Friday, April 3, 2009

Friday Dinner: Panda Express Orange Chicken

There's something about Panda Express's orange chicken. It's not 'real' Chinese food, it's fast food, and yet there is something. Something awesomely yummy. I love a bowl of orange chicken with some fake chow mein and doused with liberally with Sriracha hot sauce. I don't have it very often, for health reasons (and on principle, to avoid Panda Express), but I would be the last person to try and claim that it isn't yummy.

When I found a copycat recipe online for this very orange chicken, I brought it up with Trix as a dinner possibility, and being that she is only human, she said, "If it's wrong, I don't want to be right." It seems a fitting last Friday dinner. Gasp! Why last? Because we're moving to Mondays. Same bat channel, but different bat time. Anyway, back to this Friday dinner.

Here's the thing about Panda's orange chicken -- there's actually no orange in it. They might try and fool us by placing slices of orange in the pan afterward, but the flavoring doesn't actually have any orange (possibly it was named after the color of the glaze once on the chicken?). This recipe calls for an optional amount of orange zest, which I used, and I can confirm: way too orangey for Panda's orange chicken. But that's not to say it wasn't worth adding.

The chicken in Panda's version has a much harder/crunchier coating -- possibly fixed by frying the pieces of chicken for longer, or giving it a thicker coating. The chicken in the homemade version is much more tender, however, and longer frying might compromise that. Many comments to the copycat recipe indicated that doubling the sauce would be a good idea, so we did, and we concur that that's a good idea. One change we'd make, however, is that rather than adding to the just-boiled sauce, we'd thicken it first, then add the chicken. That might help the chicken retain some crispness.

And now, a pictorial of the efforts Trix and I made...

Here's Trix's chicken frying (I used my deep fryer, so there's really nothing to see):

Here's about half my chicken draining on a paper towel:

Trix's chicken in the thickened sauce:

My chicken, plated. It probably would have looked more attractive if I hadn't heaped the entire portion on there, but oh well:

Trix's chicken, plated:

And now here is our improved copycat recipe for orange chicken, which is very good, even if not exactly like Panda Express's.

Orange Chicken

  • 2 lbs boneless skinless chicken, chopped into bite sized pieces
  • 1 egg
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • Pinch of white pepper
  • 2 tbsp oil, divided, plus more oil for frying
  • ½ cup + 1 tbsp cornstarch, divided
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 1 tbsp ginger, minced
  • 1 tsp garlic, minced
  • ½ tsp crushed hot red chili pepper
  • ¼ cup green onion, chopped
  • 1 tbsp rice wine
  • ¼ cup water
  • Zest of ½ an orange (optional)

For the “Orange” Sauce

  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp water
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup white vinegar


  1. In a large bowl, mix together the egg, salt, pepper, and 1 tbsp of oil. Mix well. Stir in the chicken pieces.
  2. In medium bowl, stir together the flour and ½ cup cornstarch. Add the chicken pieces, stirring to coat.
  3. Heat oil for deep frying in a wok or deep fryer to 375°F.
  4. Add the chicken, small batches at a time, and fry for 4-5 minutes until golden crisp (but avoid overcooking the chicken). When done remove the chicken from the oil with tongs and drain on paper towels.
  5. Clean the wok if you used it and heat for 15 seconds over high heat. Lower to medium high and add 1 tbsp of oil.
  6. Add the ginger and garlic and stir try until fragrant, about 10 seconds.
  7. Add the crushed chiles and green onions, then the rice wine, stirring for a few seconds.
  8. Add the orange sauce and bring to a boil.
  9. Stir the remaining 1 tbsp of cornstarch into the water, add this mix to the chicken and heat until the sauce has thickened.
  10. Add the cooked chicken, stirring until well incorporated.
  11. Turn off the heat and stir in the orange zest if using.
  12. Serve over white rice.


Maris said...

Sometimes these types of recipes are even better when you make them your own unique way but other times, certain dishes just taste better when someone else is cooking!

Mike said...

this info is great! Thanks so much. I'm going to try it tonight!

Braden said...

you'll find your chicken is much crispier if you use self-rising flour. Or just add a couple teaspoons of baking powder to your flour before coating the chicken. It does wonders.

JT said...

Thanks, that was serendipitously scrumptious! Was just browsing for something new and delicious to cook when I fell upon this recipe. The pictures looked so decadent and so I tried it... and it was amazing! I was bit confused with what you are suppose to do at the end of the recipe, so I just kind of improvised and it still tasted good. Doubling sauce sounds like an excellent idea. I also added a tsp of baking powder to flour. My "breading"/"coating" didn't look right because I just defrosted the chicken in the microwave and it was really watery or maybe I just used too much chicken or something?

Nina said...

What a wonderful recipe! We might have to tweak it a bit since we don't have all the ingredients available in our country, but it is so great not having to crave Panda Express until our next trip to the US. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

Is the rice wine a vinegar, as in rice wine vinegar, or just rice wine?

Sarea said...

It's just rice wine, such as Shaoxing. I think you can find it at western supermarkets, but if not, in Asian supermarkets for sure.

Anonymous said...

I added a few drops of orange essence and some brown sugar to the ready made Panda Orange Chicken sauce and coated my deep fried chicken in it. Think it turned out nice.

Anonymous said...

This recipe is amazing. I found there to be little waste in the preparation of this dish, and it is flexible enough to allow for substitution. I used apple cider vinegar in lieu of white vinegar; effectively changing the dish to an apple chicken, and it still tasted great.

The recipe for frying the chicken is worth trying this dish, even without the sauce. Top notch!

Anonymous said...

Um, since the ONLY orange anything in this recipe is optional, and it's not even mentioned as part of the sauce, how can this be orange anything?

Anonymous said...

can you use orange sauce that u baught???? :S

Anonymous said...

you can probably use a bought sauce right? i am going to try it tonight or sometime next week for dinner, i hope it will taste good. if it does i will comment again. do you need the rice wine? do u need the ginger?

Grandma said...

Dear anonymous, Please READ: Here's the thing about Panda's orange chicken -- there's actually no orange in it. They might try and fool us by placing slices of orange in the pan afterward, but the flavoring doesn't actually have any orange (possibly it was named after the color of the glaze once on the chicken?)

Brook said...

Question, for step 9 is that supposed to read as adding the water/cornstarch mix to the sauce and cook until thickened? It says the add the cornstarch/water mix to the chicken which seems odd

Megan Horton said...

This was very spot on and delicious! I added orange zest to half the sauce and my family all agreed it was better without. It's a little too sweet with the zest for my taste. The process was a bit time consuming but it was very true to the taste of Panda's chicken! A keeper for sure.