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Mandarin Orange Chicken

Knock off of Trader Joe’s Mandarin Orange Chicken.

Chinese cooking classes pay off again

Developing this recipe all started when my mom visited my sister Sharon’s place in southern California. She served Trader Joe’s best seller, Mandarin Orange Chicken and mom loved it. Since her closest Trader Joe’s is an hour away, she asked if I could develop a ‘knock off’ recipe she could cook at home. I’ve never tried this dish but I have Chinese cooking training undertaken while I lived in Asia. I thought, “I can do this or, at least I’m up for the challenge.”

I picked up a package of Mandarin Orange Chicken at my local Trader Joe’s in Silver Spring, Maryland and served it for Sunday dinner. Everybody raved about the chicken. With three moving parts, the marinade, batter and glaze, I got to work on the ingredient list on the package working out the quantities and procedures.

Mandarin-Oranges-bambooThe sauce proved the most difficult. I made several iterations, using a spreadsheet to get the right balance of soy sauce, orange, vinegar and heat. The final result is a sauce that mimics Trader Joe’s and is made out of fresh ingredients. Now when you crave this dish you can enjoy chicken with some glistening sauce lightly perfumed with orange and dressed with a little back heat. Maybe that makes me a trader. Mom, please enjoy it.

2011 AniversaRecipe – Risotto and Spinach Salad with Citrus

Recipe: Mandarin Orange Chicken

Prep Time: 25 Minutes | Cook Time: 20 Minutes | Yield: 4 Servings | Level: Moderate

Chicken-Thigh-meat-cut-bite-sizeChicken and Marinade

  • 1 lb dark meat chicken, cut in bite size pieces, 3 large thighs
  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ginger, microplane grated
  • 1 tsp grated green onion, white part, microplane grated
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • dash white pepper


  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp white vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp Mandarin orange zest, finely minced
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth
  • 1 tsp ketchup
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • Add-Chicken-to-Batter

  • 1/2 tsp grated garlic clove
  • 1/2 tsp Chinese chili sauce


  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 2 Tbsp canola oil
  • canola oil
  • hot cooked rice
  • green onion tops, cut vertically in ribbons

Chicken and Marinade
1 Place chicken in a medium bowl. Add 2 teaspoons cornstarch, 2 teaspoons soy sauce, ginger, green onion, 1/2 teaspoon salt and dash white pepper. Stir well to combine. Set aside to marinate for 15 minutes.

Mandarin-Orange-Chicken-Frying2 Meanwhile in a medium saucepan, combine sugar, 2 teaspoons cornstarch and 1/4 teaspoon salt.

3 Stir in vinegar, zest, 1/4 cup chicken broth, ketchup, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, garlic and chili sauce.

4 Cook over medium heat until the sauce comes to a boil and thickens, about 3-4 minutes. Cover to keep warm and set aside.

5 In a medium bowl combine 1/2 cup cornstarch, flour, 1/4 tsp salt.

6 Add egg, 1/2 cup chicken broth and oil. Mix well.

Chicken-draining-on-rack7 Add chicken mixture to batter and stir to coat each piece.

8 In a large frying pan, heat 1/2 inch of oil on medium high. In 2 batches, add the batter coated chicken pieces one at a time and fry until golden brown turning half way through to cook both sides. Do not over crowd. Place pieces on a baking sheet lined with a cooling rack to drain.

9 Once all the chicken pieces are cooked, place in the sauce pan with the glaze, turning to coat. Pour over hot cooked rice. Garnish with green onion top ribbons.

In place of a micro plane grater, very finely mince the ginger, garlic and green onion.

Grate the zest with a micro plane grater then place on a cutting board and run a knife through it to mince as needed.

Gyoza-Chili-Black-BeanChinese chili sauce can be purchased at an Asian grocery store and keeps in the fridge for a long time. There are many varieties. The one used in this recipe is my favorite and is Chili Black Bean sauce.

Cornstarch helps the batter to brown and crisp well.

In order to maintain the heat of the oil and evenly brown the chicken pieces, don’t over crowd batches.

Use a rack to keep chicken crunchy. A plate lined with paper towels tends to make coating soggy.

Dish Designer

  • Exchange dark thigh for chicken breast meat.
  • Exchange Mandarin for regular orange zest.
  • Exchange white for finely ground black pepper.

Mandarin-Orange-Chicken-with-RiceInspiration – Trader Joe’s
Cook with Sauces
Written by
Photographs by Helen Horton

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10 Responses to Mandarin Orange Chicken

  1. Lindsay August 19, 2012 at 9:50 pm #

    We adore the Trader Joe’s orange chicken around here! Good to have someone sleuth out the recipe for us!

    • helenhorton August 19, 2012 at 10:22 pm #

      This was fun to make. And although it’s a guess, I’m pretty sure it has less fat and calories than their version. Go healthy without sacrificing taste.

  2. rob April 8, 2013 at 1:25 am #

    You refer to Chinese chili sauce in htis recipe, could you please tell me if it’s sweet or other kind?
    Living in Sweden makes it hard to get the exact same brands, so a description would help.


    • rob April 8, 2013 at 1:27 am #

      Sorry, should have read through more thoroughly…
      found it!

      • helenhorton April 8, 2013 at 8:33 am #

        I was introduced to this Black Bean Chili Sauce when I took Chinese cooking classes years ago when I lived in Asian. It’s an essential staple in my kitchen and creates a really good flavor for Chinese wok dishes and dipping sauces. It’s got heat, sesame, and chili flavorings.

  3. Holly January 31, 2014 at 11:47 am #

    This was delicious. Tried it last night. This is a little above my ability…but I felt like it was another recipe like Beef in Oyster Sauce [still one of Joseph\'s VERY favorites...thanks for teaching me]…if I can do it several times, it won’t feel overwhelming to me. And it was awesome.

    Question…the coating on the chicken didn’t turn out the same as yours. Mine was thinner and didn’t totally stay on the chicken. What should I do differently. I do use whole wheat flour, but otherwise, I tried to follow the instructions.

  4. helenhorton January 31, 2014 at 12:08 pm #

    I’ve never made this with whole wheat flour so I don’t know if that’s the difference. If you want to add a little more flour to thicken the batter that’s OK. Also, if you cook about 6-7 pieces at a time, that helps keep the chicken separate and allows the hot oil to set the batter without bumping into other pieces.

  5. helenhorton January 31, 2014 at 12:08 pm #

    So glad you love this recipe. It’s a favorite of mine.

  6. Cheryl February 15, 2014 at 4:52 pm #

    I need to spend more time exploring this site — if I hadn’t seen that there were recent comments on this recipe I would not have known it was here. Given how little I cook, this is likely beyond my skillset, but I LOVE orange chicken, so having access to a proven delicious recipe gives me an immense sense of satisfaction.

  7. Linda January 11, 2016 at 7:52 pm #

    Very happy to find this recipe here! My daughter recently gave birth to twins and a friend brought over some TJ’s Mandarin Orange Chicken for an easy meal. We all loved it! Now I need to figure out how to make it gluten free so my 2 1/2 yr old grandson with celiac can enjoy it too. :) Thanks for sharing!

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