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.
The 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.
Recipe: Mandarin Orange Chicken
Prep Time: 25 Minutes | Cook Time: 20 Minutes | Yield: 4 Servings | Level: Moderate
- 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
- 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.
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.
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.
Chinese 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.
- Exchange dark thigh for chicken breast meat.
- Exchange Mandarin for regular orange zest.
- Exchange white for finely ground black pepper.
Cook with Sauces
Written by Helen Horton
Photographs by Helen Horton