Sunday, October 2, 2011

Fake Out Take Out: Orange Chicken

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.

Orange Chicken
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)
For the Coating and Frying:
  • 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.


Chelsea said...

How can you not like Chinese?! Haha, I guess I can understand. This sounds fantastic! I haven't attempted a take-out knockoff in awhile- I'm inspired!

Denise @ TLT - The Little Things said...

I don't care to much for Chinest take-out either, finally I found someone alike;)
But this recipe is different: looking great!

Anna said...

My whole family craves for Chinese take out every now and again ( once a week...? Hmmmm...)
I think your recipe just gave me an idea. Chinese every week but not necessarily take out!

Nicole, RD said...

Faked me out from the picture. It looks so good! Orange chicken is without a doubt a favorite take-out menu item in my house.

JB said...

While I love Chinese food, the older I get (and I'm about twice your age) the more salty it seems to me so I tend to make it more at home (although I gemerally hate prepping all the veggies).

I'm not a big orange chicken fan but this looks good. One nice thing about doing this at home is that you could just use the sauce with stir-fried chicken. Not exactly the same but a little more healthy. I do that with sweet & sour and in some ways enjoy it more than the breaded chicken.

Just discovered your blog a few weeks ago and have really enjoyed it. The photos are beautiful and the recipes are varied and interesting. Thanks for all your hard work and congrats on the little guy.

Carrie said...

I'm also not big on Chinese but this recipe makes me want it often. Sooo good.

Anonymous said...

We NEVER get chinese take out, for that same reason. We always feel so BLAH after. And my husband NEVER craves it. BUT, he does appreciate some good orange chicken, so with that, I think I should probably stop putting off making this too...You inspired me, I MUST get on it, like, NOW!

Leigh said...

Totally with you on the chinese take out. It always leaves me feeling awful afterward. I've had much better luck with the "fake outs" :) Can't wait to try this!

Ali said...

What a way to make chicken, looks really delicious. I think I need to get myself some Chinese takeout :)

Laura said...

I've made this before. Oh, so good! You've given me the bug, gonna have to make it again soon!

telesma said...

That looks very good. :)

Since you said your standard order is Cashew Chicken, I thought I'd share a link to the most awesome Cashew Chicken recipe I've ever tried. Like take-out, but better:

It is SO good. I get a craving for it every couple of weeks and have to make it.

Don't skip the baking soda step if you try it. It makes a big difference in the flavor and texture of the chicken.

Christine said...

I'm really excited to try this recipe! My only question is what setting do you have your burner on? I don't have a thermometer to see when the oil reaches 350 degrees.

Josie said...

JB, that's what I was thinking - or doing breaded chicken and baking it in the oven and then tossing with the sauce. I'm glad you found my blog too - thanks for all your comments!

Josie said...

I'm not sure, but I probably had it set to medium heat. There's really no way of knowing the oil temperature without a thermometer though, and I do think it's important to the recipe to have the oil at the correct temperature. too cold and the chicken will be very greasy, and too hot and you'll burn the outside before the inside is cooked through. A candy thermometer is pretty cheap (less than $10 I think), so it's definitely worth it to buy one. Especially if you do a lot of baking and cooking. I use mine all the time!

Christine said...

Thank you for your response! I will buy myself a thermometer this weekend for sure. Very anxious to try this recipe :)

Nikki @Pennies on a Platter said...

I used to eat take-out Chinese in college (in the dorms) all of the time. The gals and I would crave it probably weekly (and even sometimes the buffet!) Now, I can't stand it and probably haven't had it in over 6 years. ha! tastes change and refine over time... :) On the other hand, I do love Chinese from home and Asian-fusion restaurants (such as PF Changs). I just can't do take-out Chinese anymore from the hole-in-the walls... I remember seeing this on Annie's and completely forgot about it. Now I'm going to move it to the front of my bookmarks!

Ashley @ Wishes and Dishes said...

This looks so good!! I love orange chicken :)

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