Published May 1, 2005.
This Chinese restaurant standard -- battered and fried chicken drenched in a saccharine, neon-colored sauce -- leaves us cold. Could we upgrade this dish from third class to first class?
Chinese takeout orange-flavored chicken is never as good as its name promises - too often the dish delivers ultra-thick breading wrapped around scraps of greasy, gristly, tasteless chicken bathed in an “orange” sauce that tastes likes a mixture of corn syrup and orange food coloring.
We wanted substantial, well-seasoned chicken chunks with a crisp, golden brown crust, and a sauce that offered a clear hit of fresh orange flavor with balanced sweet, sour, and spicy background notes.
We chose thigh meat over breast meat for its rich flavor and tendency to remain moist when deep-fried. We marinated the chicken in a mixture of soy sauce, garlic, ginger, sugar, vinegar, fresh orange juice and chicken broth, reserving some marinade to become the base for the final sauce. Cayenne and orange zest helped the sauce to grow up in a hurry, transforming it from sweet and one-dimensional to spicy and savory.
Our real breakthrough came while developing the coating for the chicken. We created a tender/crisp coating by dunking the marinated chicken first in egg white, then cornstarch. The egg white created a thin sheath of protein beneath the cornstarch that kept it dry, helping it to brown more readily than a wet, gluey coating would. A touch of baking soda helped the chicken pieces develop golden color during frying.list of recipes