As most people do when they love food, I’ve spent years — including those I was married — attempting to recreate those sumptuous orange sauces at Chinese restaurants. The ones that make both chicken and beef even more drool-worthy. Up until recently, I just kept missing the mark. No amount of marinating the chicken or beef in orange juice would make the sauce right. Adding honey to make the juice stick more? Didn’t work. Came closer, but it wasn’t right.
More and more lately, I’ve been adding lime, lemon, or orange zest to food I’ve been cooking. Lime zest added to olive oil and a little white wine vinegar (along with salt, pepper, cilantro, and garlic) makes a fantastic salad dressing. Lime zest added with honey and lime juice then tossed with fresh fruit, and it’s the best fruit salads I’ve ever eaten. Orange zest, lemon…I imagine some day, grapefruit — this is what packs the citrus punch to the food you want to have that flavor.
Well, at long last, I believe I have mastered the “to die for” orange sauce for chicken (and some day soon, beef as well), and now I’m going to share it with you because you’ll make it, and it will change your life.
MIS EN PLACE
2 large chicken breasts, cut into small cubes, tossed with corn starch*
Zest of 4 large navel oranges
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger
Optional – 2-5 scallions/green onions, chopped thin
Optional – 1 can of sliced water chestnuts, drained
2 tbsp corn starch, mixed with warm water (aka “a slurry”)
For the sauce
2 cups (freshly squeezed ) orange juice — use the oranges you’ve zested (add to it w/bottle juice if you need to)
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
1 tbsp teriyaki sauce
1 1/2 tbsp rice wine vinegar (or 1 tbsp rice wine, 1/2 tbsp white vinegar)
1/4 cup orange marmalade (preferably not a sickly sweet one)
1/8 cup brown sugar
1. After you’ve cut your chicken breasts into bite-sized cubes, coat with corn starch. *You can substitute arrow root for corn starch both in this part and in making the slurry to thicken the sauce.
2. Set the chicken aside with the orange zest and grated ginger. If you’ve chopped the green onions, set those aside for topping at the very end, and if you’re using sliced water chestnuts, open the can now, drain, and set with the chicken, zest, and ginger.
3. Begin mixing together the ingredients for the sauce now. In the glass measuring cup or bowl with the orange juice, add in the other ingredients from the sauce list — soy sauce, teriyaki, rice wine vinegar (or rice wine/vinegar), orange marmalade, and brown sugar — and stir. Make sure you’ve left yourself enough room to stir together until mixed thoroughly then set aside with the other ingredients.
4. In your wok (or “everyday pan” as I have), heat up 1-2 tbsp vegetable oil then add in the chicken and stir around until the chicken pieces separate and cook until any sign of pink is gone from the outsides. Add in the zest and ginger and stir until the chicken is coated and begins to take on the color of the zest.
5. Pour in the sauce and stir the chicken around until every piece is completely coated. Let simmer for a minute or two so that it absorbs the flavor. Then add in the slurry and stir while it thickens. Make sure you keep stirring through this process so that the sauce thickens smoothly and doesn’t just congeal. This is the time to add in the water chestnuts if you’re going to use them, and once more stir around until the water chestnuts are coated. Turn down the heat to low (or even turn off the stove if yours stays hot for a bit).
6. Plate up your rice (I always use jasmine rice because it’s so fragrant and tasty) and top with the ginger-orange chicken. At this point, if you have the chopped scallions, sprinkle them as liberally over the top of your chicken as you want. Enjoy!