)
  • 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry)
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce (or soy sauce)

Spice mix

Chicken coating

Cook

  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup peanut oil (or vegetable oil)
  • 2 teaspoons Sichuan peppercorns
  • 5 garlic cloves , thinly sliced
  • 1 thumb ginger , minced
  • 4 green onions , sliced
  • 1 cup chopped cilantro , and more for garnish

Instructions

  • To marinate the chicken: Combine chicken pieces, Shaoxing wine, and soy sauce in a medium-sized bowl. Mix well and marinate for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • For the spice mix: Combine all the spice mix ingredients in a big bowl.
  • For the chicken coating: Mix cornstarch, cayenne powder, ground Sichuan peppercorns and salt in a large ziplock bag. Shake to mix well
  • When you’re ready to cook, drain the chicken pieces and discard the marinating liquid. Transfer the chicken pieces into the bag with the cornstarch mixture. Shake the bag to coat the chicken, then use your hands to massage the bag so the spice is evenly mixed in. There should be little / no dried ingredients left in the bag. Massage the bag more if you still see a lot of uncoated cornstarch. On the other hand, if the chicken pieces look wet, sprinkle on a bit more cornstarch.
  • To cook the stir fry: Heat a large skillet (or a wok) over medium-high heat until wisps of smoke start to rise. Add oil. (Or add oil in the pan and heat together if using a nonstick skillet.) When oil is hot, spread out the chicken pieces without overlapping them. Use a pair of tongs or chopsticks to separate the chicken pieces as much as possible, then leave the chicken undisturbed until the bottom turns golden brown. Flip to cook the other side until golden and the inside of the chicken is no longer pink. Stir a few times to make sure the surface of the chicken is evenly cooked. Turn to medium-low heat. Transfer the cooked chicken to a large plate.
  • You should still have some oil in the pan. If not, add 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the Sichuan peppercorns. Cook and stir until the color turns dark brown. Remove them from the pan. (*Footnote 3)
  • Add the garlic, ginger and green onions. Stir a few times to release the fragrance.
  • Add the bowl of spice mix with the peppers. Quickly stir until the peppers just turn a bit darker without turning black.
  • Return the cooked chicken into the pan. Cook and stir until well mixed. Add the cilantro and mix a few times. Turn off heat. Transfer everything to a plate with chili peppers prominently displayed. Top with more cilantro for garnish, if needed.
  • Serve hot (and ‘hot’!) over steamed white rice as a main.

Notes

  1. Choose fat and large chili peppers that have a milder taste. If you cannot find Sichuan chili peppers, you can alternatively use Korean chili peppers. Do not use Thai Bird’s eye chili peppers. I know 3 cups sounds like a LOT of peppers if you cook the dish the authentic way. Alternatively you can use 1 cup of chili peppers, which affects the dish’s appearance but not the taste.
  2. This recipe creates a rich numbing spicy taste, just like the authentic La Zi Ji I had in China. If you’re not sure about the spiciness level or want a milder dish, use 1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder and 1/2 teaspoon Sichuan peppercorns instead.
  3. In China, whole Sichuan peppercorns are always left in the dish. However you will need to pick them out of the dish when eating because it’s not very pleasant if you accidentally bite into one. So you can infuse the peppercorns in the oil and then remove them like stated in the recipe. On the other hand, leave them in if you prefer a more authentic experience. In that case, toast the Sichuan peppercorns lightly or add them with the dried chili pepper mixture together in step 8.

Video

Nutrition

Serving: 1serving, Calories: 301kcal, Carbohydrates: 11.7g, Protein: 24.1g, Fat: 17.3g, Saturated Fat: 3.5g, Cholesterol: 71mg, Sodium: 593mg, Potassium: 293mg, Fiber: 1.1g, Sugar: 1.5g, Calcium: 55mg, Iron: 2mg
Did You Make This Recipe?Don’t forget the last step! Leave a comment below, and tag me @OmnivoresCookbook and #OmnivoresCookbook on Instagram!

Receive our FREE 5-Day Chinese Cooking Crash Course & Recipe Updates!

Subscribe

Leave a Review!

I love hearing from you! Submit your question or review below. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*.

Rate This Recipe!




Reader Questions and Reviews

  1. Amanda says:

    Your blog isn’t such an inspiration for mine. I have some Sichuan peppercorns lying around, and I’ll hav to try this recipe. I love sichuan food because it reminds me of my childhood.

  2. Sean says:

    5 stars
    Just made this, substituted the whole chilli’s with some local ones since Sichuan chilli’s are hard to come by in my area. The dish as a whole was really satisfying, very tasty and just hot enough, we doubled everything so more people could try it, and it was excellent. Very good recipe, easy to make with a satisfying, uplifting taste.

  3. Allie says:

    This is so tasty. Thank you! However (I know you’re not meant to eat all the bullet chilli but…) my dried si chuan chillies are quite tough and chewy when cooked. Would you ever soak them before cooking? The chicken tastes amazing though and I love this dish, was just wondering if there’s anything I can do to make the chilli less chewy.

    • Maggie says:

      Hi Allie, I’m glad to hear you like the dish! Re bullet chili, I never soak them because we always leave them out and don’t eat them at all. If you want edible chili, I would recommend toss in some chopped fresh chili peppers at the end of the cooking.

  4. Charles Keane says:

    5 stars
    Made this tonight and it was absolutely delicious 😋. Great recipe. Mouth tingling goodness.

  5. S says:

    I totally know the yu xiang ren jia restaurant you mentioned, it was the one in guomao, right? I agree that the food was so good there, they also had the face changing mask performance. Are they still open? I will try this recipe soon (when i can find the ingredients). Thanks for sharing!!!

    • Maggie says:

      I haven’t been back to China for 3 years and not sure. I think they should still open since it’s quite famous and they do have a few locations in Beijing. I love their food so much!

  6. Nick Semenza says:

    5 stars
    I haven’t made this yet, but just looking at the recipe, I know it will be a 5 out of 5. I had Ma-La chicken at a restaurant once and it was “meh”. The only recipe I have used seen was from a Henry Chung cookbook from 1978 but THIS recipe looks really good! I have the peppercorns but not the Sichuan chili peppers (yet). I didn’t now they were a thing until just now! If I can get the peppers at Asian Gourmet here in Bismarck, this is on the menu for next week otherwise I’ll mail order then. Thank you for posting!!

  7. Nick S. says:

    5 stars
    Made this tonight… wow… total party in my mouth. I have made a version from Henry Chung and that recipe is fantastic, but this recipe was amazing. We have an awesome Asian grocer here, Asian Gourmet, but they did not have some of the specific ingredients. We used half Thai chilies and half Japaneses chilies and Korean chili pepper flakes. This is on our do-again list. Thank you for sharing!

  8. CurryCook says:

    5 stars
    Excellent flavor! I like celery in this dish, so I added it (a cup, sliced thin on the diagonal) with the green onions and it was great.

  9. Jia says:

    Hi Maggie, is it possible to cook this dish using an airfryer?

    • Maggie says:

      I guess it’s possible to cook the chicken with airfryer but you will still need to cook the spices and mix it up in a pan on the stove.

  10. Colin says:

    5 stars
    I made this recipe last night, and it was delicious! My spouse is from Zigong, and his mother is a super cook. He absolutely adored it. I am so glad I have found you website. Szechuan is a magic region with fabulous cuisine.

  11. Paul N. says:

    4 stars
    I’m a huge fan and I really like Szechuan seasoning so I was really looking forward to the Addictive Sichuan Mala Chicken. I don’t know why the 3/4 teaspoon of salt was added to the recipe but I won’t be including it the next time I make this. Loved the burn, loved the tingle, hated the salt.

  12. Michelle says:

    5 stars
    The best recipa for mala chicken to follow. Exact flavour. Yummilicious.

  13. Bill Zigrang says:

    In regards to the 3/24/2022 update, the ingredients list refers to “Footnote 4” and “Footnote 6,” which do not exist.

    • Maggie Zhu says:

      Sorry about the confusion! I just renamed the numbers and now it should be correct.

      • Bill Zigrang says:

        Not yet fixed in the menu as printed. BTW, have you tried freezing/thawing dishes thickened with arrowroot or potato starch yet?

      • Bill Zigrang says:

        I mean in the recipe as printed.

Omnivore's Cookbook: Make Chinese Cooking Easy
BuzzFeedGood HousekeepingHuffington PostLucky ChowMSNReader's DigestSaveurYahoo! News

FREE 5-Day Chinese Cooking Crash Course

Cooking delicous Chinese food is easier than you think!

Thank

You!

USE COUPON CODE 

WELCOME20

Follow us on Facebook