Emperor, Empress, General, beggar… Sounds like the character list for a play, doesn’t it? Guess what—these aren’t the dramatis personae for a Broadway production. These are all Chinese chicken dishes! The newest addition to this cast: the Princess. Want to know how to prepare Princess chicken at home? Read on…

What is Princess chicken?

No, it’s not what you’d call a cowardly female heir to the throne.

Jokes aside, Princess chicken is a Chinese chicken dish made decadently delicious with mushrooms, red bell pepper, cashews, and five-spice powder. 

FYI, five-spice powder is made of star anise, cloves, Chinese cinnamon, Szechuan peppercorns, and fennel seeds. The magical concoction is designed to cover all the taste bases—sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami. And the best part is that you can make it home. But we’ll get to that later.

You might ask, why’s this dish called Princess chicken? Here’s a particularly interesting theory we dug up on the internet.

A quick history lesson.

Long ago, in the mystical land of China, a beggar stole a chicken from a farmer. 

(This is just a legend, so don’t think what we say is absolutely true!) 

The farmer saw the thief and chased the vagrant all the way to a nearby riverbank. The quick-witted thief buried the chicken in the mud of the riverbank and scampered off. 

Later that night, when he was certain the farmer had given up, he came back to his hidden stash. The beggar was starving. He impatiently lit a fire and dug up the chicken. It was caked in mud. But our hero, at the verge of collapse from hunger, just popped the chicken on the flame, mud and all. The fire hardened the clay and cooked the bird within. When the beggar cracked open the clay shell, legend has it that the feathers fell right off the flesh. 

Our man knew he had struck gastronomical gold. He began selling this dish in his village. Before long, the Emperor himself came to visit this budding cook. His Highness was so impressed by the chicken that he added the dish to his Imperial menu back in his palace. But of course, you can’t have a dish on the menu that the people call “beggar’s chicken”. So from that day forth, all the cooks at the royal palace learned how to cook this new dish called “Emperor’s chicken”. 

But our story isn’t over yet.

Fast forward a few thousand years.

In the 1950s, Chinese American immigrants brought all kinds of mouth-watering recipes over to the Land of Opportunity. They didn’t just sit on the recipes, though—they experimented. 

One of the subjects of these experiments was our old friend, Emperor chicken. And out of these experiments was born the Empress chicken. A few evolutions later, and here we are at the topic of this article. The pride and joy of any Chinese take-out menu, Princess chicken. 

So what?

All this to say, Princess chicken isn’t a traditional Chinese dish. But at the same time, it’s not completely devoid of Chinese heritage. The dish borrows from its oriental roots and had made itself into a true modern-day dietary delight.

But that’s enough appetizers. Let’s head to the main course.

How to make Princess chicken at home

The Princess chicken recipe has two steps. First, you’ll have to marinate the chicken. Then comes the stir-frying portion. Let’s go over both in that order.

Ingredients

For the chicken marinade:

  • 1 ½ tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dry sherry
  • ½ teaspoon 5-spice powder
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1-pound (450g) boneless, skinless chicken breasts (cut into bite-size strips)

For the stir-fry:

  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil or peanut oil (for stir-frying), divided
  • 2 thin slices of ginger, divided
  • 1/2 medium onion (peeled and chopped)
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika (or to taste)
  • 4 ounces fresh mushrooms (sliced)
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine, sherry, water, or chicken broth (more as needed)
  • 3/4 cup cashews
  • 1 red bell pepper (cut into thin strips)
  • 2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

By now, your kitchen must smell like an herb garden. Let’s move on to the next stage—making the Princess chicken.

 Princess Chicken Preparation Instructions

First, the marinading.

  1. In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, sherry, five-spice powder, and cornstarch.
  2. Add the chicken. Make sure you coat all the strips in a layer of the marinade.
  3. Cover the bowl and let it marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Next, the stir-frying.

  1. Drop 2 tablespoons of the oil in a​ wok or large skillet. Wait for the oil to heat, then add one slice of ginger.
  2. Let the ginger brown for 2 or 3 minutes, then remove it and discard. We do this to flavor the oil.
  3. Add the chicken. Cook for 5 to 6 minutes until the chicken is cooked.
  4. Remove the chicken to a plate and wipe the wok or pan clean.
  5. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in the wok or pan.
  6. When the oil is hot, add the remaining slice of ginger, let it brown, then remove it. (The same as steps 4 and 5.)
  7. Add the onion and stir-fry for 1 minute.
  8. Stir in the paprika. Continue cooking the onion for another minute until it begins to soften.
  9. Move the onion to the edges of the wok or pan and add the mushrooms to the middle of the pan. To keep the shrooms from drying out, stir in a small amount of rice wine, water, or chicken broth as needed.
  10. Stir in the cashews.
  11. After a minute, stir in the red bell peppers.
  12. Stir-fry for another minute. Your total stir-fry time should be 2 to 3 minutes. Add the chicken back into the pan.
  13. Stir in the dark soy sauce and sugar.
  14. Cook for another minute to heat through, then remove your wok or pan from the heat and stir in the sesame oil.
  15. Serve over white or brown rice.

And that’s it! An oriental-themed chicken dish fit for a hungry Princess. 

Final thoughts.

The beauty of the recipe is that you’re free to swap other veggies as you like. Got family members who aren’t fans of spice? No worries. You can make your own five-spice powder at home and just use less Szechuan peppercorn. This is a flexible recipe.

Try this bit of culinary Kung Fu in your kitchen. We guarantee your family will love the exotic combination of tastes. And as always, let us know in the comments how your dish turns out!

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