From the Sichuan Province of China, Szechuan sauce is a sweet and spicy combination of soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, garlic, and spiciness!
This sauce gets its name from the Szechuan region of China, where Sichuan peppercorns are generously used.
These special peppercorns can be best described as having a spicy flavor and a mouth-numbing effect. This sauce is intended to be used in a stir-fry that uses Sichuan peppercorns and does not contain any on its own. We made this optional.
Because of this unique, and to many unpleasant, feeling, most American Szechuan dishes do not include the famed peppercorn. I do highly encourage you to try them — it is a unique feeling that is numbing, but not in heat or spice. You can find them online, in an Asian grocery store, and in the Asian section of many large grocery stores.
What is Szechuan Sauce?
Hailing from the Sichuan Province of China, this Szechuan sauce is a sweet and spicy sauce. It’s a combination of soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, garlic, and an element of heat which can be added using Sichuan peppercorns or other ingredients. This recipe calls for red pepper flakes with the option of using the peppercorns.
You may already have most of these simple ingredients in your pantry, which means you can easily whip this sauce up whenever you want!
- Low-Sodium Soy Sauce – Using a low-sodium sauce lets you better control the saltiness of the Szechuan sauce. If you prefer for it to be more salty, you can add more salt after combining the ingredients. Be sure to check the label if you’re trying to make your sauce gluten-free.
- Black Vinegar or Rice Vinegar – Either of these types of vinegar will balance the sauce with its acidity. Black vinegar adds another layer of umami flavor, but since it can be challenging to find sometimes, you can substitute rice vinegar instead.
- Brown Sugar – You can use either light or dark brown sugar. Dark brown sugar will give the sauce a more molasses-style flavor.
- Fresh Garlic – You can either mince or grate the garlic but be sure that it’s in very small pieces so that it combines well with the other ingredients.
- Crushed Red Pepper Flakes – Red pepper gives the sauce its spiciness. You may want to adjust based on your palate, and if you’re using the peppercorns.
- Sichuan Peppercorns – While optional, these peppercorns give the sauce its signature flavor.
- Cornstarch – Cornstarch is used in this recipe to thicken the sauce.
- Water – You’ll need to mix the cornstarch with water before you add it to the sauce.
What To Serve Szechuan Sauce With
While it is often used as a spicy stir-fry sauce, this Szechuan sauce can add a pop of flavor to tons of dishes. Use it as a dipping sauce for spring rolls, crab rangoons, Chinese dumplings, and even chicken nuggets. Or, spoon it over steamed veggies, shrimp, beef, chicken, or pork.
You can also stir it into rice bowls, use it to jazz up cauliflower rice, or toss it with soba noodles, or take sandwiches or pizza to the next level with it. And, don’t sleep on using it as a tasty marinade for proteins.
How to Make Szechuan Sauce
This sauce is incredibly easy to make. Just make sure to make the slurry with the cornstarch and water before adding it to the sauce to avoid lumps.
- Add ingredients to pan. Add the soy sauce, vinegar, brown sugar, garlic, and red pepper flakes, to small saucepan.
- Stir in peppercorns. Stir to combine and heat gently until it begins to bubble. Whisk in Szechuan peppercorns, if using.
- Make slurry. Make the slurry by whisking together cornstarch and water in a small mixing bowl.
- Add hot sauce. Add the hot sauce and stir together until smooth. Allow the sauce to continue to simmer briefly until it thickens.
- Remove from heat. Once the sauce is thick and glossy, take the pan off of the heat. Use immediately or place it in a blender and pulse until it reaches the desired consistency.
This Szechuan sauce recipe is easy to experiment with. Try all sorts of different ways to make it your own signature sauce.
- Spiciness – Increase the amount of crushed red pepper flakes to taste or add additional hot sauce for extra heat. You can also add fresh ginger for a little heat, too.
- Sweetness – Double the amount of brown sugar or add another sweetener like honey or maple syrup for a sweeter flavor that balances the spice. Even Hot Honey can be used.
- Garlic – Add extra cloves of minced or grated garlic for a stronger garlic flavor. While fresh is always best, in a pinch you can substitute garlic powder.
- Citrus – Add a splash of fresh lime or orange juice for a citrusy undertone.
- Umami – Mix in a tablespoon of hoisin sauce, fish sauce, or oyster sauce for an added depth of flavor.
- Soy-Free Alternative – Substitute the soy sauce with tamari or coconut aminos for a soy-free version.
- Vinegar – Experiment with different types of vinegar, such as balsamic or apple cider vinegar, for a unique twist.
- Nuttiness – Stir in sesame oil, peanut butter, or sesame paste for a nutty richness.
- Herbs – Infuse the sauce with fresh cilantro, green onions, or Thai basil for a herbal touch.
- Thickness – Adjust the cornstarch amount for a thicker or glossier consistency according to your preference.
Storage and Freezing
Szechuan sauce stays fresh for a while so it’s easy to make it ahead and add it to dishes when you need it!
Make this simple sauce on the weekend and use it all week long.
How to Store Szechuan Sauce
Store the sauce in an airtight container for up to 1 week in the refrigerator. Reheat it in the microwave or by stovetop.
How to Freeze Szechuan Sauce
Place in a freezer-safe container or resealable freezer bag in the freezer for up to 3 months. Thaw in the fridge overnight or use the defrost function of the microwave. Reheat as you would leftovers.
Common Questions About Szechuan Sauce
Szechuan sauce has ingredients that add layers of flavor from acidic vinegar and sweet brown sugar to spicy pepper and umami-laden soy sauce. Sichuan peppercorns are used to add heat to an authentic Szechuan sauce, but red pepper flakes can be used too.
Szechuan sauce is both sweet and spicy, making it a great sauce for adding tons of flavor to vegetables, proteins, and starches.
Sichuan peppers are typically very spicy but the spiciness of the sauce can be adjusted by using more or fewer peppercorns in the sauce.
Other Savory Sauces
A simple sauce is a great way to elevate any meal. Here are a few of our favorites that you will love too.
Homemade Szechuan Sauce Recipe
- 1/2 cup low sodium soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons black vinegar or rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 clove garlic minced or grated
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon sichuan peppercorns optional
- 1 tablespoon corn starch
- 1/4 cup water
- In a small saucepan, whisk together the soy sauce, vinegar, brown sugar, garlic and crushed red pepper. Heat over low heat until small bubbles form. If using sichuan peppercorns, add them now.
- In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and water. Whisk into the hot sauce until fully combined and no lumps remain (except for the pepper flakes).
- Continue to heat for another 2-3 minutes or until the sauce starts to thicken and becomes glossy.
- Remove from the heat until ready to use or pulse in a blender to make super smooth.