Typically I’d agree with my friend’s assessment of homemade Chinese food: “Homemade is never as good as the restaurant!” Typically. But recently I made this Orange Chicken and I think it really IS as good as the restaurant version!

Orange ChickenI’m a sauce girl. It has to be good, and there has to be plenty! No skimping on the sauce – I want to drench my rice or pasta in it! Well, this sauce is near perfect. It’s got great flavor, and with this recipe, there’s plenty of it. The recipe only calls for 2 chicken breasts but there was enough sauce for 3 good-sized chicken breasts or 4 small ones.

The original recipe includes a recipe for fried rice. I’m lazy and I really wanted pasta that evening so I made orzo instead. Honestly, I liked the orzo better than rice, but I have never really a big rice fan.

The recipe, the way it’s written, is delicious but takes some time and the frying makes a mess! I consolidated some steps when I made it, and next time I’ll make an even  more streamlined version. I liked the heat of the dish, but if you don’t tolerate spiciness it can be toned down, so don’t let this recipe scare you off! See the tips below for a simpler recipe and for a milder version.

Streamlined Version

I followed the recipe and fried my chicken. I won’t lie. It was good, but it made a mess! I know the restaurant version is fried but if you’re pressed for time or you don’t eat fried food, you could skip the breading and frying part. Sautee your chicken in a little oil, use 3-4 cups of a rotisserie chicken, 3-4 breasts of baked or broiled chicken, or even leftover turkey. It’ll be faster and healthier!

Less Spicy Version

I never seem to get the heat of cayenne correct and this was no exception. I had no idea what the peppers are that were called for in the recipe, so I substituted 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper. I would have used crushed red pepper flakes but I didn’t have any in my pantry. I used fresh ginger which I grated directly into the pan – without measuring – so it’s hard to say how much of the kick came from the cayenne and how much came from the ginger. Maybe I should have measured. Nah!  😉   It had a pretty good bite to it. Not unbearable, but it would have been too spicy for someone who doesn’t like spicy food. Anyway, if you don’t like ginger, don’t have fresh ginger, or don’t want all the bite, you can substitute ground ginger. It still provides flavor, but it doesn’t have the bite of fresh ginger root.

Orange Chicken

Adapted from Tasty Kitchen

Stuff you need:

3 whole boneless, skinless chicken breasts or alternate as suggested in the Streamlined Version notes above
¼ cup cornstarch [if you are frying the chicken]
Salt and pepper
1 cup fresh orange juice [I used a good bottled orange juice.]
1 cup water
2 Tablespoons lime juice
2 Tablespoons lemon juice
2 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar
3 strips orange zest – 1″ wide by 2″ tall OR 1 Tablespoon grated orange peel
½ cups lightly packed brown sugar
½ teaspoons fresh minced or grated ginger (optional)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons light soy sauce
4 whole dried red chilies, broken in half OR 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
2 Tablespoons cornstarch, for the slurry
2 Tablespoons water, for the slurry
Cooked rice or noodles

Now what?

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat about an inch of vegetable or canola oil to about 375F.
In a large zip top bag, combine the cornstarch, salt and pepper. Add the chicken chunks and seal the bag. Toss to coat completely.
Add the coated chicken to the hot oil in two or three batches. Cook until lightly golden and the chicken reaches an internal temperature of 160 F. Transfer the cooked chicken to a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Hold the chicken in the oven or microwave, covered.
Drain the oil from the pan but don’t wash it.
In the same saucepan over medium heat, combine the water, orange juice, lime juice, lemon juice, vinegar, orange zest, brown sugar, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, and dry chilies. Stir to combine and stir the bottom of the pan to dredge up the leftover chicken bits.
Bring mixtsure to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and let the sauce reduce by 1/3. [This step is VERY important. If you don’t let the ginger and garlic cook, you will have very raw flavors, not the mellowed-out flavor that the simmering brings about.]
In a small bowl, prepare the slurry by combining the cornstarch and water until smooth. Pour the mixture into the sauce and whisk until the sauce thickens. If it doesn’t thicken up, make more slurry and add it a bit at a time until the sauce is thick.
Add the chicken and heat through. Remove from heat and serve over rice or noodles.

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