I think I'm one of the few people in the world who doesn't really care for take-out Chinese. I probably crave it once every 2-3 years, if that. It sounds good in theory, but it always leaves me feeling heavy, full, and icky. My standard order is Cashew Chicken, so the fact that I wanted to make this recipe was a bit out of character for me. But after seeing it on several food blogs over the past year or so, I finally caved in and decided to give it a shot.
And boy am I glad I did. This was a really awesome dinner, and it made for an equally awesome lunch the next day. Now I know that oftentimes a restaurant knockoff recipe boasts that it's so much more healthy than the original version....and while this doesn't contain all the additives and artificial ingredients found in take-out Chinese food, it's certainly not lightened up or healthy. We're still coating chicken in a flour mixture, frying it, and then tossing it with a sweet and sugary glaze. So it's decidedly NOT healthy. But it is oh. so. good. The chicken crisps up perfectly, and the glaze is sweet, but not cloyingly so. And it's just spicy enough to keep it interesting.
This was definitely an indulgent dinner, and I know it won't be a regular fixture on our weekly menu. But for those few times when I crave Chinese food, it will definitely be a better option than take-out. And now that I've made this version, I can already think of ways to lighten it up for a more figure-friendly dinner.
adapted from Cooking at Home with America's Test Kitchen, via Annie's Eats
For the marinade and sauce:
- ¾ cup low-sodium chicken broth
- ¾ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
- 1½ tsp. finely grated orange zest
- 6 Tbs. white vinegar
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tbs. fresh ginger, grated
- ¼-½ tsp. cayenne pepper
- 1½ lbs. boneless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 Tbs. plus 2 tsp. cornstarch
- 2 Tbs. cold water
- 8 thin strips orange peel (optional)
- 3 large egg whites
- 1 cup cornstarch
- ½ tsp. baking soda
- ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
- 3 cups peanut or canola oil
To make the marinade and sauce, combine the chicken broth, orange juice, orange zest, vinegar, soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, ginger and cayenne pepper in a large saucepan and whisk to blend well.
Measure out ¾ cup of the mixture and transfer it to a large zipper lock plastic bag. Add the chicken pieces to the bag, pressing out the excess air and sealing well. Refrigerate 30-60 minutes, but no longer (the acid from the orange juice and vinegar will make the chicken mushy if it's left too long).
Place the saucepan with the remaining mixture on the stove and heat over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer. In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and water until smooth. Add the mixture to the saucepan with the sauce. Continue simmering until the sauce is thick and translucent, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the strips of orange peel, if using.
To make the coating, place the egg whites in a pie plate or shallow bowl and whisk until frothy. In a second pie plate combine the cornstarch, baking soda and cayenne pepper. Whisk to blend. Drain the chicken from the marinade in a large strainer and pat dry with paper towels. Place half of the chicken pieces in the egg whites and turn to coat. Transfer the pieces to the cornstarch mixture and coat thoroughly, shaking off the excess. Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining chicken pieces.
To fry the chicken, heat the oil in a 11- or 12-inch round Dutch oven or large sauce pan until the oil reaches 350˚ F. Carefully place half of the chicken pieces in the oil and fry until golden brown, about 4-5 minutes, turning the pieces halfway through cooking. Remove from the oil with a skimmer or slotted spoon and transfer to a paper towel-lined baking sheet. Return the oil to 350˚ F and repeat with the remaining chicken pieces.
When all the chicken has been fried, reheat the sauce if necessary, and toss with the chicken in a large bowl. Serve over rice.