Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Orange Chicken - Replicating a Restaurant Fave

Our family loves Panda Express. Our oldest son, though? He's passionate about it. In particular, their orange chicken. So when he was home from college this weekend and mentioned he'd found a recipe that replicated Panda Express's Orange Chicken, I knew I had to try it.

Of course, the key to orange chicken is the sauce. And the base of this sauce is comprised of three readily found ingredients.

1 cup Sweet Baby Ray's barbecue sauce (they were completely out of it at my grocery, so I opted for the store equivalent)

1 cup Orange Marmalade (incidentally, even though this was a 12 oz. jar, it measured exactly one cup)

2 Tablespoons Soy Sauce

So I mixed these three ingredients together in a sauce pan over low heat, stirring with a whisk to break up any chunks or marmalade. Then I tasted it. 

Hmm... Not quite right. Orange chicken usually has a little kick to it. Matter of fact, I've seem red pepper flakes clinging to the chicken. So I cautiously added a couple shakes of red pepper flakes and let the sauce stand for a little while before sampling again.

Still no heat. Time to break out the big guns.
Now, while other members of my family will use sriracha sauce like ketchup, I prefer it IN things and always add it sparingly. 

I added a few dribbles. No change.
A few more dribbles. Nothing. I wasn't looking for it to be hot, but I did want to know it was there.
I went for a full blown squirt. 

But something was still missing. It wasn't as tangy as the restaurant's sauce. 
So I added some vinegar. Just plain old white vinegar. Maybe a scant tablespoon.
That did the trick. Sweet, tangy, with a slight undercurrent of heat.
It wasn't exactly the same, but it was still good.

Now for the chicken.
Cube 2 pounds of boneless chicken breasts and set aside. 

In a separate bowl, whisk together 2 eggs.
In yet another bowl, mix together 1 cup of flour and 1/2 cup corn starch.

Rather than dipping my chicken in the egg, I poured the egg over the cubed chicken and mixed it to coat each piece. Then dredge each chicken bit in the flour mixture.

I cannot do this without making a mess.

Heat oil in a large skillet and fry the pieces in batches.

Honestly, next time I think I might just deep fry them. It's quicker and would cook the pieces evenly. But that's just me.

Once browned and cooked through, remove chicken to a paper towel lined baking sheet and keep warm in oven until all of the chicken is cooked.

Now comes the fun part.
Place the chicken in a large bowl.
Pour the sauce over the chicken and toss to coat.
You may be tempted to not add all of the sauce, thinking there's more sauce than chicken, but remember that the coating on the chicken will be soaking up that sauce, so go ahead and add it all.

Serve over rice and eat it as a meal or, in the spirit of Jan's Super Bowl talk yesterday, have some toothpicks nearby and serve as an appetizer at your next party. 

The end result was a tasty one. And while it didn't taste exactly like Panda Express, it was a close facsimile. And that's a very good thing. Because it dawned on me that once we move to the ranch, the nearest Panda Express will be an hour away, not just around the corner, like I'm used to. But with this recipe in my arsenal, if I get a craving for orange chicken, I'm good to go.

Now I just need to go back and retrieve Ruthy's lo-mien recipe (you can find that here) and I'll be all set.

What favorite restaurant recipes have you tried to duplicate? What were the results?


  1. Mindy, I've always wanted to play with orange chicken, but hadn't done it, and now I'm inspired! And since there's no panda of any kind here, I've got nothing to compare it with!!! I can't wait to try it!

    1. Let me know when you do, Ruthy, so we can compare notes. Like on how best to cook the chicken. ;)

  2. YUM!!! I've never tried making this. It's now on my to-do list. :)

    BTW, I LOVE Sweet Baby Ray's sauce. It's my new favorite bbq sauce.

    1. It's not what you'd call a quick meal, Missy, but it's worth it on occasion.

      Hubby is the bbq sauce conaseuer around here and his favorite is Stubbs. Probably because it's a little more Worcestershirey instead of sweet. Stubbs would not be good for this recipe, though. :)

  3. This sounds so good! We don't have a Panda Express here, but I used to stop at one in Kansas City occasionally. :) I might have to try making orange chicken someday.

    The best "copy cat" recipe I've tried is Olive Garden's Zuppa Toscana. Delicious! I shared that recipe a few years ago here at the cafe. Here's the link: http://yankeebellecafe.blogspot.com/2013/02/tuscan-style-soup-and-italian-bread.html

    Thanks for the recipe - and the tips to make it perfect!

    1. You're welcome, Jan. Though I'm not sure it's perfect just yet. I will definitely keep trying, though.

      I forgot about that recipe. Bacon, sausage, cream... Sounds right up my alley. Perfect on a chilly day. Now if we'd just get a chilly day. ;)

  4. I don't even remember when the last time was I had chicken, Mindy, but it looks good. What a sweet mama you are making this for your boy!

    I've had pretty good success with my haddock chowder based on assorted seafood restaurants. The recipe I most wanted to make was an orange almond salad I got years ago at a lunch place. I could easily replicate the salad, but the dressing completely escaped me.

    1. You know how we mamas are, Mary Cate. We'll do just about anything for our kiddos. Especially when food is involved.

      No chicken? Really? Why?