Start to Finish: 1 hour
Difficulty Level: Intermediate
The culinary traditions of China’s Hunan province inspired the orange chicken at Panda Express. Hunan cuisine is noted for bold flavors and colors, especially the use of fiery chilies. This recipe is inspired by the dish served at Panda Express. But it also includes several optional variations-- also influenced by Hunan-style cooking -- so that you can tailor it to your palette, enhancing the flavors you like best.
Spicy Orange Sauce
- 1 cup water
- 3/4 cup light brown sugar
- 1/4 cup rice vinegar
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons fresh red chilies, minced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh orange zest
- 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 cup cake flour
- 1/2 cup cornstarch
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 cups peanut or vegetable oil
Prepare the Sauce
Pour water into a saucepan over medium heat. Stir brown sugar into the water with a whisk, breaking any lumps.
Add rice vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, chilies, garlic, ginger, lemon juice, orange juice and orange zest. Whisk the ingredients slowly to incorporate them without splashing.
Allow the sauce to reach a slow but steady simmer. Cook the sauce until it starts to thicken, approximately 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting to keep the sauce warm while you prepare the chicken.
Cut and Bread the Chicken
Cut chicken breasts into 1-inch cubes. Cover and refrigerate the chicken until you are ready to bread it.
Beat the eggs and milk with a fork in a medium bowl to make a thin egg wash. Blend cake flour, cornstarch, salt and pepper with a different fork in a second bowl. Set the bowls side-by-side on your work surface.
Dredge the chicken in the flour mixture, coating each cube thoroughly but lightly. You can dredge them in batches or all at once, separating the pieces with your fingers to an even coating.
Transfer the cubes to the egg mixture. Turn them over with a fork to coat them. Use the fork to scoop a piece of chicken out of the bowl, allowing excess liquid to drip back into the egg wash.
Place the egg-dipped chicken back into the flour mixture to apply a final coating. The breading should be relatively thin.
Stir-Fry the Chicken and Sauce
Open a kitchen window or turn on an above-stove fan to increase air circulation. Stir-frying generates a lot of smoke.
Place a wire cooling rack on a baking sheet and set it to the side. Heat the oven to 150 degrees Fahrenheit.
Heat a wok or deep, heavy-bottomed skillet on your stove’s highest heat setting. The pan should be smoking hot. Flick a little water into the pan to test; it's sufficiently heated when the beads of water evaporate in 1 to 2 seconds.
Add 1/2 cup of oil to the pan, gently angling the pan to coat the bottom. Place 1/4 of the breaded chicken in the pan, spreading it in an even layer with a spatula or slotted spoon.
Allow the chicken to cook without stirring it or moving the pan for about 1 minute. Start turning the chicken pieces over with a spatula or spoon to cook the reverse sides. Stir or toss the chicken gently but continuously until the pieces turn golden brown.
Transfer the chicken to the cooling rack. Placing breaded, fried foods on paper towels traps steam and softens the crispy coating. Draining the chicken on a cooling rack keeps the pieces crispy. Place the baking sheet in the oven to keep the chicken warm and out of the temperature “danger zone,” in which food-borne illness grows rapidly.
Pour used oil into a disposal container. Wipe out the wok with paper towels.
Reheat the wok on high heat. Add another 1/2 cup of oil followed by a portion of the chicken. Repeat the stir-frying and cleaning steps to cook the remaining portions of chicken. Add each cooked portion to the cooling rack then return the baking sheet to the oven.
Reduce the heat on the stove to medium-high. Transfer all of the chicken back to the wok after you wipe it out the final time. Pour the spicy orange sauce into the pan. Stir or toss the ingredients to coat the chicken thoroughly.
Enhance the dish by adding extra ingredients to the pan after you incorporate the sauce and chicken:
- 1/2 cup of diced, cooked bacon
- 1 cup of chopped green onions
- 1 cup Mandarin orange segments
- 1 to 2 tablespoons of toasted sesame seeds
Cured pork belly -- similar to American bacon -- is a common ingredient in Hunan cuisine.
Garnish orange chicken with orange zest or thin slices of oranges. Embellish a large family-style dish of orange chicken with whole Mandarin oranges or segments.
Serve orange chicken with steamed white rice or vegetable fried rice.
Substitutions and Alternatives
Substitute 1 teaspoon of dried orange zest for the recommended volume of fresh zest if necessary.
You can use dark brown sugar in place of light brown sugar.
Rice vinegar is the traditional choice for Asian-inspired recipes. But apple cider vinegar is an appropriate substitute.
Substitute 1 teaspoon of dried red pepper flakes for fresh chilies if desired.
Use 1/4 teaspoon of dried, powdered ginger instead of fresh ginger.
Cake flour is milled to an exceptionally fine consistency, so it yields a finer, thinner crust. But all-purpose flour is also acceptable. Add 1 1/4 cups of all-purpose flour to the breading if you use it in place of cake flour.
Lamar Grey has been writing about cooking and food culture since 2010. He has ghostwritten eight cookbooks. Grey entered the culinary industry in 2003 as a prep cook in a full-service restaurant. He subsequently served as a baker and head cook on three award-winning kitchen staffs.