This easy, saucy Orange Chicken can be on the table in 30 minutes or less! The citrusy sauce tastes just like Panda Express® — it’s sweet and tangy with a touch of spice.
This Orange Chicken dinner is part of our Back-To-School Lifesavers — a series of recipes that are intended to have little (or no) veggie chopping, minimal prep time, around 10 ingredients or less (not including pantry staples), and use kid-friendly ingredients. Click here to see all the recipes in the series!
My kids are obsessed with Panda Express’s orange chicken (on top of loads of chow mein, of course). So, as a fun back-to-school meal I created a Panda Express copycat — short-cut recipe style! Like the other recipes in this series, Orange Chicken requires minimal ingredients, minimal prep, and minimal chopping.
Making Orange Chicken that rivals Panda Express can involve quite a bit of time and effort between marinating, breading, and frying chicken and making a sauce. So we’ll get close to the original with a far easier preparation time and a few recipe shortcuts. The biggest shortcut? We’re using store-bought crispy chicken tenders!
Not excited about using store-bought chicken tenders in this recipe? We’re also sharing how to prepare your own chicken (breading and frying). The full recipe for that is in the “FAQs” section below. If you opt to prepare your own chicken instead of using prepared chicken, this recipe won’t be a quick-and-easy recipe, but delicious nonetheless!
- Quick garlic and ginger. We love Dorot’s® garlic and ginger cubes. They have crushed garlic and crushed ginger that you can keep handy in the freezer and pop into this (and other) recipe when needed. (Check if your local store carries them; they’re typically found with frozen veggies in the grocery store). Another option is to use refrigerated garlic paste and refrigerated minced garlic.
- Crispy chicken tenders. The biggest shortcut of all — you don’t need to make the chicken for this Orange Chicken! Any store-bought frozen and breaded chicken tenders will work great. I personally use Tyson’s® crispy chicken strips for this recipe (not sponsored). If you have an air fryer, that is our favorite method for cooking the tenders — it’s super quick, you don’t need to wait for the oven to preheat, and it yields the best texture! Otherwise, the oven works great too. Once the chicken is nice and crispy, cut it into bite-sized pieces and it’s ready to toss in the sauce!
Orange Chicken Sauce
While the chicken (that you spent no time preparing — YAY!) is in the air fryer or baking in the oven, you’ll be left with the perfect amount of time to whip together the sauce. The sauce is easy — we just throw everything into a pot and thicken with a cornstarch slurry (cornstarch and water). Here are a few notes on the sauce ingredients:
- While you don’t have to zest the oranges for the sauce, we love the extra punch of orange flavor it delivers. We love zestingthe oranges with a microplane and then juicing them with this citrus juicer.
- There are red pepper flakes in the sauce, but also a lot of sugar so the two really balance each other out. If you do reduce the red pepper flakes, you might want to also slightly reduce the sugar.
- We like using Kikkoman’s® regular soy sauce (not lite/low-sodium) in this sauce. Lite soy sauce doesn’t offer enough seasoning (saltiness) to offset all the sweetness present in the recipe.
- For a great flavor, sesame oil really delivers. If you can find toasted sesame oil, that’s even better! This oil is typically found with Asian ingredients, not near the other oils in the grocery store. We use this sesame oil to first sauté the garlic and ginger in and then drizzle the rest on top of everything. Sesame oil is a great finishing sauce that adds an additional layer of flavor to the orange chicken.
Orange Chicken FAQs
1What if I want to make my own crispy chicken for this meal?
Great! Not really a short-cut recipe per se, but we have made Orange Chicken from scratch and here’s how to do that:
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs (I don’t recommend breasts — they dry out quickly!), cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1/2 tablespoon fine sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
- 1/2 cup cornstarch
- 1-1/2 cups white all-purpose flour
- 1 large egg
- 3/4 cup water (plus more as needed)
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 3-4 cups vegetable oil, for frying
Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces.
In a large bowl, combine the salt, pepper, cornstarch, and flour with a whisk.
Add in the egg, water, and 1 tablespoon oil. Add more water as needed until the batter is the consistency of pancake batter.
Add the chicken into the batter. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, up to 2 hours.
Add vegetable oil to a large heavy bottom pan or deep fryer and heat to 350 degrees F. (I add a candy thermometer to a pot). It’s important to keep the heat as consistent as possible for even frying.
Add chicken pieces into oil in a single layer (don’t over-crowd the oil) and fry for 4-6 minutes or until lightly golden brown and a food thermometer reads 160 degrees F.
Use a slotted metal spoon to remove the chicken from the pot and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.
Dredge in sauce (to preference — you may not want it all) and enjoy immediately!
Here are step-by-step photos for making the chicken from scratch:
2What is Orange Chicken sauce made of?
Nothing beats a delicious orange chicken sauce! The sweet citrus sauce is made with the juice & zest of oranges, garlic, ginger, soy sauce, red chili flakes, vinegar, and sugar. It is thickened with a cornstarch and water mixture.
3Is Orange Chicken unhealthy?
Orange Chicken is quite high in calories and fat with a poor balance of macronutrients. That said, when eaten in moderation, It’s a fun dish to enjoy occasionally.
One of my favorite things about the recipe I’m sharing today is that it is lighter than most orange chicken recipes — we’re using air-fried (or baked) chicken instead of frying it.
You can make Orange Chicken even healthier by halving the sauce and enjoying less saucy chicken bites. This will greatly cut down on added sugars and overall calories.
4Why do they call it Orange Chicken?
It’s thought that the dish may have originally come from “tangerine chicken” which is a dish from the Hunan province in China. This dish is translated to being “dried citrus peel chicken” referring to dried orange or tangerine peel in the dish. (Source)
That said, while Orange Chicken is one of the most famous “Chinese” dishes in America, it is purely an American invention — there are no authentic Chinese restaurants or restaurants in China that serve this dish.
5What is the difference between General Tso and Orange Chicken?
The two are similar, but different. Both typically involve chicken that has been bread and fried and then coated in a sweet sauce.
The sauce coating the chicken in General Tso Chicken is usually chili-based and quite a bit spicier. The sauce coating the chicken in Orange Chicken is usually sweeter and is orange-based with actual orange juice or zest in the sauce.
6What are good side dishes for Orange Chicken?
We love Orange Chicken served over rice and topped with sesame seeds and green onions — yum!
Great side dishes: steamed or roasted broccoli, roasted brussels sprouts, or a medley of roasted vegetables.
Another great option would be this Asian cucumber salad!
More easy chicken recipes
- Rotisserie Chicken Stir-Frywith a frozen veggies blend
- Quick Chicken Curryready in 30-minutes or less!
- BBQ Chicken Tacos With Coleslawonly five ingredients!
- Apricot Chickenwith coconut rice
- Chicken Ramen Noodleswith a simple stir-fry sauce
- 1pound (16 oz.)frozen breaded chicken tendersNote 1
- 2tablespoons + 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil,separated
- 2tablespoonsminced garlicNote 2
- 1teaspoonginger paste
- 1/2teaspoonred pepper flakes
- 1/2cup each:white sugar, light brown sugar
- 1/2cupwhite vinegar
- 1-2largeoranges (1/2 cup juice & 1-2 teaspoons zest)
- 1/4cupregular soy sauce(not lite)
- 1/4cupcornstarch mixed with 1/4 cup water
- Optional: cooked rice (Note 3), for serving, additional red pepper flakes, green onions, toasted sesame seeds
CHICKEN: Start by preparing chicken tenders according to package directions (We like air frying them best — they’re done in about 11-12 minutes!). Let cool to warm and then cut into bite-sized pieces and add to a large bowl.
SAUCE: Meanwhile, set a medium-sized pot over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons of sesame oil. Once the oil begins to shimmer, add garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring constantly for 30 seconds. Then add in the brown sugar, white sugar, and 1-2 teaspoons orange zest (zest is optional — we love it, but takes an extra minute, so you choose! Add more for a stronger orange flavor and less for a milder taste). Stir to moisten the sugar and then add in the orange juice. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Then add in the vinegar and soy sauce. Stir to combine.
THICKEN SAUCE: In a separate small bowl, use a small whisk or fork to mix the cornstarch and water until the mixture is completely smooth. Pour all of this mixture into the sauce and stir. Continue to cook the sauce until it thickens to the consistency of syrup. Taste and adjust the sauce to personal preference, adding more red pepper flakes for a spicier sauce or a pinch of salt if needed.
ENJOY: Pour as much sauce as you’d like over the cut-up chicken pieces (you may not want it all depending on how saucy or un-saucy you prefer your meal). Drizzle the remaining 2 teaspoons sesame oil on top of coated chicken. Gently toss and serve immediately. We like to serve over cooked rice with sesame seeds and thinly sliced green onions.
Note 2:Garlic and ginger: To make prep seriously quick and easy, use pre-minced garlic and ginger paste. Alternatively, you can use Dorot® garlic and ginger cubes.
Note 3: Rice: Here’s the quickest/easiest way to get perfect basmati rice (must use basmati for this to work!)
- Fill a large pot with water and set it to boil.
- Once the water is at a rolling boil, salt the water and add in rice.
- Cook without, reducing the heat, for 6 minutes (Taste test to ensure it is tender.) and then drain and fluff with a fork. Easy!
Nutrition information does not include the optional rice, green onions or sesame seeds.
We do our best to provide accurate nutritional analysis for our recipes. Our nutritional data is calculated using a third-party algorithm and may vary, based on individual cooking styles, measurements, and ingredient sizes. Please use this information for comparison purposes and consult a health professional for nutrition guidance as needed.