My copycat Panda Express Orange Chicken is sticky, sweet and tangy. Succulent chicken pieces with a crispy coating and plenty of that delicious orange sauce. Ready in 20 minutes too!
I can see why it’s one of the most popular dishes on the Panda Express menu!
Being in the UK, we don’t actually have Panda Express, and you rarely see Orange Chicken featured on the menus of our Chinese restaurants. I remember it well from our US holidays though and I felt I had to recreate it at home.
Over the past few years, certainly in my area of the UK (near Manchester), I’ve started seeing more Chinese counter service takeaways in food courts. Unfortunately so far, none of them that I’ve tried, live up to the US ones.
The alternative is going to a proper Chinese restaurant for takeout, but I find it’s impossible to to just order a meal, without all the added extras (ribs, prawn crackers, wontons, noodles etc). Also, the meals from a takeaway are enough for 2-3 people, so if you want a couple of different dishes, you end up buying loads and spending a fortune!
I think because if you’re faced with a large menu, there’s so much choice that it’s hard not to go over the top.
Whereas whenever we’ve been in the US and popped into Panda Express, there’re maybe 8-10 options, and they way the menu is set up, it almost encourages you to just order a meal. It’s still an indulgent dinner, but less of a huge feast than the UK takeaway option.
So until Panda Express make it over the water, I’m going to continue to cook up my own!
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Chicken thighs – which are a little more tender than breast meat, and stand up well to cooking over a high heat without drying out. They’ll initially be coated in cornflour (cornstarch) to help the batter adhere to the chicken.
- The batter is made from a mixture of flour, egg, garlic salt, salt, pepper and water – which results in a lovely light batter.
- The sauce is made up from the zest of half an orange, juice of two oranges, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, sugar (to counteract the acidity in the orange juice and zest), and rice vinegar – to add a little zing.
- We also need a flavourless oil with a high smoke point to fry the chicken in. I’m using vegetable oil.
We make the batter for the chicken first by mixing flour, egg, garlic salt, salt, pepper and water. Then in a separate bowl, we coat the chicken in cornflour, and add the chicken into the batter. Give it a stir to coat.
Then we fry the chicken in a couple of batches in a wok in the hot oil. Remove from the pan and carefully discard the oil.
The orange sauce is made from a mixture of the orange juice and zest, sugar, soy sauce, garlic, ginger and rice vinegar.
This is bubbled up in the wok until slightly thickened.
The chicken is then added back in, and tossed in the sauce until fully coated.
Serve the chicken over boiled rice, topped with a sprinkling of sesame seeds.
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The Sticky Orange Chicken Recipe:
Chicken Coating and Chicken
- 3/4 cup (90g) plain (all purpose) flour
- 1 medium egg
- 1/4 tsp garlic salt
- 1/3 cup + 1tbsp (90ml) cold water
- pinch of salt and pepper
- 8 chicken thigh fillets (skinless and boneless) chopped into bite-size chunks
- 2 tbsp cornflour (cornstarch)
- 1/2 cup (120ml) vegetable oil for frying
- Juice of 2 large oranges
- Zest of half an orange
- 6 tbsp caster sugar or superfine sugar
- 5 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 2 cloves of garlic minced
- 1 tsp minced ginger
- 1 tsp rice vinegar
- 1 tbsp cornflour (cornstarch), mixed with 3 tbsp cold water to form a slurry (optional)
- Boiled rice
- 1 tsp sesame seeds
- Start by making the batter for the chicken. In a large bowl, add the plain (all purpose) flour, egg, garlic salt, salt, pepper and water and mix together using a whisk until smooth.
- Place the chopped chicken thighs in a separate bowl and sprinkle on the cornflour (cornstarch). Toss together so the chicken is coated in the cornflour.
- Add the chicken to the batter, and mix together so the chicken is coated in the batter.
- Add the oil to a wok or large frying pan (skillet) and heat over a medium-high heat until hot.
- While the oil is heating, make the orange sauce. In a medium bowl, mix together the orange juice and zest, sugar, soy sauce, garlic, ginger and rice vinegar. Put to one side.
- When the oil is hot, add the chicken to the oil. I find it's best to work in two or even three batches for the crispiest chicken. Add the chicken in a piece at a time, and cook for 3-4 minutes, turning occasionally with tongs, until golden brown and cooked throughout (*note 1).
- Once cooked, place the chicken in a bowl lined with kitchen paper while you cook the second batch. You can add a little more oil in if needed, to ensure the chicken is surrounded by oil, but be sure to keep the temperature up so the oil is bubbling and hot.
- Carefully disposed of any leftover oil from the wok and turn down the heat to medium. Add the orange sauce to the pan, bring to the boil and simmer for a few minutes until slightly thickened.
- If you want to thicken further, then slowly pour in the cornstarch slurry (1 tbsp cornflour/cornstarch mixed with 3 tbsp cold water) whilst stirring (*note 2).
- Add the chicken back to the wok and carefully toss together until the chicken is coated in the sauce. I find the best way to do this is to slide a spatula underneath the chicken, lift it up and turn it over - do this repeatedly until all the chicken is coated.
- Serve the chicken over boiled rice, topped with a sprinkling of sesame seeds.
*Note 1 - Checking the chicken is cooked:Slice open a large piece of chicken and if it's piping hot and white in the middle (no pink) then it's cooked.
*Note 2 - Cornflour/cornstarch slurryI find that I only need to add the cornstarch slurry if I've used particularly large and juicy oranges, as this means there's more sauce to thicken.
Can I use store-bought orange juice instead of squeezing my own?Yes, use 100% pure orange juice (with or without pulp). You'll need about 1/2 cup or 120ml altogether.
Can I make it gluten-free?Yes! Replace the soy sauce with gluten-free soy sauce/tamari. Use a dark tamari rather than a thinner/lighter version.
Can I make it ahead?This recipe works best when made and served right away. Freezing/chilling then reheating means the chicken won't be crispy. You can partially make it ahead by making the sauce (you could boil and simmer it at this point then cool it, or you can just mix the ingredients together without boiling it). Then cover and refrigerate for up to two days. You can make up the chicken batter up to a day ahead too (cover and refrigerate until needed). If you did want to make it ahead fully, you can cook and cool it, then reheat the chicken and sauce until piping hot throughout in a wok. However, the chicken won’t be crisp. It’s still tasty for a quick meal though.
Can it be frozen?Yes, you can cool, cover and freeze, then defrost before reheating thoroughly (heat in the microwave or covered in the oven or in a wok/frying pan). However, the chicken won’t be crispy. It’s still tasty for a quick meal though.
Can I make Orange chicken in the oven instead of frying it?Unfortunately the chicken won’t be as crispy is baked rather than fried. You can use the same method I use for my baked sweet and sour chicken instead: Use the chicken plus
3 tbsp cornflour/cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp garlic salt
1/2 tsp paprika
3 tbsp olive oil
Pre-heat your oven to 190c/375f. Put a large baking dish in the oven to warm up. Cut the chicken into bite sized chunks. Put to one side. In a medium sized bowl, mix the cornflour, salt, pepper, garlic salt and paprika. Pour your olive oil in another medium sized bowl. Place the chicken in the bowl with the cornflour, and mix, ensuring every piece of chicken is completely covered. Scoop out the chicken, and put it into the bowl with the olive oil in. Toss gently in the olive oil. Pour any leftover cornflour mixture onto the chicken, and mix it all up. You should end up with the chicken pieces looking well coated and a bit sticky. Carefully take your dish out of the oven and place the chicken into the dish in a single layer. Try not to bunch the chicken together. The more room it has, the more crispy it will get. Place in the oven to cook for 15-20 minutes until cooked throughout. Then toss in the orange sauce that you've already bubbled up and thickened in a pan.
Can I replace the chicken thighs with chicken breast?Yes, you can do this. Chicken thighs are a little more tender, and stand up well to cooking over a high heat without drying out, but you can replace with chicken breast if you prefer. .Nutritional Information is per serving - NOT including rice. We've calculated a little less oil overall, as not all of the vegetable oil will be absorbed when frying the chicken
This post was first published in June 2014. Updated in January 2020 with new photos, video, tips and improvements to the recipe.
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