Orange chicken, Asian style

16th August, 2010 - Posted by admin - Comments Off

Orange Chicken, the way it is meant to be

I had an interesting request from a client last week: Make her favorite take-out Chinese dish healthy. The dish in question was orange chicken.

Orange chicken is a good example of a meal that has lost its way. The dish originated in the Hunan province of China. Located in the south east, it has a subtropical climate with mild winters, making it ideal for growing the oranges, tangerines and lemons that are native to Asia. Hunan cuisine is also known for it’s liberal usage of chili peppers.

As a result, the original orange chicken was a tangy, spicy blend that made good use of the local ingredients. Then it came to America and evolved into the super sweet, fried dish most of us are familiar with.

To make orange chicken lighter in calories, the first step is to saute the chicken with ginger and garlic and skip the deep frying. The second step was to locate a sauce recipe that didn’t rely on corn syrup or food coloring. Most chain restaurants use corn syrup – aka liquid sugar – to achieve the shine and consistency that we’re all familiar with. Food coloring produces the bright orange color that we all expect to see. Once those two ingredients were out of the picture, the rest was easy.

The recipe below produces a thinner sauce and the bright orange color won’t be there. There is some sugar involved, but it’s needed to help thicken the orange juice. The final product is a tangy, sophisticated sauce that coats the meat and vegetables without the choking sweetness.

Making the sauce involves whisking together all the ingredients and dumping it into a hot wok to reduce; which means it’s a great one to prepare in advance and use at the last minute.

Because this was meant to be healthy, vegetables needed to be included someplace. Generally when orange chicken is served in a restaurant, it’s a straight up “chicken, sauce, rice” presentation, but no where is it written that vegetables can’t be included. I went with snow peas because I had some on hand and they taste great with orange, but any other mild flavored vegetable would be fine. Zucchini, carrots or yellow bell pepper would all be delicious in this dish. If vegetables are being included, add them after the sauce has thickened and heat just long enough to retain their crispness.

Serve this dish with steamed rice and a chilled chardonnay or Gewurzaminer. Nevada City Winery makes excellent versions of both that pair well with Asian flavors.

Orange Chicken
Serves 2

Orange Sauce
1/4 cup freshly-squeezed orange juice
3 tablespoons canned chicken broth
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
5 teaspoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon white pepper powder
1 teaspoon corn starch
Salt to taste

Chicken
1/2 pound chicken breast (cut into bite-size cubes)
5 dried red chilies (cut into 1.5 inch length, seeded and soaked in warm water)
1 teaspoon minced orange zest
2 cloves garlic (minced)
1 inch ginger (minced)
1 stalk scallion (use the white part only, cut into thin threads for garnishing)
2 teaspoons oil

Directions:
1. Mix the orange sauce ingredients and set aside.

2. In a wok, add 2 teaspoons of cooking oil and quickly stir-fry the minced garlic and ginger until aromatic. Add in the dried red chilies and cook until aromatic, about one minute. Follow by the minced orange zest and then chicken.

3. Cook the chicken throughly, then add the orange sauce mixture. Continue to stir-fry until the sauce thickens. Transfer to a serving bowl, garnish with the scallion threads and serve immediately with steamed rice.

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Posted on: August 16, 2010

Filed under: Dinner

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