Orange Chicken – 180 of 365

Orange Chicken

The journey to this plate of homemade orange chicken twisted and turned along a highly bizarre road.  This all began a week ago when I mentioned to friends my inexplicable cravings for a plate of Panda Express orange chicken.  Yes, that’s the Panda…the one and only at a mall food court or airport near you.  Come on, admit it.  Right about now you could go for a plate of that slightly sweet, slightly sour deep fried heart clogging so bad for you goodness.  I told you.  I can read your mind.  Don’t feel bad though for my friends were craving this guilty pleasure, too.

Among other challenges spicing up expat life in Saigon, one looms large over our Western bubble, namely a lack of Panda Express.  America has foisted Subway, Carl’s Jr, Pizza Hut, Dominos and more on our city, but I suppose the local palate just isn’t yet primed for Panda’s fine delicacies.  As luck would have it though, my friend Toby pointed me to where recipes duplicate favorite restaurant foods.  About that same time I had lamented to my friend Phuong that good raw chicken just does not exist in Vietnam.  I mean, who wants to buy that sketchy mess in the street market and the frozen chicken at the supermarket scares me for some reason.

In The Wok Just Like At Panda

The very same afternoon I discovered a recipe for Panda’s orange chicken online, Phuong called me all excited that she had found “some amazing chicken bird meat” in her ancestral village.  I thought to myself oh please no.  Please tell me this isn’t the whole bird.   She was enroute to Saigon with my chicken in tow that her grandmother had even given some sort of blessing for luck.  Now I am thinking what the hell am I supposed to do with some live feathered thing crapping all over my kitchen much less how am I going to skin it.

And oh yes, your guess is correct.  This sucker was alive.  Thank God my apartment tower has an unwritten rule about no livestock past the front desk that was mercifully enforced as Phuong brought my offering by.  I was not home at the time so she sold it to the parking garage attendant.  Crisis averted but I was still no closer to decent cooking meat.   Creativity rules the roost here in Vietnam so I called the KFC here in the complex to see if they could deliver some raw chicken.  The guy said, “No problem. We bring you now.”  Yes, they brought me something that turned out to be 6 pieces of deep fried chicken with the skin peeled off.

In the end I bought a bag of frozen chicken at the grocery store and sent skyward a prayer to the food gods these weren’t little salmonella strips.  The version was good enough that I even have a friend fooled into thinking a Panda opened up in District 1.  He has been trying to find an address for it online now.  He’ll eventually find out the takeaway joint is my 14th floor kitchen.  And one other thing.  You would not believe how hard Florida style oranges are to find in this country, but that’s a story for another day.

Source: Panda Express

5 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons white vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons water
grated zest from 1 orange (optional)*

2 pounds boneless chicken pieces, skinned
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
White pepper
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon cornstarch, divided use
1/4 cup flour
1 tablespoon minced ginger root
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 dash crushed hot red chilies
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1 tablespoon rice wine
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Stir together the ingredients for the sauce; set aside.

Cut chicken pieces into 2-inch squares and place in large bowl. Stir in egg, salt, pepper, and 1 tablespoon oil and mix well; set aside.

Stir 1/2 cup cornstarch and the flour together. Add chicken pieces, stirring to coat.

Heat oil for deep-frying in wok or deep-fryer to 375 degrees F. Add chicken pieces, small batch at time, and fry 3 to 4 minutes or until golden and crisp. (Do not overcook or chicken will be tough.) Remove chicken from oil with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Set aside.

Clean wok and heat 15 seconds over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil. Add ginger and garlic and stir-fry until fragrant.

Add and stir-fry crushed chilies and green onions.

Add rice wine and stir 3 seconds.

Add Orange Sauce and bring to boil.

Add cooked chicken, stirring until well mixed.

Stir water into remaining 1 tablespoon cornstarch until smooth. Add to chicken and heat until sauce is thickened.

Stir in 1 tablespoon oil and 1 teaspoon sesame oil. Serve at once.

*You may want to add grated zest of 1 orange to the sauce for flavor.

Servings: 6

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Categories: Vietnamese Food

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