That Spicy Chick

Chicken in Vinegar Sauce (Sichuan Cu Liu Ji)

Juicy chicken pieces, fragrant aromatics, pickled chilies, crunchy bamboo shoots and snow peas get stir-fried in a perfectly balanced and mouthwatering tangy, savory-sweet and spicy sauce! This Chicken in Vinegar Sauce stir-fry is quick and easy to make in under 30 minutes, super tasty with a bowl of steamed rice, and perfect for busy weeknights!

Friends, today I’m sharing a quick and easy spicy Sichuan stir-fry that you’re going to want to add to your repertoire.

This Chicken in Vinegar Sauce dish is full of juicy and tender chicken pieces, plenty of garlic, a little ginger, fresh and dried chilies, the highly addictive Lao Gan Ma pickled chilies sauce, and crisp and crunchy veggies like bamboo shoots and snow peas in a delicious tangy and savory-sweet sauce!

And THAT sauce is ridiculously tasty with a bowl of steamed rice! 🤤

I adapted Fuchsia Dunlop’s culiu ji (Chicken in a Delicate Vinegar Sauce) recipe from The Food of Sichuan and simplified it into a very quick and easy weeknight stir-fry. In my version of this dish, there’s no egg white in the marinade (and wondering what to use the yolk for 🙄 ). Nor is there the need to blanch or fry the chicken in a lot of oil before adding it back to the stir-fry.

However, a simple chicken marinade with potato starch still yields wonderfully tender and juicy chicken pieces.

As for the veggies, any crisp and crunchy veggies like bell peppers or celery can replace the bamboo shoots if they’re hard to find where you are. 👌

Closeup front view of plate with chicken stir-fry.

Why This Recipe Works

  • Quick and easy to make. It’s a one wok wonder that’s ready in 30 minutes and perfect for busy weeknights!
  • Expert technique for juicy chicken pieces. The chicken gets marinated with seasonings and potato starch, which creates a lovely coating to keep the meat inside tender. It’s par-cooked first before finishing cooking in the stir-fry. The final result is tender and flavorful chicken pieces.
  • Contrasting textures. The tender chicken pieces complement the texture of the crunchy bamboo shoots and crisp snow peas.
  • Customizable spice level. The spicy ingredients can easily be adjusted to suit your heat level preference.
  • DELICIOUS sauce! Chinkiang vinegar, soy sauce, and sugar create the perfect balance of sour, savory and sweet to drape the chicken and veggies. It tastes incredible with a bowl steamed rice!

Ingredient Notes and Substitutes

Labeled ingredients for Chicken in Vinegar Sauce (Cu Liu Ji) on a wooden board.
Fresh & Pantry Ingredients
  • Marinated Chicken: I used boneless and skinless chicken breasts, but boneless and skinless chicken thighs can be used instead if preferred. Although chicken breasts have a bad reputation for drying out and becoming tough, the shortened cook time in this quick and easy stir-fry yields tender and juicy pieces. We’ll be marinating the chicken with kosher salt, low sodium light soy sauce, Shao Xing rice wine, sesame oil, and potato starch (or use corn starch).
  • Bamboo shoots: This is the tender edible part of the bamboo plant and is available in canned, fresh, and frozen form. I used pre-sliced canned bamboo shoots for convenience, which can be found at Asian supermarkets and Thai grocery stores. We’ll be blanching them first to get rid of the processed taste. If using fresh winter bamboo shoots, you’ll need to boil them for a few minutes longer before draining and using in this stir-fry. You can substitute with peeled and julienned celtuce or diced celery in a pinch. Or use diced bell peppers (any color) for a similar crunchy texture.
  • Lao Gan Ma Pickled Chilies Sauce: Traditionally, pickled fresh er jing tiao chilies (pao la jiao – 泡辣椒) is used in this dish in the Sichuan region. As it’s not easily available outside of China, I used Lao Gan Ma Pickled Chilies sauce. It’s made from a blend of chopped hot red chilies, water, salt, MSG, and potassium sorbate (food preservative) and has a hot and tangy flavor. It tastes DELICIOUS and is highly addictive! Try finding it in an Asian supermarket or purchase it online. The best substitute would be sambal oelek in this application. Second best would chopped Mexican or Thai pickled red chilies.
  • Snow Peas: Sugar snap peas can be used instead too.
  • Fresh Bird’s Eye Red Chilies. Adjust quantity to taste to suit your heat level preference. You can use any other small hot red chilies you like.
  • Dried Red Chilies: Although not traditionally used, I added spicy Chinese Xiao Mi La dried red chilies for extra heat. You can use any type of small medium to hot Chinese or Thai dried red chilies that are easily available to you. Since Thai Bird’s Eye dried red chilies tend to be hotter than most Chinese dried red chilies, I recommend using fewer pieces. Use less pieces and shake out the seeds to make this dish milder, or omit completely.
  • Peanut Oil: Or use any neutral cooking oil with a high smoke point.
Labeled sauce ingredients and measuring cup with stir-fry sauce.
Stir-fry Sauce Ingredients
  • Chinkiang Vinegar: Also called Zhenjiang vinegar. This is a Chinese black vinegar made from glutinous rice. It has a strong tangy flavor with savory and sweet undertones. Look for it in an Asian or Chinese supermarket. In a pinch, substitute with half balsamic and half white vinegar.
  • Shao Xing Rice Wine: A Chinese cooking wine with a floral aroma that’s commonly used in Chinese stir-fries for marinades and sauces. It is available in Chinese and Asian supermarkets and can also be found in a few mainstream supermarkets these days. Substitute with dry sherry if unavailable or use apple juice if you prefer not to cook with alcohol.
  • White Sugar: To balance out the savory and tangy flavors. One whole tablespoon may sound like a lot, but it is needed to balance out the salty flavors from the pickled chilies sauce and acidity from Chinkiang vinegar.
  • Potato Starch: Just like corn starch, potato starch is commonly used in Asian cuisine as a thickening agent for sauces, in marinades, and for developing a crispy coating when deep frying foods. Substitute with corn starch if unavailable.
  • Water: Or you can use low sodium chicken stock for more flavor.
  • Pure Chili Oil: A pure Chinese chili oil without seeds or flakes. Use less or omit it for a milder dish.

Full ingredient list and amounts are in the recipe card below.

Top view of plate with chicken in vinegar sauce stir-fry dish.

How to Make Chicken in Vinegar Sauce (Sichuan Cu Liu Ji)

1. Cook the marinated chicken. Stir-fry in oil until 80% cooked. Transfer to a fine mesh strainer held above the wok to allow the excess oil to drip back in. Tip the chicken into a clean bowl and set aside.

2. Sauté the pickled chilies sauce. Remove all but 3 tablespoons of oil from the wok and heat over medium heat. Add the pickled chilies sauce and sauté for a few seconds.

Cooking marinated chicken and sautéing pickled chilies sauce in wok.

3. Stir-fry the aromatics. Add and stir-fry the spring onion white and light green parts, ginger, and garlic until fragrant.

4. Stir-fry the chilies. Both the fresh Bird’s Eye and dried red chilies until combined well.

5. Stir-fry the bamboo shoots and snow peas. Toss for a minute until starting to soften.

6. Add the chicken and sauce. Stir-fry for a minute until everything is coated well in the sauce it slightly thickens.

Process steps to make chicken in vinegar sauce (cu liu ji) stir-fry in wok.

7. Toss through spring onion dark green parts. Briefly to combine, then switch off the heat.

Added spring onion green parts to chicken stir-fry in a wok.

Serve! Transfer to a serving plate and sprinkle with more spring onion. Serve immediately with warm steamed rice!

Top view of plate with chicken in vinegar sauce stir-fry dish.

Full detailed instructions are in the recipe card below.

Cook’s Tips

  • Adjust spice level to taste. Use less (or omit) the fresh red chilies and dried red chilies from the stir-fry to make it milder. Shake out the seeds from the dried red chilies too. You can also leave out the pure chili oil in the sauce.
  • Prepare everything before you start cooking. As with most stir-fries, this one is ready very quickly. Have everything prepped and by the side of your wok before you switch on the stove.
  • Use a large heavy bottomed frying pan if you don’t own a wok. A nonstick carbon steel or cast iron wok is ideal and will deliver the signature wok hei (“breath of the wok”) to the stir-fry. However, a deep heavy bottomed frying pan would be the next best option if you don’t own a wok.
  • Don’t use too much of the liquid from the pickled chilies sauce jar. The liquid in the jar is quite salty and you want to use more of the solid chopped pickled chilies than liquid.
Chopsticks holding up a chicken piece above plate with stir-fry dish.

FAQs

Does Chinkiang vinegar need to be refrigerated?

Due to the acidic nature of vinegar, Chinkiang vinegar does not need to be refrigerated but should be stored in a cool dark area. Be sure to seal the bottle’s cap on tightly after each use before putting it back into your pantry or cabinet.

Is Chinkiang vinegar gluten-free?

Chinkiang vinegar is made from water, glutinous rice, wheat bran, sugar, and salt and is not gluten-free. However, using half balsamic and half white vinegar would make a great gluten-free substitute and yield a similar flavor.

Chopsticks holding up a chicken piece and stir-fry on a plate. Text overlay "Chicken in Vinegar Sauce", "Sichuan Cu Liu Ji", and "thatspicychick.com".

More Sichuan and Chinese Stir-fries


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Top view of plate with chicken in vinegar sauce stir-fry dish.

Chicken in Vinegar Sauce (Sichuan Cu Liu Ji)

5 from 1 reviews

Juicy chicken pieces, fragrant aromatics, pickled chilies, and crunchy bamboo shoots and snow peas get stir-fried in a mouthwatering tangy, savory-sweet and spicy sauce! This Chicken in Vinegar Sauce stir-fry is quick and easy to make in under 30 minutes and super tasty with a bowl of steamed rice!

  • Author: Lavina
  • Prep Time: 15
  • Cook Time: 10
  • Total Time: 25 minutes
  • Yield: 4 1x
  • Category: Dinner
  • Method: Stir-fry
  • Cuisine: Sichuan
Scale

Ingredients

For the Chicken Marinade:

  • 340 grams / 12 ounces Chicken Breast (or thighs), boneless, skinless – cleaned and pat-dried, cut into ¾-inch cubes
  • ¼ TSP Kosher Salt
  • 1 TBLS Low Sodium Light Soy Sauce
  • 2 TSP Shao Xing Rice Wine (see note 1)
  • ½ TSP Sesame Oil
  • 2 TSP Potato Starch (or Corn Starch)

For the Sauce:

  • 1 TBLS White Sugar
  • 1/8 TSP Kosher Salt
  • 1 TSP Potato Starch (or Corn Starch)
  • 1 TBLS + 2 TSP Chinkiang Vinegar (see note 1)
  • 1 TBLS Shao Xing Rice Wine
  • 1 TSP Sesame Oil
  • 1 TSP Pure Chili Oil (optional – without flakes/seeds)
  • ¼ cup Water (or Low Sodium Chicken Stock)

For the Stir-fry:

  • ¼ cup Peanut Oil (or any neutral cooking oil with a high smoke point)
  • 3 TBLS Lao Gan Ma Pickled Chilies Sauce (or Sambal Oelek – (see note 2)
  • 45 Garlic Cloves – minced
  • 1 TBLS minced Ginger
  • 1 Spring Onion (Scallion/Green Onion) – finely chopped, white and light green parts separated from dark green parts
  • 26 fresh Red Chilies (Thai Bird’s Eye or any other small hot red chilies – see note 3), to taste – finely chopped
  • 80 grams / about ½ cup sliced canned Bamboo Shoots (or use fresh – see note 4)
  • 50 grams / 1.75 ounces Snow Peas – ends trimmed and hair parts removed
  • 310 Dried Red Chilies (see note 5), to taste – snipped into ½-inch pieces

Instructions

Prep:

  1. Marinate the chicken: Clean and pat-dry the chicken breasts. Cut into ¾-inch cubes. Add to a medium bowl, along with the kosher salt, low sodium light soy sauce, Shao Xing rice wine, sesame oil, and potato starch. Mix well to combine, then set aside to marinate for 15 minutes.
  2. Make the sauce: Mix together the white sugar, kosher salt, potato starch, Chinkiang vinegar, Shao Xing rice wine, sesame oil, pure chili oil (if using), and water in a small measuring cup (for easier pouring) or bowl until combined well.
  3. Prepare the fresh/dry ingredients: Prepare the garlic, ginger, spring onion) separate the white and light green parts from the dark green parts), fresh red chilies, bamboo shoots, snow peas, and dried red chilies as indicated in the ‘ingredients’ section.
  4. Blanch the bamboo shoots: Bring a pot of water to a boil and add sliced bamboo shoots. Boil for 1-2 minutes. Drain into a fine mesh strainer and run cold water on top to stop the cooking process.

For the Chicken in Vinegar Sauce Stir-fry:

  1. Cook the chicken: Heat ¼ cup peanut oil in a large wok over high heat. Once hot, add the marinated chicken and immediately spread the pieces out in the wok. Allow to cook for 30 seconds, then stir-fry for a minute or until the chicken is 80% cooked. Switch off the heat. Hold a fine mesh strainer above the wok and transfer the chicken pieces into it, allowing the excess oil to drip back into the wok. Tip the chicken into a clean bowl and set aside. Remove all but 3 tablespoons of oil from the wok.
  2. Sauté the pickled chilies sauce: Heat the oil in the wok over medium heat. Add the pickled chilies sauce and sauté for 20 seconds.
  3. Stir-fry the aromatics: Add the spring onion white and light green parts, ginger, and garlic. Stir-fry for 20-30 seconds until fragrant.
  4. Add the chilies: Add the fresh red chilies and Chinese dried red chilies and stir-fry briefly to combine.
  5. Stir-fry the veggies: Add the bamboo shoots and snow peas and stir-fry for 1 minute until combined well and they start to soften.
  6. Add the chicken and sauce: Give the sauce a quick stir with a spoon to loosen up the potato starch that will have settled at the bottom. Add the partially cooked chicken back into the wok and pour the sauce over everything. Stir-fry for a minute until everything is coated well in the sauce it slightly thickens.
  7. Toss through spring onion: Toss through most of the spring onion dark green parts (reserve 1 tablespoon for garnish) then switch off the heat.
  8. To Serve: Transfer to a serving plate or dish and garnish with the remaining spring onion. Serve immediately with warm steamed rice.

Notes

  1. Asian Pantry Sauces. Shao Xing rice wine (Chinese cooking wine) and Chinkiang vinegar (Chinese black vinegar) can be found in an Asian or Chinese supermarket, some mainstream supermarkets that are well-stocked with international ingredients, and online. Substitute dry sherry for Shao Xing rice wine (or apple juice for a nonalcoholic substitute). Substitute half white and half balsamic vinegar for Chinkiang vinegar if unavailable.
  2. Lao Gan Ma Pickled Chilies Sauce: Traditionally, pickled fresh er jing tiao chilies (pao la jiao – 泡辣椒) is used in this dish in the Sichuan region. As it’s not easily available outside of China, I used Lao Gan Ma Pickled Chilies sauce. It’s made from a blend of chopped hot red chilies, water, salt, MSG, and potassium sorbate (food preservative) and has a hot and tangy flavor. It tastes DELICIOUS and is highly addictive! Try finding it in an Asian supermarket or purchase it online. The best substitute would be sambal oelek in this application. Second best would chopped Mexican or Thai pickled red chilies.
  3. Fresh Bird’s Eye Red Chilies. Adjust quantity to taste (or omit for a milder dish) to suit your heat level preference. You can use any other small hot red chilies you like.
  4. Bamboo Shoots. This is the tender edible part of the bamboo plant and is available in canned, fresh, and frozen form. I used pre-sliced canned bamboo shoots for convenience, which can be found at Asian supermarkets and Thai grocery stores. Leftovers will keep in a sealed airtight jar filled with water in the fridge for 1-2 weeks if you change the water daily. If using fresh winter bamboo shoots, you’ll need to boil them for a few minutes longer before draining and using in this stir-fry. Substitute with peeled and julienned celtuce or celery if unavailable. Or use diced bell peppers (any color) for a similar crunchy texture.
  5. Dried Red Chilies. I used spicy Chinese Xiao Mi La dried red chilies, but any type of small Chinese or Thai dried red chilies can be used. Note that Thai Bird’s Eye dried red chilies tend to be hotter than most Chinese dried red chilies. I recommend using fewer pieces if using them. To make this dish milder, shake out the seeds after snipping the dried chilies.

Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 1 serving
  • Calories: 306
  • Sugar: 10.7g
  • Sodium: 278.3mg
  • Fat: 16.1g
  • Saturated Fat: 2.7g
  • Unsaturated Fat: 11.5g
  • Trans Fat: 0g
  • Carbohydrates: 19.8g
  • Fiber: 2.6g
  • Protein: 22.5g
  • Cholesterol: 62.1mg

The nutritional information provided is approximate and can vary based on several factors. It should only be used as a general guideline. For more information, please see our Disclosure.

This post may contain affiliate links. We are a part of the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you) by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. The nutritional information provided is approximate and can vary based on several factors. It should only be used as a general guideline. For more information, please see our Disclosure.