Panda Express Orange Chicken is crispy fried chicken in a sweet and citrusy Chinese chili sauce. Every chicken piece is coated in a thick and tangy glaze that is so addictive! Serve with a side of fried rice or Lo mein for a homemade take on Panda Express!
What is Orange Chicken?
Orange Chicken is the signature dish of Panda Express inspired by a tangerine peel beef dish called “Chenpi Niurou” where beef slices are wok-fried in chili peppers and tangerine peels. Today, Panda Express makes it with chicken only with a sweet and sour citrus twist.
This popular orange chicken dish comes from an employee who worked at Panda. It was mentioned that you need to first fry the chicken breaded heavily so that it is nice and crispy. Also, the orange chicken sauce is combined together in a bowl and mixed so that there are no lumps of cornstarch. Orange extract is originally used although you can use orange zest.
The key is to have your chicken ready, then cook the sauce until it’s the right consistency (it should be very sticky when cooked on high for 1-2 minutes). Then you add your chicken and toss to coat. At Panda Express they made enormous batches but this orange chicken recipe is scaled down for the home cook.
Orange Chicken Ingredients:
- Chicken thighs- Panda uses cut-up chicken thighs. However, you could use marinated chicken breasts instead. Simply marinate the chicken breasts in 1 teaspoon baking soda, 2 tablespoons of white distilled vinegar, and 1-2 cups of cold water for 30 minutes. This is a Chinese restaurant hack for quickly tenderized meat. Then rinse everything off and cut up the meat.
- The Sauce- is a combination of white distilled vinegar, sugar, water, soy sauce, chili flakes, fresh garlic, zested ginger root, orange juice concentrate (or extract), cornstarch, sesame oil, and rice wine. You can substitute apple cider vinegar for the rice wine or white vinegar. Substitute 1 tablespoon of ginger powder or ginger paste for the fresh ginger. Ginger has a citrusy sweet and spicy flavor that is a staple for this sauce.
- The Breading- is a simple combination of part flour and mostly cornstarch for ultra-crispy results. You can substitute tapioca starch or arrowroot powder for the corn starch.
- Wet Batter- consists of an egg, a little oil, and salt and pepper.
How To Make Orange Chicken:
This is an easy orange chicken recipe that you can fry in one pot and cook the sauce in another. Make ahead by frying the chicken pieces first then place the orange chicken in a crock pot with the sauce hours in advance over low. Also, make the sauce on the runnier side so it thickens as it warms. You do need a wok to cook this recipe for orange chicken.
- Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces (about 1-inch thick). Meanwhile, preheat 2 inches of oil in a medium-large pot over medium heat.
- Make the wet batter by whisking everything together well.
- Combine and mix together the cornstarch and wheat flour.
- Dip chicken in the wet batter then the flour breading.
- Fry in oil and transfer fried chicken into a large bowl lined with paper towels.
- Make the orange sauce for the chicken by whisking together all the sauce ingredients in a medium-sized saucepan or pot. Bring to a boil over high heat and simmer to desired consistency (1-2 minutes).
- Add the fried chicken pieces to the sauce and toss to coat. Serve.
How To Store Panda Express Orange Chicken:
Leftovers can be kept in the fridge and stored in an air-tight container for 4-5 days. The best way to reheat leftovers is to heat them in a skillet with a splash of water or bake uncovered in a sheet pan with a touch of water to revive the sauce.
Can You Freeze Orange Chicken?
Once you have fried the chicken pieces, you can cool and flash-freeze the meat. The key is to par-fry the meat (not cooking all the way through) to finish frying from frozen orange chicken. You could make the glaze and freeze too but I’d make it after re-frying the frozen chicken for the best results.
Gluten-Free Orange Chicken:
Homemade orange chicken is the best as you can adjust the ingredients to almost any preference. For a gluten-free variation simply use a gluten-free flour mix for the wheat flour. Also, use Coconut Aminos for the soy sauce to go gluten-free.
Orange Chicken vs. General Tso?
General Tso’s Chicken is very similar to the Chinese orange chicken only it’s sweet and spicy without the citrusy orange notes as Orange chicken would have.
Tips To Make Orange Chicken:
- Switch up the orange chicken sauce recipe by adding cilantro, orange marmalade, or the zest of a mandarine peel.
- For the crispiest chicken, dredge the chicken in the flour and cornstarch mixture and immediately deep fry. The longer the breading sits the more it fades and loses its shaggy coating. I work in batches.
- For a more healthy orange chicken recipe use honey for the sugar and less oil for frying. Air-fry orange chicken by spraying both sides of the breaded chicken in cooking oil.
- To make a baked orange chicken recipe drizzle both sides of the breaded chicken with oil and bake in a pre-heated 425°F oven for 20 minutes or until the meat reaches 165°F.
- Homemade orange chicken can be made ahead of time and kept warm in a slow cooker until needed. This is perfect for hosting a Sunday afternoon lunch.
For more orange chicken recipes try our take on this dish using orange juice. If you made this orange chicken Panda Express dish, leave a comment and rating below!
Panda Express Orange Chicken
- 1 wok or pot (for deep frying chicken)
- 1 medium-large pot (to make the sauce and coat the chicken)
- 1 slotted spoon to remove fried chicken pieces
- 1 large bowl
- 2 lbs chicken thighs (or chicken breasts)
- 1 egg
- 1 Tbsp sunflower oil
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- 3/4 cup cornstarch
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour (heaping)
- 1/2 cup white distilled vinegar
- 1/2 cup cane sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/2 tsp chili flakes
- 2 cloves garlic (crushed)
- 1/2 tsp zested ginger root (peeled)
- 1 Tbsp orange juice concentrate
- 1 Tbsp cornstarch
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp rice wine (or apple cider vinegar)
- Cut the chicken into 1-inch pieces. Preheat 2 inches of oil in a pot or wok.
- Whisk together the wet batter in a small bowl.
- Mix together the breading in another bowl.
- Dip the chicken in the egg batter and then into the flour mixture.
- Fry the coated chicken in oil until crispy and the internal temp reads 165°F. Transfer to a large bowl lined with paper towels.
- Make the orange chicken sauce: Combine all the sauce ingredients into a medium/large pot. Bring to a boil and simmer to desired thickness (1-2 minutes).
- Add the fried chicken pieces to the sauce and toss to coat. Transfer to a serving dish and enjoy!