When Nathan and I don’t feel like cooking we’ll sometimes get a bag of Trader Joe’s Mandarin Orange chicken. As bagged meals go, it’s really not bad…especially if you doctor up the sauce a bit and bake the chicken a few minutes longer than specified to get it really crispy. However, after making this orange chicken we may be spoiled to the Trader Joe’s version forever. Yes, yes it is more work but the outcome is so much more bold, flavorful, and satisfying. The chicken is battered and shallow fried to a light and golden crisp and then mixed into a rich and zesty sauce. The natural flavors in the sauce from the fresh orange juice, zest, and peel shine through and the kick of spice from the cayenne pepper and dried chilis is just enough to make your eyes water the tiniest bit. In short, if you have a little extra time on your hands, put that bagged meal away and try this tasty orange chicken!
This wine was a bit sweeter than I typically prefer but it was a perfect pairing for the full flavored, bold, and spicy chicken. It balanced the spice level nicely while also bringing out the orange flavors in the sauce. The prominent flavors in the wine were apricot and honey and, despite the sweetness, the wine had a crispness that I really enjoyed.
I found this Saison to be a good pairing with the orange chicken but wasn’t too much of a fan of it by itself. The thin/light body of the beer was a great way to wash down the rich orange chicken and the hints of tropical zest and a little bit of funk actually accentuated the orange in the chicken quite well. However, the aforementioned thin body and light flavors really left something to be desired for me when drinking by itself.
Orange Flavored Chicken
From this recipe
Chicken Marinade and Sauce
1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into 1½-inch pieces
¾ cup low-sodium chicken broth
¾ cup juice, 1½ teaspoons grated zest, and 8 strips orange peel (each about 2 inches long by ½ inch wide) from 2 oranges (see note)
6 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
¼ cup soy sauce
½ cup packed dark brown sugar
3 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
¼ teaspoon cayenne
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons cold water
8 small whole dried red chiles (optional)
Coating and frying oil
3 large egg whites
1 cup cornstarch
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon cayenne
3 cups peanut oil
1. For the marinade and sauce: Place the chicken in a 1-gallon ziplock bag; set aside. Combine the chicken broth, orange juice, grated zest, vinegar, soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, ginger, and cayenne in a large saucepan (with at least a 3-quart capacity); whisk until the sugar is fully dissolved. Measure out ¾ cup of the mixture and pour into the bag with the chicken; press out as much air as possible and seal the bag, making sure that all the pieces are coated with the marinade. Refrigerate 30 to 60 minutes.
2. Bring the remaining mixture in the saucepan to a boil over high heat. In a small bowl, stir together the cornstarch and cold water; whisk the cornstarch mixture into the sauce. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until thick and translucent, about 1 minute. Off the heat, stir in the orange peel and chiles, if using (the sauce should measure 1½ cups); set the sauce aside.
3. For the coating: Place the egg whites in a pie plate; using a fork, beat until frothy. In a second pie plate, whisk the cornstarch, baking soda, and cayenne until combined. Drain the chicken in a colander or large mesh strainer; thoroughly pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Place half of the chicken pieces in the egg whites and turn to coat; transfer the pieces to the cornstarch mixture and coat thoroughly. Place the dredged chicken pieces on a wire rack set over a baking sheet; repeat with the remaining chicken.
4. To fry the chicken: Heat the oil in an 11- to 12-inch Dutch oven or straight-sided sauté pan with at least a 3-quart capacity over high heat until the oil registers 350 degrees on an instant-read or deep-fry thermometer. Carefully place half of the chicken in the oil; fry until golden brown, about 5 minutes, turning each piece with tongs halfway through cooking. Transfer to a paper towel–lined plate. Return the oil to 350 degrees and repeat with the remaining chicken.
5. To serve: Reheat the sauce over medium heat until simmering, about 2 minutes. Add the chicken and gently toss until evenly coated and heated through. Serve immediately.