Better than Panda Express? Seriously?! Yes! This orange flavored chicken dish really does taste better than Panda Express, and it’s healthier, too.
I’m not going to lie. This better than Panda Express Orange Flavored Chicken is not something to whip up at 6 o’clock after a long day at work. But even with prep, shooting photos, and cooking simultaneously, I was able to make this restaurant quality dish in just over an hour. The recipe 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! 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 and then deep-fried, and 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 heavy flour or panko breading. And while the pieces are coated in corn starch, 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.
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! 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.
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 (affiliate links), 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.
I hope you’ll try this recipe and let me know if you think it is better than Panda Express!
- Marinade and sauce:
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces.
- 3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
- 3/4 cup orange juice 1 1/2 teaspoons grated zest, and 8 strips of orange peel (each about 2 inches long by 1/2 inch wide) from 2 oranges.
- 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 plus 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
- 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 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.
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