I am entirely aware that eating paleo is first and foremost about eating healthful, real food. But everyone has cravings, and sometimes the best you can do is to make an unhealthy meal as close to healthy as you can get without totally sacrificing what’s at the heart of the dish. This is that. The base recipe is the Cooks Illustrated Orange Chicken which is incredible, but decidedly unpaleo. The whole recipe is pretty heavily adapted. But it really does taste similar and there is far less oil waste and fuss, so there’s that!
This recipe is fairly time consuming for a takeout substitute, but I promise it’s worth it if you’ve been craving Chinese or want something to feed to a group of people or potentially finicky eaters. Throw a pot of rice into the mix and it’ll satisfy even the fussiest of people. I’ve doubled the original recipe because if I’m going to the effort and mess of making this, I am going to make a ton. Feel free to cut in half. I will suggest that if you have a pizza stone, heavy pan, or baking steel, make sure that this is in the oven and preheated. It’ll facilitate the crisping of the coating.
Marinade & Sauce
3lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs
1.5 cup chicken stock/broth
1.5 cup orange juice
Zest of at least 1 orange, finely grated using a microplane type grater
.75 cup vinegar – apple cider or white wine
.5 cup coconut aminos (or tamari if you’re very strict)
.75 cup “approved” sugar – I used a combination of maple syrup and honey
6-8 cloves garlic, grated, minced, or run through a press
2″ or about 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
.5 tsp cayenne (adjust up or down depending on how spicy you like it – this is middle of the road)
4 tablespoons (or .25 cups) tapioca starch
4 tablespoons (or .25 cups) cold water
4-5 egg whites
2 cups tapioca starch
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp baking soda
.25-.5 cup avocado oil, chicken fat, coconut oil, etc. Whatever high-heat oil works for you
2-3 lbs veggies – I used cauliflower, broccoli, and bok choy
Chop your chicken and make your marinade:
- Cut your chicken thighs up into bite sized pieces. I usually get 6-8 pieces per thigh, depending on size.
- Combine chicken stock, orange juice, orange zest, vinegar, coconut aminos, sweetener, garlic & ginger. Whisk until sweetener is fully dissolved and everything is combined. This can be prepared up to 2 days ahead of time up til this point
- Preheat your oven to 450F and prep your trays – Put enough oil/fat onto the trays to coat the bottom. When I use chicken fat, I place the pans in the oven for a few moments to melt the schmaltz.
- Measure out 1.5 cups of your marinade/sauce mixture and add it to your chicken. Refrigerate for 60-90 minutes, no longer or the ginger will begin making the meat mushy.
Cook your veggies and prepare your breading station
- Cook your vegetables. My favorite way to eat cauliflower is when it’s been roasted in a little chicken fat, so I did that with the cauliflower and bok choy, and steamed the broccoli. The cauliflower should be just about done by the time your chicken is done marinating. Cooked veggies can be reserved to a dish that can be either microwaved or popped back into the oven when you are getting ready to eat.
- Drain your chicken in a colander, then pat dry with a paper towel. Do not rinse.
- Beat your egg whites in a medium sized bowl and set aside.
- Combine your tapioca starch, cayenne pepper and baking soda in a pie plate.
- Make an assembly line. Mine goes: Chicken> egg white> starch> greased pan
Coat and cook your chicken
- This is messy. It’s worth it. Try to work with one “wet” hand and one “dry” hand to minimize stickiness. Grab a handful of your “dried” chicken, and drop it in the egg white, mix around to coat, and then drop each piece (individually) into the starch mixture. By now you’ve realized just how fine the starch mixture is and how it gets all over everything. Don’t fight it, just live with it and then scrub your kitchen counter when you’re done. Coat the chicken pieces in the starch mixture, and place in your greased pan. Do not allow the chicken pieces to touch each other.
- When you’ve filled your pan (3lbs of chicken takes me about 3 pans usually), place it in your oven, directly on your pizza stone and allow to bake while you move on to the next pan.
- After about 20-30 minutes has passed, check your chicken by pulling a piece or 2 up with tongs. When it begins to release from the pan and has developed a bit of a crust on the bottom side, flip it over, rotate pans to allow the next pan to spend some time on the pizza stone. The time it takes to cook this will vary wildly with different ovens, but I trust that you’re able to determine what the desired level of crispiness is.
- Continue rotating chicken and pans through until all of the chicken has been cooked.
Cook your sauce
- Put your remaining sauce/marinade mixture into a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Combine your tapioca starch and cold water in a small ramekin and stir til dissolved and clump free. Whisking the sauce, drizzle your starch mixture into the sauce and continue whisking until it has come back up to a simmer and thickened. Remove from heat.
Assemble and enjoy!
- Reheat your vegetables if necessary, and put them in the bottom of a shallow bowl. Then top with about 1/8th of chicken, and pour some of the sauce over the top.