Panda Express is an airport indulgence. It’s rarely the go-to when presented with other dining options. But when choices are limited and healthfulness isn’t a priority, orange chicken before a long flight, while seemingly ill-advised, becomes somehow irresistible. Copycat recipes usually disappoint, so riffing becomes the wiser option when looking to replicate the dish at home.
From Kris Yenbamroong, owner of Los Angeles Northern Thai street food destination Night + Market and author of the restaurant’s eponymous cookbook, Night + Market, comes an umami-rich ode to Panda Express’s best-selling dish. Served alongside jasmine rice, it’s a worthy tribute to the airport standby (or weekend indulgence — no judgment).
Not looking to go through the trouble of frying chicken at home? Yenbamroong offers a shortcut: “Consider using KFC popcorn chicken or something nugget-size from your favorite fast-food spot,” and skip straight to step four.
Orange Chicken Night + Market
Serves 2 to 4
Vegetable oil, for deep frying
1 cup tempura flour
3/4 cup club soda or seltzer
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 pound chicken thighs, brined 15-30 minutes with water, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1 tablespoon minced lemongrass, 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper, then cut into nuggets
1 heaping teaspoon tapioca flour
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup distilled white vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup orange marmalade
1/4 cup orange juice
Pinch of kosher salt
1 1/2 tablespoons thinly sliced orange zest, for serving
1 green onion, slivered, for serving
1 teaspoon chile powder, for serving
1. Pour enough oil into a deep pot or wok to come halfway up the sides. Heat the oil over medium-high heat until it reaches 350 degrees Fahrenheit. (Throw in a fleck of batter; if it pops up and starts sizzling right away, it’s ready. Or use a thermometer.)
2. In a large bowl, stir together the tempura flour, club soda, salt and white pepper until a thick batter forms. Fold in the chicken until coated.
3. Once the oil is hot, remove the chicken from the batter, letting the excess drip off. Working in batches of 6 or 7, fry until the nuggets are golden brown on all sides, 4-5 minutes. Let cool on paper towels or a wire rack while you make the sauce.
4. To make the sauce: In a small bowl, whisk the tapioca flour with just enough warm water to dissolve with no clumps. In a small saucepan, combine the fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, marmalade, orange juice, tapioca flour slurry and salt and stir over medium-low heat until bubbling and slightly thickened.
5. Pour the oil from the wok into a heatproof container for future use. Add the orange sauce to the empty wok over medium heat. Once the sauce is bubbling and syrupy, add the chicken and toss to coat. Transfer the chicken to a plate and garnish with the orange zest, green onion and chile powder.
Buy the Book
The recipe above appears in Night + Market: Delicious Thai Food to Facilitate Drinking and Fun-Having Amongst Friends, by Kris Yenbamroong, published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Buy Now: $22
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