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Difference Between Szechuan and Hunan Chicken

Szechuan vs Hunan Chicken

Every corner in the world has a place for Chinese cuisine. And two of the most favorite dishes among the omnifarious Oriental gastronomy are Szechuan and Hunan Chicken. Regardless of their same country of origin, the said dishes aren’t quite alike. They differ in composition, consistency and spiciness, distinctive of the Chinese regions that they originated from. Furthermore, to gain better understanding of the intrinsic characteristics of their regional categories, we shall also define what differentiates Szechuan and Hunan cuisines from one another.
Szechuan cuisine (also spelled Szechwan or Sichuan) is a style of Chinese cooking originating in Sichuan Province of southwestern China famed for bold flavors, particularly the pungency and spiciness resulting from generous servings of garlic and chili peppers, as well as the unique flavor of the Sichuan peppercorn, an intensively fragrant, citrus-like spice that produces a “tingly-numbing” sensation in the mouth. Peanuts, sesame paste and ginger are among the distinguishing ingredients. Add to that the dynamic taste brought about by pickling, drying and salting methods. Belonging to this class, is Szechuan Chicken. Its sauce is a chili garlic paste made with whole or ground chili. Fundamentally, it is comprised of these ingredients: boneless, skinless chicken breasts, egg whites and cornstarch for the meat, and Shao Xing rice wine, dry sherry or cooking wine, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce or chili paste, sesame oil, soy sauce, brown sugar, cayenne pepper, crushed red chilies, minced ginger, carrot strips, sliced red bell peppers, chopped green onions, and vegetable oil for the sauce. It is then cooked by frying the battered chicken, stir-frying the vegetables, and lastly mixing the sauce, stir-frying everything for a minute or two. Szechuan chicken is best served with steamed rice. The dish is very easy to cook. Taste-wise, it renders a good mix of sweet and spicy.
Conversely, Hunan cuisine, also known as Xiang cuisine, originally comes from the Xiang River region, Dongting Lake and Western Hunan Province. Even though, it is subdivided base on the three mentioned regions, it is identified by its ‘mala’, a hot and numbing seasoning. Like Szechuan cooking, it employs liberal amount of chili peppers, garlic, and in addition, shallot. But as opposed to Szechuan, it is more prominent for being dry /purely hot and, most of the time, oilier. It is said, however, that Hunan cuisine tends to be purer and simpler in taste as compared to Szechuan. It is generally comprised of a wide range of fresh ingredients and combines these with smoked and cured meat. What makes it unique is that its menu changes depending on the season. Local ingredients are optimized to complement the season. Cold meats with chilies help locals keep cool in the summer, while hot and spicy pots help them keep warm during winter. Most recipes for Hunan chicken includes: bite-size chicken meat, light soy sauce, sherry, shredded ginger, cut small hot chili peppers, scallion, chicken broth, wine vinegar, sugar, salt, powdered anise pepper and cornstarch. First, the chicken is marinated with soy sauce, sherry, ginger mixture for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, the rest of the liquid ingredients are mixed separately. The vegetables are then stir-fried for a couple of minutes. After which, everything is mixed in and cooked in low heat until the chicken becomes tender. This dish is, as well, best paired with rice. Hunan chicken tends to be spicier, yet plainer in taste.
1) Szechuan and Hunan Chicken are Chinese dishes originating from two different regions.
2) They are both composed of a great deal of chilies and garlic. Hunan, however, is generally hotter in flavor than the Szechuan dish.
3) Szechuan chicken result in a good mix of sweet and spicy while Hunan chicken is plainer and hotter.

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  1. To identify Hunan cuisine from Sichuan cuisine, Chinese people identify the different kinds of ‘heat’ or spicyness.
    Sichuan cuisine is referred to as ‘mala’ meaning numbing (ma) and hot (la).
    Hunan cuisine is referred to as ‘ganla’ meaning dry (gan) and hot (la).

    Hunan cuisine is indeed more spicy than Sichuan cuisine. But Sichuan cuisine usually leaves a longer spicy and tingling sensation in your mouth than Hunan cuisine.

  2. I love this article. Thank you. Difference explained!…(and so much better than the other things I’ve read). And thanks so much to Eric for the translation comment!

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