Next time you reach for that Chinese take out menu - that could include monosodium glutamate (MSG) or worse - cook this orange chicken recipe instead. Because eating well doesn't mean giving up the delights of classic convenience meals that are inconvenient for your health.
The Beauty of Stir-Fry Dishes
Stir-fry recipes like orange chicken are surprisingly simple to whip up. If you have all your ingredients prepped before you begin frying, you'll be eating dinner in twenty minutes flat.
Classic Chinese Condiments
At any Chinese restaurant or even the grocery store, you will find a few Chinese ingredients that give these dishes their signature flavor. Chock-full-of-umami, many of these ingredients are condiments. The others are aromatics, like garlic and ginger.
Fermented Chinese Sauces
The Chinese incorporate an array of fermented sauces and pastes into their dishes. Of course the most obvious are soy sauce and rice vinegar.
But hoisin and black bean garlic sauce are seriously authentic, and give a crazy depth of umami flavor to stir-fry. No MSG necessary if you go the homemade route, like Maggie does over at Omnivore's Cookbook.
In our house we often skip the black bean paste for a variety of reasons. But even with mirin, soy sauce or tamari and sesame oil, you're set stir-fry with loads of authentic flavor.
Mirin vs Rice Wine Vinegar
I love using Mirin for stir-fry even though it's not Chinese. However, rice wine vinegar would be the most legit choice. Mirin is sweeter than typical rice wine vinegar, and I find I add less sugar (or none at all) when using it.
GGS: Garlic, Ginger and Scallions
The trifecta of Chinese aromatic ingredients!
If you're looking for truly legit stir-fry of any kind, include minced garlic, ginger and not as important but equally authentic, green onions (scallions).
The key to perfect stir-fried anything is cooking on high heat, with a splash of sesame oil and quick hands.
After high heat, the most important part of the stir-fry technique is, yes, the stirring. A
Keeping the ingredients moving the entire time is key. The best way to do this is to get your vegetables chopped ahead of time. You can even do this a day or two ahead, and store the chopped vegetables covered with a damp paper towel.
Authentic Stir-Fry Batter
Cornstarch, egg whites and soy sauce. That's it.
I like to use gluten-free soy sauce or coconut aminos in the batter, and marinate the chicken in it overnight. This egg white-cornstarch batter is the secret to that crispy crust that absorbs stir fry sauce so nicely. And gluten-free for those who need or want to avoid it!
No recipe needed!
For a stir-fry batter, I honestly never measure the ingredients. Simply mix a couple egg whites (fresh or from a box) with cornstarch until it's a thin pancake batter consistency. This is literally how an Asian cuisines chef instructor taught me in culinary school.
Seriously don't measure, it's not worth your time. If you plan to do this step a day ahead, drizzling soy sauce into the batter marinates the chicken wonderfully.
Low-Carb or Grain-Free
While battered and fried chicken may be delicious, it's not exactly low on carbs, and isn't essential for authentic Chinese flavors. Those come from the sauce.
For paleo or low-carb diets, arrowroot or tapioca starch can replace the cornstarch in the batter.
If you follow a strict keto or grain-free diet, skip the batter entirely.
I do this often when I want my stir-fry ready in less than 20 minutes. Not bad when it takes the delivery app close to 40 minutes!
Salty, sour, sweet and hot. Chinese food is so satisfying because it makes every last one of your taste buds happy. Not to mention the fermented ingredients lend serious umami to any dish.
A standard Chinese stir-fry sauce (and orange chicken) requires the following in equal parts:
- soy sauce (or coconut aminos if you don't eat soy)
- rice wine vinegar (or white wine vinegar for grain-free)
- sugar (white, brown or even honey)
- spicy black bean paste/sauce (omit for low-carb)
If you don't like, don't want, don't have or can't find a good quality black bean garlic sauce, a few pinches of red pepper flake add nice heat.
For one pound of chicken with loads of vegetables, I measure a quarter cup each of the above four ingredients. This gives you about one cup of sauce, enough to coat the ingredients.
To enjoy extra saucy stir-fry, go for a half cup of each sauce ingredient for each pound of chicken.
For Orange Chicken
Really simple! To turn a classic brown stir-fry sauce into zingy orange chicken, add the zest and juice of one large or two small oranges. I simply squeeze the juice from the orange(s) I grate into the sauce mixture.
And as I've already hinted, the orange chicken recipe below can easily become any flavor you like.
Love the Kung Pao or General Tso? Add as much garlic and/or chile peppers as your taste buds can handle.
Sesame Stir-Fry? Use dark brown sugar and finish the dish with toasted sesame seeds and a drizzle of dark sesame oil. For quick toasted sesame seeds, heat a thin layer of seeds in a shallow pan over medium heat, shaking often until they're evenly light brown.
Whatever your fancy, it's bound to be healthier than what comes in the carton. And if you play your cards right, you'll be enjoying a second helping before any delivery can make it to your door.
Yours in stir-fry,
Use the basic stir-fry sauce below to make orange chicken, or mix it up with sesame seeds or thai chili peppers. Loaded with B vitamins, packed with vegetables, stir-fry at home is incredibly flavorful and much healthier than delivery.
This recipe may seem complicated at first glance, but once you follow the steps a couple times on your own, you won't even need to look at the recipe and can begin experimenting with your favorite take-out flavors!
Meat Batter + Marinade
- 4-8 boneless/skinless chicken thighs or breasts, sliced into ¼ strips (or even beef, pork or tofu for vegan)
- egg whites (can be boxed)
- cornstarch (non-GMO recommended)
- soy sauce or coconut aminos
- avocado or peanut oil for frying
- ½ cup soy sauce or coconut aminos
- ½ cup rice wine vinegar or Mirin
- ½ cup sugar or brown sugar, or ¼ raw honey (omit for keto/low-carb)
- ½ cup black bean garlic sauce (sub with pinch of chili flakes or hoisin, omit for low-carb)
- zest and juice of two small or one large orange
- slurry: 2-3 tablespoons of cornstarch (or arrowroot/tapioca) mixed with water to a heavy cream consistency
Aromatics + Vegetables
- 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
- about one tablespoon ginger, peeled and minced or grated (I used a microplane grater)
- 2 scallions, sliced thin (whites and greens separated)
- 2 bell peppers, chopped
- 1 small yellow onion, chopped
- water chestnuts, drained
- sesame oil, for frying
- any other chopped vegetables you desire... Snow peas, Napa cabbage and broccoli are all delicious!
- cooked rice or riced cauliflower, for serving
Mix Batter + Marinate (omit for vegan, keto, grain-free or ultra low-carb)
- Whisk cornstarch into a couple egg whites until you reach the consistency of pancake batter.
- Whisk in several dashes of soy sauce or coconut aminos.
- Coat chicken in batter and marinate while you prepare the vegetables. This can be done a day ahead.
Mix Slurry + Sauce
- To prepare slurry (thickening agent), combine a few tablespoons of cornstarch with water in a small bowl until it is about the consistency of heavy cream. Set aside. Omit for grain-free or low-carb.
- Combine all the sauce ingredients, and whisk to combine. Set aside.
- In a wok or large sauté pan, heat half an inch of oil over medium-high for several minutes. Use only a few tablespoons of oil if you didn't batter your meat or tofu.
- Remove chicken or meat from batter, brushing off excess batter.
- Fry chicken in batches until golden brown and thoroughly cooked, flipping as needed. The oil should come about halfway up the sides of the chicken (again, only if battered).
- Drain chicken on paper towels and set aside. Discard oil, and wipe pan clean with a damp towel (no need to wash).
- In same pan over high heat, sauté garlic, ginger and whites of scallions in sesame oil for one minute, stirring constantly.
- Add vegetables, and continue to stir constantly. Never stop stirring or the ingredients can burn.
- Add the stir-fry sauce mixture and then the slurry to the pan, mixing well. Bring to a boil just until the sauce thickens.
- Turn the heat down to medium-low, and add the chicken back to pan, stirring gently to coat.
- Garnish with the greens of the scallions.
- Serve over rice, or cauliflower rice for a lower carb dish.
*Nutrition Information below does not include rice or riced cauliflower.
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