The interconnectedness of the Web never fails to delight me; in fact, “world wide web” was a prescient name back in the days when few people could foresee how it would change our world. The way that people end up here at Local Kitchen is always fascinating: the search terms, the links from other sites, the random surfing that led someone to a particular recipe (whether they were looking for it or not), but I’m also delighted by how I end up at recipes, articles, products to buy, stories to read.
This recipe is one of those stories, one of those rambling paths through my daily dealings on the Web that offered up a true gem. It all started on Twitter, as so many of my random Internet journeys do these days: Adrian (@helloyarn) mentioned that she was making Better than Takeout Chicken for dinner. I happened to be on Twitter at the time, checking out the news of the day, so I clicked her link and scanned the recipe. Sounded pretty delicious, so I filed it away as a bookmark and went about my business. Fast forward a few days: I had chicken in the fridge and a lazy Saturday of football-watching on tap. I re-read the orange chicken recipe at the Noshery, then clicked through to the linked original recipe at Blogchef. Then I did a search on Twitter to see if Adrian had mentioned how hers came out, where I got her handy tip to pre-season the cornstarch. In the course of my surfing around, I realized that the original recipe is an all-time favorite at FoodGawker, another vote of confidence. Chinese orange chicken it is!
Well, Chinese orange chicken it was. It’s already gone. Adrian, and the Noshery, and all of those Food Gawker peeps were not wrong: this is one delicious recipe. The chicken is crisp, yet tender, the sauce is very orangey while still being sweet enough for kids (or a certain sweettooth husband), to enjoy, the level of spice is easily adaptable to the individual palate (in fact, I would increase the spice a bit next time). The process was a bit involved, but fairly straightforward, and more approachable than a lot of other Asian cooking, which always seems to me to be very technique-driven, so that I am often disappointed with the results when I try it at home. It’s not a recipe that I will make often, because, let’s face it: breaded, deep-fried chicken coated in sugary syrup is a calorie bomb, best suited to days when I’ve hiked for hours or climbed rocks all day. Sitting on the couch watching soccer, drinking beer and eating Chinese food with the hubs made for a wonderful, relaxy afternoon, but it’s definitely not everyday food. It was, however, much better than the greasy, sugary, crazy-bland-yet-overly-salty-and-MSG-laden excuse for Chinese food that you can find in my neighborhood, and for a craving, or a now & then treat, this is a recipe that I will return to again and again. Thank you Interwebs – you are made of awesome.
- 1 and 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breast, sliced into 1-inch cubes
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or AP flour)
- 1/2 cup corn starch
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/4 tsp ground ginger
- vegetable oil for fying (I used sunflower oil + 1 tbsp of butternut squash seed oil for flavor; peanut oil is excellent for Chinese dishes)
- 1 and 1/2 cups water
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1/3 cup rice vinegar
- 3 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tbsp orange juice
- 1 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
- zest of 1 large orange (about 1 packed tbsp)
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- about 2 tsp fresh ginger, minced
- 3 tbsp cornstarch
- 3 scallions, sliced
- 1 tsp red chile flakes
- orange slices
- cooked rice
- Sauce. Measure water, lemon juice, vinegar, soy sauce, and orange juice into a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer. Remove 1 tbsp of brown sugar from the 1 cup measure; add to a small bowl with the 3 tbsp cornstarch. Mix well with a fork and set aside.
- Chicken. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch, salt, peppers, and ginger. Dip chicken pieces first in egg, then toss in cornstarch mixture. Shake off excess and spread pieces on a clean plate.
- Add oil to a large frying pan or wok (I used a 12-inch frying pan and about 2 cups of oil) to about 1 inch deep. Heat over medium flame until the oil is hot & shimmering (375 degrees F) but not smoking. Add chicken in batches (it took me three), stir lightly to cover all chicken in oil, and fry until cooked through, about 3 – 5 minutes (edges should just begin to brown, no hint of pink should remain and/or the middle of the biggest chicken piece should read at least 170 degrees F on an instant thermometer). Remove to a clean plate layered with paper towels to drain. Once drained, transfer chicken to a large bowl.
- Sauce. Add remaining brown sugar, orange zest, garlic and ginger to the sauce mixture. Raise heat and bring to a boil. Add about 2 tbsp of water to the small bowl of cornstarch + sugar: mix well until the cornstarch is well incorporated with no lumps. Add to the sauce and stir until sauce thickens (should happen almost instantly). Once sauce is thickened and bubbling, add to chicken and toss to coat.
- Serve. Add red chile flakes to chicken and toss. Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary. Serve over hot rice and garnish with a generous sprinkle of sliced scallion and orange slices.
- The original recipe used only flour for the battered chicken; the Noshery recipe used cornstarch and panko. I chose to use a mix of WW pastry flour and cornstarch; I think the chicken comes out well crispy enough without the addition of panko, but I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt.
- The recipe could use just a bit more spice to balance the sweet brown sugar and orange. Next time I’ll try out 1/2 tsp of cayenne in the cornstarch mix and maybe a bit of hot chili oil in the frying oil mix.
- Mixing cornstarch with sugar prior to adding the water allows the cornstarch to incorporate into a smooth sauce more easily. Adding the water before you add cornstarch to your sauce does the same; it is all in aid of thickening the sauce without having to whisk out lumps of unincorporated cornstarch. You can, of course, skip these steps, but you’ll wish you hadn’t.
Up to 5 days, refrigerated. Scallion best stored separately.