Orange chicken

When it comes to ordering Chinese food, Orange chicken is always my go-to dish. I love the sweetness and spice, and I particularly love it as a cold leftover for breakfast the next day. In fact, we frequently eat Trader Joe’s frozen Orange Chicken. That stuff is yummy and easy, but it’s not exactly healthy.

Remember that episode of MasterChef where the contestants were assigned to make a Chinese dish that featured mandarin oranges? Most of them fell flat on their faces in that challenge, and I remember thinking that I would’ve been in pretty big trouble too because I know nothing about Chinese cooking. Fortunately for me, one of the really good recipes made it into the MasterChef cookbook–Jenna’s Asian Orange Stir-Fry. It turns out to be so much more flavorful and interesting than traditional American-Chinese restaurant Orange chicken, and it’s got to be quite a bit healthier as well. Whether it’s authentically Chinese, well, I have no idea, but this is probably about as close as I’ll get.

I adapted the recipe a little bit just to simplify, but I have to say I was delighted to discover some new ingredients I haven’t cooked with before–rice vinegar and sesame oil. The sesame oil has a wonderful smokiness to it, and I can’t wait to try it out in some other dishes. The rice vinegar is a lighter, unique flavor that would also work well with many different mixtures. I love adding new ingredients, like oils or spices, to my kitchen, which is a huge benefit of cooking from this cookbook. That said, I couldn’t find mandarin oranges when I was at the store, so I nixed those in favor of plain old navels. Which worked just fine.

The recipe is pretty easy to follow, but prepping the ingredients ended up being a bit more time-consuming than I expected it to be. Still, I managed to get the whole dinner ready in a little over an hour–not bad considering it was designed to be accomplished in a one-hour cooking challenge on the show! The ingredient list is long, but trust me, it’s worth it. The flavors in this dish are so complex. It’s a bit spicy–feel free to cut back on the amount of cayenne pepper or red chili sauce if you don’t like spicy foods. However, I wouldn’t eliminate the red pepper flakes as they give the sauce an extra dimension (and look pretty too).

Other changes I made included using a whole egg. The recipe calls for just the white, but I don’t really like separating eggs if not absolutely required (plus I hate to waste the yolk). I also cut back on the amount of soy sauce, which could just be because I happen to have some really strong soy sauce on hand. Feel free to adjust to taste.

Orange chicken

Adapted from Jenna Hamiter’s Asian Orange Stir Fry in the MasterChef Cookbook

  • 1 lb package chicken cutlets
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1 and 1/4 c freshly-squeezed orange juice (for me this was 2 navel oranges, juiced with pulp included)
  • 1/2 c chicken broth
  • 2 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp freshly-grated ginger
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp red chili sauce
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 pound snow peas
  1. Clean chicken and chop into bite-sized pieces.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the egg, cornstarch, sesame oil, cayenne pepper, sea salt, and freshly-ground pepper. Add chicken and mix well to coat. Set aside to allow chicken to marinate.
  3. Juice the orange and add broth, rice vinegar, brown sugar, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, red pepper flakes, and chili sauce. Stir well until sugar is dissolved and all ingredients are combined.
  4. Heat olive oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. When oil shimmers, add chicken in batches so that it’s flat in the pan (rather than cooking in a mound). Cook for about 3-5 minutes, until all pink disappears. Remove to a plate lined with a paper towel to drain and repeat until all chicken is cooked.
  5. Set chicken aside. If pan is dry (mine was), add a little more olive oil, then add snow peas and toss to coat in oil/drippings.
  6. Pour in orange juice mixture and quickly bring to a simmer. When peas start to tenderize, add chicken back in the pan. Simmer everything for a few more minutes, until flavors are combined and sauce begins to thicken.

We enjoyed this over a bed of rice. If you want to be fancy, you could pack some sticky rice into a ramekin or small bowl and invert on the plate to create a little cake of rice. You could also garnish with some green onions–a step I skipped. It tastes great either way. Thinking of doubling this recipe for a dinner party? Great idea! I would double the chicken and marinade and use the same amount of sauce.

This is the first thing I’ve cooked from the MasterChef Cookbook. So far I’m enjoying it–the recipes seem thorough in their instructions, but they also use a lot of ingredients and techniques I haven’t tried before. It also does a good job of explaining kitchen and ingredient basics, which I always value in a good cookbook. I’m so glad to read these recipes I watched people make on tv and have a chance to try them out myself!

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