Orange Chicken

Remember back when you were in middle school or high school and hanging out at the mall with your friends was THE thing to do?  It’s funny to me now that I enjoyed it so much, as these days the mall is pretty much the last place I want to be, especially on a weekend when it’s almost a guarantee that there will be a ton of kids milling around.  I think that means I’m officially old :)  One thing I loved about the mall back then, and, if I’m honest, still enjoy now, was the Chinese food restaurants in the food court.  In particular, there was one stall that had the best orange chicken – it was pretty much the only thing I ever ordered when I ate in the food court.  It’s been years since I’ve had that orange chicken (I’m not even sure that Chinese food stall is still there) but when we try a new place for Chinese take-out, orange chicken is generally the first dish I’ll scan for on the menu.  If I can’t find it, my back-up is usually General Tso’s chicken.  We discovered a great recipe for a homemade version of General Tso’s chicken a few years ago so recently when I found myself craving orange chicken, I decided why not attempt it at home?

Orange Chicken

There’s a version of this recipe floating around on a few blogs I read but in those recipes the chicken is fried on the stove top, and as I’ve mentioned many times, I just don’t like frying unless absolutely necessary.  Luckily when I went back to the original source, Cook’s Illustrated, I discovered they also had a baked version.  To be fair, it’s not exactly a health conscious alternative – a baking sheet is preheated and coated with oil in a really hot oven and the chicken is essentially fried on that baking sheet.  Still, it’s less messy than frying on the stove top, and doesn’t leave my house smelling like a fast food restaurant, so I consider it a good alternative.  The sauce is great; it’s thick with loads of orange flavor and sweetness that is balanced by the heat of the cayenne pepper.  I definitely recommend serving the chicken over rice to soak up all that saucy goodness.  I’m thrilled we now have a second delicious dish we can make at home when a craving for Chinese food strikes, because while I absolutely love the General Tso’s chicken, variety is a very good thing in my book!

Orange Chicken
adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

For the Marinade and Sauce
1 1/2 pounds chicken tenderloins, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
3/4 cup low-sodium chicken stock
3/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (about 2 large oranges)
1 1/2 teaspoons grated zest
6 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
3 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
1 piece fresh ginger (about 1 inch), grated (1 tablespoon)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon cornstarch, plus 2 teaspoons
2 tablespoons cold water 

For Coating and Frying
3 large egg whites
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup canola oil

In a large saucepan combine the chicken stock, orange juice, orange zest, vinegar, soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, ginger and cayenne pepper.  Whisk to dissolve the sugar completely.  Transfer 3/4 cup of the mixture to a gallon-sized resealable plastic bag.  Add the chicken to the bag then seal and refrigerate for 30-60 minutes, but not longer.

Heat the remaining sauce in the pan over medium-high heat until it comes to a boil.  Meanwhile, combine the cornstarch and water in a small bowl, mixing to dissolve the cornstarch.  Once the sauce reaches a boil, whisk in the cornstarch mixture.  Simmer the sauce until thick and translucent, about 1 minute.  Remove from the heat and set aside while you make the chicken.

Preheat oven to 500 F.  Grab two pie plates.  Put the egg whites in one of them, and beat with a fork until they’re frothy and broken up.  Combine the cornstarch and flour in the second pie plate.  Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and drain in a colander to remove the marinade.  Pat the chicken dry with paper towels.  Add the chicken to the egg whites, turning to coat on all sides.  Drain again to remove the excess egg whites.  Finally, place the chicken in the cornstarch/flour mixture and toss to coat.  Shake off the excess and place the chicken on a plate.  Repeat with all of the chicken pieces.

Place a rimmed baking sheet in the preheated oven for 5 minutes.  Remove the sheet, add the oil and return to the oven until the oil just starts smoking, about 5 more minutes.  Remove the baking sheet and add the chicken pieces in a single layer.  Cook for 7 minutes, or until brown on the bottom.  Use tongs to flip each piece of chicken over and cook on the other side until browned and cooked through, about 3-5 minutes.  Transfer the chicken to a paper towel-lined plate to drain excess oil.

Reheat the sauce if necessary, and add the chicken, stirring to coat.