When you don’t feel like ordering in, our easy, classic orange chicken is a great option. It’s incredibly easy to make at home with little fuss and simple, everyday ingredients. Based on its crave-worthiness, Chinese–American cuisine deserves its own wing in the Takeout Hall of Fame. And in this wing, orange chicken would be the star attraction.
Developed by fast-casual chain Panda Express Chef Andy Kao in 1987, orange chicken is a variation on the equally popular Chinese–American staple, General Tso’s chicken. It’s marked by its sweet-and-sour sauce that does a fine balancing act between the sweetness of brown sugar and the zestiness of vinegar and soy sauce.
In this easy orange chicken recipe, plump, juicy, deep-fried chicken is caked in a crispy batter and covered with a gooey, sticky, and bright orange sauce that’s elevated with zesty pops of green onions. It tastes so much better when it comes from your own kitchen rather than from a greasy restaurant deep fryer. Once you make this orange chicken recipe for yourself, you’ll never order it from a takeout joint again.
Find more recipes from Ksenia Prints at At The Immigrants Table.
Gather your ingredients for this classic orange chicken
As befitting a classic dish from the fast casual genre, orange chicken needs no fancy ingredients or complicated preparation. Of course, you’ll need chicken. We like the clean, fast-cooking meat of the breast for this recipe, though you can also make it with an equal amount of chicken thighs. You just may need to cook this a tad longer.
For the coating in this recipe, we mix equal amounts of cornstarch and all-purpose flour. This makes a fine flour mixture that turns into a crunchy, crispy coating once it meets egg and the heat of the frying oil. You will not get the same result using only all-purpose flour, so don’t skip the cornstarch.
Orange chicken gets its quintessential flavor from a mix of sweet and sour flavors. The characteristic flavor of orange juice, amplified by the zest of a whole orange, joins brown sugar to give this dish a candied feel. But like any good citrus, Orange Chicken wouldn’t be the same without the zing of acid: rice vinegar, soy sauce, and scallions. A touch of chili and ginger wrap this dish up in a neat, flavorful bow.
Dice the chicken for your orange chicken recipe
To get delicious, crispy bits of orange chicken, you’ll need to dice your chicken into bite-size pieces. Using a sharp knife, cut each chicken breast into strips vertically and then horizontally. You should end up with pieces of about 1 inch in size.
If using thighs, flatten each thigh on a cutting board. Cut each thigh into a few strips lengthwise, and then cut each strip into a few pieces widthwise. That should also produce a dice of about 1-inch cubes. It’s important to note that the original Panda Express recipe uses the dark, more flavorful thigh meat in its orange chicken, but we like this dish with the breast. Either way, it’s delicious!
Set the chicken pieces aside, and move on to the most important part of your orange chicken: the orange sauce!
Make orange sauce for your orange chicken
Making orange sauce for this classic dish is actually rather easy, but it’s also the most important part of the dish. Combine orange juice, vinegar, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, chili flakes, scallions, and brown sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil.
The order in which you add the ingredients doesn’t really matter, but the vinegar is crucial to the flavor of the Orange Chicken. We recommend using rice vinegar, which is aromatic and punchy, but you can also use distilled white vinegar if that’s all you got on hand. We also use only brown sugar in this recipe. It helps gives the orange chicken its shine and also some of the caramel-like notes of the sauce. Using white sugar won’t give as rich of a result, but it’s fine if that’s all you got on hand (you can also use white sugar and add just a teaspoon of molasses to try and replicate the flavor of brown sugar).
Whisk the cornstarch for your orange chicken
Once the sauce for your orange chicken is boiling, you’ll want to thicken it. This is where the second portion of cornstarch comes in.
In a small bowl, add two tablespoons of water. Then, slowly add in 2 tablespoons of cornstarch, whisking continuously with a fork. It should form a liquid, gummy paste. Don’t skip this step, because adding the cornstarch directly to the sauce will almost definitely lead to lumps — and no one wants to get a mouthful of uncooked cornstarch! If you add in the cornstarch too quickly and it forms a lump, try to add in a bit more water to dissolve it.
Without the thickening with cornstarch here, your sauce will lack a shine and will be much too runny.
Thicken the sauce for your orange chicken
Now go back to your original orange sauce. Whisking the sauce constantly, add in the cornstarch mixture. Whisk the two together. The cornstarch will change the consistency of the orange sauce almost instantly, making it less runny. Keep in mind that the sauce will thicken even more as it cools, so don’t be tempted to add more cornstarch if you find the texture not to your liking at first.
Continue cooking orange sauce for five minutes, until it thickens and becomes glossy. It should look syrupy in texture, like good-quality maple syrup. Remove orange sauce from heat and add in your orange zest.
Marinate the chicken in orange sauce
We found that marinating the chicken in the orange sauce gave the best results in terms of flavor and texture, resulting in and chewy, soft pieces. To marinate the chicken, combine the chicken pieces and 1 cup of orange sauce in a large bowl or Ziploc bag. Reserve remaining sauce for later — the majority of it should be left.
For best results, let chicken marinate for at least 30 minutes but preferably an hour. However, if you are really short on time, you can move straight to the frying stage — but your chicken won’t be as juicy or flavorful.
Dip your orange chicken pieces in flour and egg
Once your orange chicken has marinated, take it out of the bowl or Ziploc bag, allowing the excess sauce to drain — there shouldn’t be much left, if at all.
In a shallow, wide bowl or a large plate, mix flour and half a cup of cornstarch until fully combined. You should be left with a soft, very fine flour mixture. Whisk the eggs in another wide bowl or large plate.
Dip chicken pieces first in the egg and then in the flour mixture. Shake the chicken to drain off the excess. Proceed to fry chicken once it’s all coated.
Fry your orange chicken
When you’re ready to cook your orange chicken, get your frying pan ready. You’ll need a large, wide-rimmed pan for this to avoid the oil splashing everywhere, so a Dutch Oven would be ideal.
Fill your pan with two to three inches of oil. Set the oil to medium heat, and wait until it’s sufficiently heated through (you can test it by throwing a small bit of egg in there — the oil should bubble around it immediately). Working in batches, fry a few chicken pieces at a time for three to four minutes until cooked through, turning over once. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to drain some of the oil.
Pour the sauce on your orange chicken
With all your chicken pieces fried, you’ll want to bring together the two parts of you orange chicken recipe: the orange and the chicken. That’s where the magic really happens!
Toss the fried chicken pieces with the remaining orange sauce. Mix well to combine with a large spoon. All the pieces should be well coated, glossy and shiny. If you want, you can reserve some sauce to serve at the table, though it’s going to be hard to resist adding it all into the chicken. Top your orange chicken with sliced scallions and more orange zest. This provides an extra pop of color, a bit of fresh zesty flavor, and a wonderful aroma.
Serve your orange chicken with rice
For the best results, serve your orange chicken immediately as it comes out of the frying pan. At this point, the coating is crispy and crunchy, the sauce is bright and flavorful — and nothing has gotten soggy yet. But the longer you wait, the more your orange chicken will lose its characteristic crunch, so don’t waste your time reading!
Get your chopsticks ready, set your favorite movie to stream, and serve your orange chicken over rice. Once you dig in, you’ll never dream of ordering orange chicken from takeout ever again! Though you may still need to place an order for some fortune cookies.
- 4 chicken breast halves (about 2 lbs.)
- 1-½ cup orange juice
- ¾ cup brown sugar
- 3 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 3 tablespoon soy or tamari sauce
- Zest of one orange
- 2 teaspoons minced ginger (or 1-inch-sized piece, grated)
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ teaspoon chili flakes
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons cornstarch, divided
- 2 tablespoons water
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup flour
- cooked rice, for serving
- scallion slices, for serving
- orange zest, for serving
- Dice chicken into bite-sized pieces of about 1 inch.
- Combine orange juice, vinegar, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, chili flakes, scallions, and sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. This will be your orange sauce.
- In a small bowl, add two tablespoons of water. Then slowly add in 2 tablespoons of cornstarch, whisking continuously with a fork. It should form a paste. Add cornstarch mixture to orange sauce and whisk together.
- Continue cooking orange sauce for 5 minutes, until sauce thickens and becomes glossy. Remove from heat and add in orange zest.
- In a large ziplock bag or bowl, combine chicken pieces and 1 cup of orange sauce. Reserve remaining sauce. Let chicken marinade for at least an hour.
- In a large bowl, combine flour and ½ cup of cornstarch. Whisk eggs in another bowl.
- Fill a large, wide-rimmed pan with 2 to 3 inches of oil and put over medium-high heat until oil is sufficiently heated through (you can test it by throwing a small bit of egg in there — the oil should bubble around it immediately).
- Dip chicken pieces first in egg and then in the flour mixture. Working in batches, fry a few chicken pieces at a time for 2 to 3 minutes until cooked through, turning over once. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to drain some of the oil.
- Toss fried chicken in remaining orange sauce (you can reserve some to serve at the table). Top with sliced scallions and more orange zest, and serve immediately over rice.