Better than Panda Express? Seriously?! Yes! This orange flavored chicken dish really does taste better than Panda Express, and it’s healthier, too. This recipe for orange chicken is straight from Cook’s Illustrated, which is one of my favorite cooking mags. Although I usually tweak recipes to suit our family, I did not change a thing this time, and it was absolutely perfect!
How long does orange chicken take to make?
I’m not going to lie, this Panda Express orange chicken is not something to whip up at 6 o’clock after a long day at work. It does take some time, and it’s not a “five ingredient dish”. (This post was originally published on
But even with prep, shooting photos, and cooking simultaneously, I was able to make this restaurant quality dish in just over an hour.
Why is this orange chicken recipe healthier?
My girl’s favorite fast food is Panda Express, but I cringe when they want to get the orange flavored chicken. It’s heavily breaded, deep-fried, then served in a gloppy sauce. Consequently, we never get it more than a couple of times a year. I was drawn to this recipe, because of the lack of flour or panko, both of which contain wheat. And, while the pieces are tossed in cornstarch, the coating is very light. The tangy sauce has a bright, fresh orange flavor, which comes from the zest, peel, and juice of two oranges.
What’s in orange chicken?
As with most Asian dishes, there are lots of ingredients, but there is nothing more exotic than soy sauce. You most likely have everything you need in your pantry!
- chicken thighs. I prefer thigh meat to breast for this dish as it’s juicier. Since you’ll be skinning the chicken, you’ll want the extra fat from the thigh meat.
- Oranges. You’ll need two. This recipe uses both the zest and orange peel. So zest the first one and cut the second one into strips. Reserve the juice from both oranges for a total of 3/4 cup.
- chicken broth
- white vinegar (you don’t need to use rice vinegar)
- soy sauce (I prefer low-sodium, but use what you like)
- brown sugar (to make this lower carb you can substitute Swerve brown sugar)
- cayenne pepper, just a pinch
- cornstarch. You’ll use this for the marinade and for coating the chicken.
- baking soda. This is part of the chicken coating.
- dried red chilies. I remove these before serving as they’re quite hot if you accidentally bite into one.
How to make orange chicken
There are a couple of key points to a successful outcome.
- First, start the chicken marinating right away. It needs 30 minutes to 1 hour.
- Second, set up pie plates with egg whites and cornstarch mixture next to a baking sheet with wire racks. It’s a messy business.
- Make sure that you pat the chicken dry after draining the marinade to help the coating stick.
- Third, it’s important that the oil is kept at a constant temperature of 350 degrees F.
- If you own a fry baby , or something similar, this is not a problem. I actually don’t, so I used a clip-on thermometer in a large Dutch oven. Keeping the heat consistent means that the chicken will cook quickly and will not be greasy. When the temperature dips below 350 degrees, the breading will absorb the oil and become heavy and sodden. I fried the pieces up in about four batches.
- I checked my thermometer between each batch, adjusting the heat as needed so that it stayed at 350 degrees.
Make ahead tip
Because I wanted to shoot photos of this during the day and eat it at night, I fried all of the pieces. I put them onto a baking sheet lined with paper towels, covered it, and refrigerated it for several hours. When I was ready to serve, I reheated the chicken in the oven at 425 degrees F., for about 15 minutes.
This better than Panda Express orange chicken is a perfect weekend dinner treat, at a fraction of the cost of Chinese takeout. The family absolutely loved it, and are already begging me to make it again!
Panda Express Orange Chicken!
Marinade and sauce:
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs trimmed and cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces.
- 3/4 cup chicken broth
- 2 oranges zest and juice one orange. Then cut the peel of the second into 8 strips about 2 inches long by 1/2 inch wide, then juice. You should have 3/4 cup orange juice.
- 6 Tablespoons white vinegar
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 3 cloves garlic minced, about 1 Tablespoon
- 1 piece ginger (about 1 inch) minced, about 1 Tablespoon
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 Tablespoon cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 2 Tablespoons cold water
- 8 small whole dried red chiles optional
Coating and frying
- 3 large egg whites
- 1 cup corn starch
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 3 cups peanut oil or avocado oil
For the marinade
- Mix broth, juice, zest, vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, garlic, ginger and cayenne pepper in a large bowl.
- Measure out 3/4 cup of marinade and pour over chicken pieces. Set aside for 30 to 60 minutes.
- While chicken is marinating, place remaining 1 1/2 cups marinade in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.
- In a small bowl, stir together cold water and 1 Tablespoon and 2 teaspoons cornstarch.
- Whisk cornstarch mixture into sauce and reduce heat to a simmer. Stir occasionally until sauce is thick and translucent, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and add chiles and orange peel.
For the coating
- In one pie plate, whisk egg whites. In a second pie plate mix cornstarch, 1/2 teaspoon cayenne and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda.
- Drain the chicken and discard marinade. Pat chicken dry with paper towels.
- Dip each chicken piece in egg whites and then in cornstarch mixture. Set chicken on wire rack until ready to fry.
To fry the chicken
- Heat oil in a large Dutch oven, fry baby or electric skillet to 350 degrees F. (Use a clip on thermometer if you don't have an electric fryer.)
- Carefully place chicken pieces in hot oil, one piece at a time, and fry until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes per side, frying about 1/4 of the chicken at a time.
- Drain pieces on a paper towel lined platter or baking sheet.
- Reheat orange sauce over medium heat until simmering. Add chicken and gently toss until even coated and heated through. Serve immediately.
- Oranges. You'll need two. This recipe uses both the zest and orange peel. So zest the first one, and cut the second one into strips. Save the juice from both oranges for a total of 3/4 cup.
- nutritional note: Calorie count per serving has been adjusted to compensate for discarded oil after frying.