Happy New Year! Orange Chicken

Cooks Illustrated Orange Chicken

Asian food of any kind is one of those genres of cooking that I am wholly uncomfortable with and generally requires a lot of prep work. I only try cooking it when I get a wild hair up my ass and a recipe that I feel is solid. Today was one of those days. I used a Cooks Illustrated recipe (always bombproof) and spent 2 hours getting dinner together including time spent cleaning the kitchen. I’ve never coated anything to be fried in corn starch, and have only recently become even slightly comfortable with frying anything. Turns out, the corn starch is a GREAT coating, and the combo of it and the egg whites creates a crispy crust that doesn’t get soggy upon sitting in the oven waiting for the rest to fry up. I will definitely be using the corn starch method again. I first did the chicken and got it marinating, then started my rice and got the coating “station” set up. When the chicken had marinated for enough time, I coated it, got it frying, and prepped and steamed my broccoli while the chicken fried.

Cooks Illustrated Orange Chicken

We prefer the flavor and texture of thigh meat for this recipe, though an equal amount of boneless skinless chicken breasts can be used. It is easiest to grate the orange zest and remove the strips of orange peel before juicing the oranges; use a sharp vegetable peeler to remove the strips. For extra spiciness, increase the cayenne added to the sauce to 1/2 teaspoon. The whole dried chiles are added for appearance, not for flavor, and can be omitted. To fry the chicken, use a Dutch oven or a straight-sided sauté pan (with at least 3-quart capacity); do not use a 12-inch skillet with sloped sides, as it will be too small to contain the oil once the chicken is added. White rice and steamed broccoli are good accompaniments.

Marinade and Sauce
1 1/2pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs , trimmed and cut in 1 1/2-inch pieces
3/4cup low-sodium chicken broth
3/4cup orange juice , plus 1 1/2 teaspoons grated zest, and 8 strips orange peel (each about 2 inches long by 1/2 inch wide) from 2 oranges
6tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1/4cup soy sauce
1/2cup packed dark brown sugar (3 1/2 ounces)
3medium cloves garlic , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
1piece fresh ginger (about 1 inch), grated (1 tablespoon)
1/4teaspoon cayenne pepper
1tablespoon cornstarch , plus 2 teaspoons
2tablespoons water (cold)
8 small whole dried red chiles (optional)

Coating and Frying Medium
3 large egg whites
1cup cornstarch
1/4teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2teaspoon baking soda
3cups peanut oil

Cooks Illustrated Orange Chicken

1. FOR THE MARINADE AND SAUCE: Place chicken in 1-gallon zipper-lock bag; set aside. Combine chicken broth, orange juice, grated zest, vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, garlic, ginger, and cayenne in large saucepan (with at least 3-quart capacity); whisk until sugar is fully dissolved. Measure out 3/4 cup mixture and
pour into bag with chicken; press out as much air as possible and seal bag, making sure that all pieces are coated with marinade. Refrigerate 30 to 60 minutes, but no longer.
2. Bring remaining mixture in saucepan to boil over high heat. In small bowl, stir together cornstarch and cold water; whisk cornstarch mixture into sauce. Simmer sauce, stirring occasionally, until thick and translucent, about 1 minute. Off heat, stir in orange peel and chiles (sauce should measure 1 1/2 cups); set sauce aside.
3. FOR THE COATING: Place egg whites in pie plate; using fork, beat until frothy. In second pie plate, whisk cornstarch, cayenne, and baking soda until combined. Drain chicken in colander or large mesh strainer; thoroughly pat chicken dry with paper towels. Place half of chicken pieces in egg whites and turn to coat; transfer pieces to cornstarch mixture and coat thoroughly. Place dredged chicken pieces on wire rack set over baking sheet; repeat with remaining chicken.
4. TO FRY THE CHICKEN: Heat oil in 11- to 12-inch Dutch oven or straight-sided sauté pan with at least 3-quart capacity over high heat until oil registers 350 degrees on instant-read or deep-fry thermometer. Carefully place half of chicken in oil one piece at a time; fry until golden brown, about 5 minutes, turning each piece with tongs halfway through cooking. Transfer chicken to large plate lined with paper towels. Return oil to 350 degrees and repeat with remaining chicken.
5. TO SERVE: Reheat sauce over medium heat until simmering, about 2 minutes. Add chicken and gently toss until evenly coated and heated through. Serve immediately.

Cooks Illustrated Orange Chicken

2 thoughts on “Happy New Year! Orange Chicken”

  1. Also, forgot to mention, if you pre-soak your cut up chicken in baking soda for 15-20 minutes, rinse well, and pat dry before continuing the recipe, your chicken will be even better. It's a Chinese restaurant trick for tenderizing chicken. Works with pork, too.

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