On the occasion that I go out of town without my family, my husband and kids have a little tradition of getting Panda Express, which they eat as leftovers the entire time I’m away. Because of this delightful custom, my kids often ask when I plan to leave them with their baba. I needed to make myself irreplaceable once again, and so this recipe was born- now I bring Panda Express to them!
WHERE DOES ORANGE CHICKEN ORIGINATE?
Orange chicken is famous in the United States, thanks in large part to Panda Express. While elements of the orange chicken flavor are inspired by the cuisine from the Hunan Province in China, the orange chicken we know here in the States is as Americanized as they come.
WHAT YOU NEED TO MAKE THIS RECIPE
- Shaoxing Wine and Egg Whites: Vinegar and egg whites create a velveting effect to tenderize the chicken for extra juicy pieces of fried chicken – take that Panda Express!
- White Sugar: White sugar in the marinade prevents the chicken from becoming tough and sweetens the sauce. You can also use honey or a sugar-free alternative like monk fruit for the sauce.
- Sesame Oil: Use sesame oil in the marinade to flavor the Panda Express orange chicken sauce.
- Dark Soy Sauce: There is a difference between dark and light soy sauce. Dark soy sauce is saltier and has a more intense flavor, which makes it perfect for marinating.
- Orange Zest: Add a burst of freshness by including fresh orange zest.
- Chicken: Chicken thighs have more flavor and are juicer than chicken breast, which is why I use them in this recipe.
- Coating: Use all-purpose flour and salt to create a simple breading for the chicken to fry and become crispy.
- Ginger: Flavor the orange chicken sauce with freshly grated ginger.
- Garlic: I suggest using four cloves, but measure with your heart.
- Oranges: I love using fresh ingredients whenever possible, especially for this sauce. I love the sweet, citrusy flavor of the fresh orange zest and juice. However, I recommend tasting the oranges before squeezing them into the sauce. I didn’t do that once, and the sauce turned out terrible. I ended up having to start from scratch. You can also use store-bought orange juice if you prefer.
- Soy Sauce: Made of fermented soybeans, soy sauce lends saltiness and umami to the sauce.
- Vinegar: Oranges provide sweetness, and so does sugar. Balance the flavor with two kinds of vinegar.
- Red Pepper Flakes: Include red pepper flakes for a slight touch of heat.
- Corn Starch: Thicken the sauce with cornstarch.
- Toasted Sesame Seeds: Finish the orange chicken with toasted sesame seeds.
HOW TO MAKE OUR PANDA EXPRESS ORANGE CHICKEN COPYCAT
The full recipe with measurements is in the recipe card below.
For the Chicken:
Step 1: Combine the ingredients for the marinade in a mixing bowl and stir until the sugar fully dissolves.
Step 2: Add chicken to the bowl and stir to coat. Cover and let the chicken marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Step 4: Remove the marinated chicken and transfer it to a colander. Let it drain over the sink for 1-2 minutes.
Let the oil return to 350°F (176°C). Then, fry the remaining chicken and transfer it to a wire rack to drain.
For the Orange Chicken Sauce:
Step 6: Remove the leftover oil from frying the chicken and warm one tablespoon of fresh oil in the pan over medium heat. Add the ginger and garlic, and cook for 30 seconds until the raw smell fades.
Step 7: Stir in the Shaoxing wine, fresh orange juice, sesame oil, soy sauce, sugar, white vinegar, red chili flakes, and orange zest. Let the mixture cook for 5-8 minutes.
Step 8: Reduce the heat and stir in the corn starch, then add the reserved chicken and toss to combine.
WHAT TO DO WITH LEFTOVERS
- Refrigerate – Store leftovers in an airtight container for 3-5 days.
- Freeze – If you plan to freeze the orange chicken, keep the chicken and sauce separate. Let the dish cool completely, then transfer the chicken and sauce into two freezer-safe containers or bags. Panda Express Orange Chicken copycat freezes for three months.
- Thaw – Let the chicken and sauce defrost in the refrigerator overnight.
- Reheat – Warm the leftovers in a saucepan over medium heat.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Can I make this recipe gluten-free?
What does orange chicken taste like?
Our Panda Express orange chicken copycat tastes just like the real thing but even more fresh! The chicken is crisp on the outside and juicy on the inside. And our sauce is sweet, but not overwhelmingly so- it’s bright and fresh because of the added citrus for a well-balanced flavor you will love.
Panda Express Orange Chicken Copycat
- ¼ cup cornstarch
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 quarts vegetable oil
- ½ – inch ginger, grated
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
- ½ cup fresh orange juice, 2-3 oranges, plus zest, to taste
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- ¼ cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon corn starch
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
For the Chicken:
- Combine the ingredients for the marinade in a mixing bowl and stir until the sugar fully dissolves. Add chicken to the bowl and stir to coat. Cover and let the chicken marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
- Remove the marinated chicken and transfer it to a colander. Let it drain over the sink for 1-2 minutes.
- Then, add ½ of the chicken pieces to the coating. Cover the chicken with the mixture and shake off any excess. Set the chicken pieces aside and repeat with the remaining chicken.
- Let the oil return to 350°F (176°C). Then, fry the remaining chicken and transfer it to a wire rack to drain.
For the Orange Chicken Sauce:
- Remove the leftover oil from frying the chicken and warm one tablespoon of fresh oil in the pan over medium heat. Add the ginger and garlic, and cook for 30 seconds until the raw smell fades.
- Stir in the Shaoxing wine, fresh orange juice, sesame oil, soy sauce, sugar, white vinegar, red chili flakes, and orange zest. Let the mixture cook for 5-8 minutes.
- Reduce the heat and stir in the corn starch, then add the reserved chicken and toss to combine.
- The nutritional information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for professional advice.