Put down that takeout menu! This easy Chinese orange chicken recipe is a tasty dinner the whole family will enjoy, and it’s ready in just 30 minutes or less! Lean pieces of chicken breast stir-fry and simmer in a delicious citrus sauce, no deep-fry required.
People love to talk about Panda Express orange chicken as their favorite Chinese chicken dish, but the calories from the deep-fried coating and sugary sauce add up quickly. This inspired me to create a healthier homemade version that’s quick and just as flavorful. Making this recipe at home is also skinner on your wallet too. Win-Win!
Orange chicken is easy to prepare in a large wok or skillet. Pieces of lean white meat sear and simmer in a fresh citrus sauce to make a stir fry. High heat and small even-sized cubes of chicken help efficiently cook the protein. The size allows for a shorter sear-time that will prevent it from drying out. The naturally sweet and tangy sauce clings to the chicken and is bursting with delicious orange flavors.
Ingredient tips and choices
Lean chicken breasts are the protein of choice, but chicken thighs that have a little more fat can also be used. I season the meat with sesame oil, salt, and pepper before cooking. For more flavor development and browning, add the chicken in a single layer so all the pieces make contact with the surface of the pan. Avoid moving them for the first 2 minutes then mix and stir-fry until cooked through.
Garlic and ginger provide instant pungency and some spicy notes. I add these ingredients after cooking the chicken to make the dish more fragrant and this order prevents the garlic from burning in the hot vegetable oil. Using the stir-fry method makes each bite more tasty, even without a deep-fried coating.
Making the flavorful orange sauce
Start by grabbing the ripest oranges you can find, then zest and squeeze out the juice for the sauce base. I like to mix the zest in the liquid because the essential oils in the skin add a ton of extra citrus notes. For convenience, you can use store-bought orange juice but look for the all-natural option with no added sugars or chemicals. Add chicken stock and soy sauce for their rich umami flavor.
For a natural sweetener, I use honey. The sweetness level is higher than sugar even at the same amount, so you don’t have to add as much for a similar taste. Rice vinegar balances the sweetness of the orange glaze with tangy notes. For a spicy element, I like to use red pepper flakes.
Cornstarch thickens the consistency
I use a cornstarch slurry to thicken the sauce at the very end of cooking. The mixture is a combination of 1-part cornstarch to 2-parts cool water. Once you add the slurry to the sauce, make sure to stir it in until it fully thickens.
The stirring motion helps to evenly distribute the starches for even cooking and only takes a minute. Keep an eye on the thickening process because it happens very quickly.
What to serve with this
To make this a complete meal, I like to serve the orange chicken with brown or white steamed rice. For a truly healthy meal try using my cauliflower rice or broccoli rice. For additional nutrients, you can add more vegetables like carrots, broccoli, or snow peas to the stir-fry. Right before serving, garnish with fresh orange slices, green onions, and white sesame seeds.
More classic Chinese recipes
How does cornstarch thicken the sauce?
Cornstarch has incredible thickening powers when added to a liquid and heated up. Just add cold water to hydrate and whisk before using to create a slurry. This allows the starch molecules to separate and become soluble for thickening. Add the mixture to the orange sauce and heat to just below its boiling point. While the liquid bubbles, constant agitation or stirring increases the thickness of the sauce. When ready, the sauce should be able to coat the back of a spoon.
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Chinese Orange Chicken
- Whisk together orange juice, zest, chicken broth, soy sauce, honey, rice vinegar, and chili flakes in a medium-sized bowl.
- Whisk together 2 teaspoons cornstarch with 4 teaspoons water in a small bowl to make a cornstarch slurry.
- Mince 1 tablespoon garlic and 1 tablespoon ginger. Set aside.
- Cut the chicken breast into 1-inch cubes. In a medium bowl, combine 1 teaspoon kosher salt, ½ teaspoon pepper, and ½ teaspoon sesame oil.
- Heat a large saute pan or wok over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, once hot, add the chicken in a single layer in the pan. Cook without moving for 2 minutes, and then stir and cook for an additional 2 minutes.
- Add garlic and ginger, stir-fry until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add the sauce to the pan and allow it to simmer and bubble, 1 to 2 minutes. Mix the cornstarch slurry and then gradually add it to the pan, constantly stirring to combine. Cook until the sauce thickens, 1 minute. Season with more salt and pepper as needed.
- Garnish with sliced green onions and sesame seeds. Serve with your choice of sides like rice and vegetables.
- Wok Spatula
- For a thicker sauce: Add 1 tablespoon of cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons cold water.
- Make it Whole30 or Paleo diet: Substitute 1 tablespoon arrowroot powder for 2 teaspoons cornstarch.
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