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.
- 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
- In a large bowl, mix together the egg, salt, pepper, and 1 tbsp of oil. Mix well. Stir in the chicken pieces.
- In medium bowl, stir together the flour and ½ cup cornstarch. Add the chicken pieces, stirring to coat.
- Heat oil for deep frying in a wok or deep fryer to 375°F.
- 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.
- 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.
- Add the ginger and garlic and stir try until fragrant, about 10 seconds.
- Add the crushed chiles and green onions, then the rice wine, stirring for a few seconds.
- Add the orange sauce and bring to a boil.
- Stir the remaining 1 tbsp of cornstarch into the water, add this mix to the chicken and heat until the sauce has thickened.
- Add the cooked chicken, stirring until well incorporated.
- Turn off the heat and stir in the orange zest if using.
- Serve over white rice.