How to Make Orange Chicken at Home
Even if You Are Not Gluten Free
Gluten-free Chinese food makes a regular appearance on our dinner menu. We eat it almost every week in one form or another. In fact, Oriental food is one of our favorite cuisines. However, you don’t have to be on a gluten-free diet to enjoy this orange chicken recipe. I’ve been making it almost the same way for years now.
Traditionally, orange chicken is made by tossing bite-sized chicken pieces into a beaten egg white, rolling them in cornstarch, allowing them to dry, and then frying the pieces in peanut oil until crispy. That makes them gluten free, dairy free, and soy free. But I prefer to use a standard Chinese batter for deep frying.
Standard batters are more adaptable to other Chinese recipes, easier to eat, and far less time consuming to use. Batters also don’t dirty the oil in the same way that cornstarch-dusted meats and vegetables do, yet they can still be gluten-free, dairy-free, and soy free.
This recipe comes with two different sauces: a spicy orange-chicken sauce, which is more of an orange-chicken glaze actually, for those who want something closer to what you would find as a fast-food Chinese menu item, and a more simplified gluten-free orange sauce for those who need to get dinner on the table quick. Both sauces make eating gluten-free Chinese food at home something you’ll want to do more often.
How to Adapt This Orange Chicken Recipe if You’re Not Gluten Free
If you’re not gluten free, you can simply substitute an equal amount of all-purpose flour and cornstarch (1/4-cup of each) for the 1/2-cup of gluten-free flour mix called for in the batter. In fact, that’s how I used to make this easy Orange Chicken recipe before I discovered that I needed to eliminate gluten from our diet.
If you’re on a low-carb diet, you can use a low-carb baking mix such as Carbquick, eliminate the cornstarch in the sauce, and use a sugar substitute. To thicken the orange sauce, slowly sprinkle a little bit of guar gum or xanthum gum into the sauce after it’s had time to simmer for a few minutes. If you can’t afford the carbohydrates in the orange or orange juice, you can use sugar-free orange syrup instead. Since the syrup has a strong orange flavor and is pre-sweetened with Splenda, you won’t need to use the orange peel or sugar substitute.
If you need to be corn free, you can use a corn-free, gluten-free flour mix, or substitute the cornstarch for tapioca if you can eat wheat. You’ll also want to use the Easy Gluten-Free Orange Sauce with a safe brand of orange juice, such as Florida’s Natural, if you don’t have safe local oranges. Tapioca makes the orange sauce a bit stretchy, but it doesn’t affect the taste.
How to Make Orange Chicken
Gluten-Free Orange Chicken makes a nice presentation and isn’t complicated to make. It’s one of my go-to meals when my vertigo is acting up because the sauce only takes a few minutes to throw together, and frying up the chicken balls is easy, even if you’re doing it for a crowd. In fact, one large chicken breast will easily stretch to feed four people whether you’re serving it over hot rice or with broccoli.
The baking soda in the marinade isn’t optional. If you’re on a low-sodium diet, just substitute a baking soda made from potassium. Baking soda is what gives meats their familiar Chinese restaurant texture. Each of the sauces can be made earlier in the day, and then reheated, but they might need a little bit of orange juice or water when you go to reheat them.
However, they are not difficult to whip up while the oil is heating and the chicken is cooking. In addition, you don’t have to use chicken. I’ve used pork or shrimp with both orange sauces, and both turned out well.
- large boneless, skinless chicken breast (about 12 to 16-ounces)
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Chop the chicken into bite-sized pieces and place in a small bowl. Traditionally, the chicken should be cut into 1-inch diameter pieces, but I often cut them smaller than that. Add water, vinegar, and baking soda. Stir well. Since the vinegar will react with the baking soda and bubble, make sure you use a bowl that’s large enough to compensate for that. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate the chicken cubes for several hours to marinate.
Gluten-Free Spicy Orange Sauce
Gluten-free sauces are traditionally made with cornstarch, which is available in any supermarket. If you’re gluten free or cooking for someone who is gluten free, make sure that you use a safe brand of cornstarch. Store brands are often repackaged, older stock that has been purchased from large commercial brands, and can therefore be accidentally contaminated with wheat.
Make sure you check with the company if you’re not sure about their packaging and line-cleaning procedures. Company phone numbers are generally located on the label or box.
- 1-1/4 cups water
- juice from 1 orange
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 1-1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 1-1/2 teaspoons freshly minced ginger
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- dried, crushed chili peppers to taste
- grated rind from 1 orange
In a saucepan, combine all of the ingredients expect for the grated orange rind. Stir well. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Lower the heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Add the grated orange rind.
If you don’t want to use orange rind, peel 2 oranges and pop the orange segments into the blender. Whirl until they are as smooth as you can get them. Add to the rest of the ingredients. Increase the cornstarch to 2-1/2 or 3 tablespoons. The sauce will thicken as it cools.
Easy Gluten-Free Orange Sauce
I tend to make this version more often because it’s so quick and easy to put together. It can be varied by adding coconut shreds, crushed pineapple, pineapple tidbits, or any of the seasonings above, such as garlic, fresh minced ginger, or crushed chili peppers.
- 1 cup orange juice
- 3/4 cup white sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1/4 cup coconut (optional)
- 1/2 cup pineapple tidbits (optional)
Combine all of the ingredients in a medium-sized saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Lower heat, and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until sauce is as thick as you would like it.
Chinese Batter for Deep Frying
- 1/2 cup gluten-free flour mix
- (or 1/4 cup all-purpose flour and 1/4 cup cornstarch)
- (or 1/2 cup low-carb bake mix)
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 egg, slightly beaten
- 1 tablespoon milk, cream, or almond milk
Combine gluten-free flour mix, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Stir well. Add the egg and stir into the flour mixture as best you can. Stir in the milk or almond milk. The batter will be very thick, but it will thin after you mix it with the chicken cubes, due to the water and vinegar in the marinade. This same batter can be used for a variety of Chinese recipes. All you do is switch out the sauce.
When You’re Ready to Cook the Gluten-Free Orange Chicken
When ready to the cook the chicken, heat peanut oil or grapeseed oil in a heavy pan or deep fryer. I currently use a heavy, cast iron skillet filled with an inch of oil. You can make the sauce if you haven’t already, and line a plate with paper towels.
Prepare the Chinese Batter for Deep Frying. Add the chicken pieces and stir well. It will look like there isn’t enough batter. You can add a little bit more flour if you like, and even a dab more almond milk, but we prefer the chicken balls to have a light coating rather than a bready texture.
Carefully drop each chicken piece into the hot oil and fry until well browned. Gently flip the chicken pieces over and continue cooking until the chicken is done. I find that in a cast iron skillet, I have to flip them over a couple of times with a metal, slotted spoon. It takes about 10 minutes total for them to cook on both sides.
When the chicken is cooked, remove the chicken nuggets from the oil to the paper-lined plate using a slotted spoon. Allow the pieces to drain for at least three or four minutes. You can let them sit longer than that if you need to. The hot orange sauce will reheat them.
To serve, you can either transfer the chicken balls to a serving platter and top with the Gluten-Free Spicy Orange Sauce or the Easy Gluten-Free Orange Sauce. Alternatively, you can dump the drained chicken balls into a very-large bowl and toss with the gluten-free orange glaze. You can also line your serving plates with hot rice, top with the fried chicken balls, and then carefully ladle the orange sauce over the top. That’s how I usually do it.
I always serve this Gluten-Free Orange Chicken recipe with brown rice and a nice pile of steamed broccoli spears on the side.