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Chinese Orange Chicken

This orange chicken is a Panda Express copycat with crispy chicken in a sweet and tangy orange sauce.  Serve with white rice and steamed broccoli.

A plate of panda express (copycat) orange chicken

I feel a little funny calling this recipe “chinese orange chicken” because it is a really Chinese-American dish. 

In fact, this version of orange chicken is almost unknown in China.  Like sesame chicken, orange chicken is actually a variation of General Tso’s chicken. 

Traditional Chinese orange chicken is made with sliced fresh chicken not the battered and fried like in American “Chinese” restaurants.  Also, it is flavored flavored with dried orange or tangerine peel.

This version of orange chicken is claimed to have been developed in a Panda Express in 1987. 

Supposedly, Chef Andy Kao was working on developing a new recipe when customers came in, smelled the dish, and ordered it right away.

WHY IS SESAME OIL OPTIONAL?

Sesame oil is relatively expensive and adds more calories to an already fattening dish.  Most recipes require it and if you have it on hand you are welcome to use it. 

Personally though, I don’t think it makes enough of a difference to the flavor to require it and when making this dish I usually leaving it out.

DARK MEAT VS WHITE MEAT

Most people have a preference between eating white meat or dark meat.  They both certainly have their benefits and detriments in this recipe.  

White meat has the benefit of being lean, more readily available as boneless and skinless, and it cooks quickly. 

Dark meat is juicer and does not dry out as quickly making it a safer choice.

At the end of the day, you can use either white or dark meat for this recipe.  The choice is yours.  I often just choose based on what I have on hand.

GLUTEN FREE OPTION

For a gluten free alternative, use corn starch or potato starch instead of flour. They both fry very nicely.

HOW TO DREDGE CHICKEN

DOUBLE HANDED

Use one hand to dip the chicken in the egg and the other to roll it in flour.

By using both hands you avoid getting thick layers of batter on your fingers known as “club hand.”

CONTAINER TECHNIQUE

Place half the flour at the bottom of a container. Add the chicken and cover with the remaining flour.

Cover with a lid and shake for a few minutes. Each piece should come out well coated.

A WORD ON OIL

When frying chicken the temperature of the oil is important.

If it’s too cold the chicken will be oily. On the other hand, if the oil is too hot the crust will fall off.

With a thermometer it should about 350°F or 175°C to 375°F or 190°C degrees.

If you don’t have a thermometer, when the oil seems hot drop a little flour into the oil.

If the flour sizzles and floats on the top it’s hot enough.

To make sure it’s not too hot keep it around medium-low and adjust as needed.

Non-Deep fried version

For a shallow fried version follow the frying steps I use in my Chinese lemon chicken but use this sauce instead.

IS KOSHER CHICKEN BETTER?

Yes and no. 

It is not necessarily healthier as far as bacteria is concerned, since bacteria can only safely be killed with heat. 

What is better is the quality of the chicken.

The salting process used to remove blood, as part of the koshering process, is believed to provide better quality meat.  

It creates a sort of quick dry brine.

Also, kosher animals are kept in better conditions than nonkosher animals, due to strict kosher health requirements of the animals.  They are also killed in arguably more humane conditions.

While I’ve only eaten kosher meat (so I cannot compare), I’ve been told by non-Jews who do not keep kosher that they’ve noticed that kosher chicken is of superior quality to cook with.

SHOULD YOU WASH CHICKEN?

According to the USDA, you should not wash chicken or meat because washing it spreads bacteria throughout the kitchen.

Water can splash bacteria up to 3 feet surrounding your sink, including onto counter tops, other food, towels and you (i.e. cross contamination).

A study done by Drexel University shows that it is best to move meat and poultry directly from package to pan.  The heat from cooking will kill any bacteria that may be present.

One exception would be if there are bone fragments or residue from giblets, as in a roasting chicken. In that case, feel free to rinse if you like.  However, make sure you wipe down your sink afterwards.

HOW CAN I CLEAN MY CHICKEN WITHOUT WASHING IT?

If you want to clean your chicken without washing it, wipe it down with a wet paper towel. This will remove anything other than bacteria.

Just make sure the paper towel doesn’t touch anything else and to toss the paper towel right away.

HOW TO DEFROST CHICKEN

IN THE FRIDGE

This method is the most highly recommended. Chicken typically takes a full day to thaw. Once thawed, the poultry can remain in the refrigerator for a day or two before cooking.

IN COLD WATER

This should take two to three hours.  Submerge your sealed chicken in a pot or bowl full of cold water.  Change out the water every 30 minutes or so. 

Do not use warm or hot water.  It is unhealthy to do so, can start cooking your chicken, and doesn’t do so evenly.

COOK IT FROZEN

According to the USDA, you can cook frozen chicken.  It will take 50% longer to cook, but it’s an option.  You should also cook it on a roasting rack or over vegetables, so the heat can circulate around the chicken.

IS IT SAFE TO REFREEZE RAW CHICKEN

If you have extra raw chicken that you didn’t use but want to refreeze, you can, as long as it was thawed in the fridge.

According to the USDA,“food thawed in the refrigerator is safe to refreeze without cooking.”  However, you do lose quality when refreezing previously defrosted meat. 

Every time you defrost meat, it loses moisture through thawing, which also leads to a loss in flavor.  To compensate for this, marinate the meat to add more flavor and juice.”

The USDA also says not to “refreeze any foods left outside the refrigerator longer than 2 hours; 1 hour in temperatures above 90 °F.”

SHOULD YOU BRINE?

No.  Brining actually doesn’t do anything to help poultry.  In fact, it makes it soggy rather than juicy, with watered down flavor. 

Aromatic brines and stock don’t help with flavor either.  This is because the salt pulls water molecules in, leaving most of the flavor behind.

DRY BRINING

A dry brine loosens up muscle fibers, allowing them to retain more moisture as without adding any excess liquid. 

Initially, the salt draws moisture out, then it dissolves in this liquid, creating a concentrated brine, which eventually gets reabsorbed.  This leads to more intensely flavored results.

An added benefit is that it also requires less space and mess than a water brine.  Not to mention the fact that it allows for crispier skin. 

CAN YOU DRY BRINE KOSHER POULTRY AND MEAT?

Yes.  Food experts are often under the impression that kosher meat and poultry cannot be brined and dry brined. 

This is because of the koshering process which involves salting the meat to remove the blood.  However, the process is not nearly as long as the dry brining process, and unlike a dry brine, the poultry is soaked to remove the salt.

So, since the process is quite different than a dry brine, it is fine and even recommended to dry brine kosher poultry and meat.

HOW TO STORE CHICKEN

Place cooled chicken in an airtight container or wrap in heavy-duty aluminum foil or plastic wrap.  Store in the fridge for up to 4 days.

HOW TO FREEZE CHICKEN

Freeze leftovers within 3-4 days.  Place cooled chicken in an airtight container or resealable freezer bag. 

Freeze for up to 4 months.  After that, it is safe to eat. However, the quality begins to degrade.

Recipe SNAFU

The first time I made this recipe the batter came out much too thick.  I thought of cutting down the flour by half a cup.  Instead, I decided to add a tablespoon of water at a time until I reached the right consistency. 

Yield: 4 servings

Chinese Orange Chicken

A plate of panda express (copycat) orange chicken

This orange chicken is a Panda Express copycat with crispy chicken in a sweet and tangy orange sauce.

Ingredients

Chicken

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (190 grams)
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch (65 grams)
  • 1/2 tablespoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • 2/3 cup water (155 milliliters)
  • 1 tablespoons oil
  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch cubes (455 grams)
  • 3 cups oil, for frying (700 milliliters)

ORANGE SAUCE

  • 1/2 tablespoon oil
  • pinch chili flake
  • 1/2 tablespoon garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger, minced
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil, optional

Instructions

  1. Whisk together salt, cornstarch, and flour in a medium size mixing bowl.
  2. Add the egg, water, and oil until it reaches the consistency of pancake batter. If for some reason it comes out too thick, add a little water at a time until it reaches the right consistency.
  3. Add the chicken to the batter.  Refrigerate at least 30 minutes.
  4. Heat oil to 350˚F or 175˚C.  If you don’t have a thermometer drop a little batter into the pan and see if it fries.  If it does, the oil is hot enough.
  5. Gently add the chicken making sure not to crowd the pan.  Fry until lightly golden brown.  
  6. Remove the chicken and place on a paper towel-lined plate.

Sauce

  1. Heat oil in a heavy bottomed pot over medium-high heat.  Once the oil begins to shimmer, add red pepper flakes, ginger, and garlic.  Cook for 30 seconds, stirring constantly.
  2. Add orange juice, vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, and brown sugar. Stir to combine.
  3. Combine cornstarch and water to make a slurry.
  4. Continue to cook the sauce has a syrup consistency.
  5. Add in the fried chicken and stir until completely coated in the sauce.  Top with sesame oil.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

4

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 548Total Fat: 16gSaturated Fat: 4gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 12gCholesterol: 185mgSodium: 1237mgCarbohydrates: 65gFiber: 2gSugar: 12gProtein: 34g

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