I have always liked Asian dishes, but since I limit soy products in my diet, it makes it a bit more difficult to enjoy! Soy sauce is arguably one of the main flavor ingredients! This is one reason I've experimented with alternative ingredients in recipes that I love. Zesty Orange Chicken is one of our favorites and now we can enjoy it within our own dietary choices.
Zesty Orange Chicken starts with quickly marinating the chicken in sesame oil, shaoxing wine (I offer an alternative ... don't worry!), garlic powder, salt and pepper. Then it is tossed with cornstarch and shallow-fried. Keep reading for a couple of ways to modify these steps.
What is shaoxing wine and what can I substitute for it?
Shaoxing wine is a wine fermented from rice, made authentically in a specific region of China. It is intended as a beverage and can also be used in cooking, of course. When it is sold as a cooking wine, salt is added making it undrinkable.
Shaoxing wine is not widely available so I want to offer some substitutions. You can use mirin (another rice wine), dry white wine, or dry sherry. My opinion is that dry sherry is the closest in flavor and that is what I use. Personally, I love layers of flavor, but the amount of sherry used is so small that if you insist on omitting it, you can.
Do I have to coat the chicken and fry it?
I love the taste of fried chicken pieces in the orange sauce! However, it makes a boatload of a greasy mess on the stove! I assert that you can stir fry it instead ... I would eliminate the corn starch coating in that case, too.
Let's make the sauce!
You put the zest, chiles, and star anise into the hot wok. It doesn't take long for them to become fragrant.
What do you substitute for soy sauce?
Before I eliminated soy from my diet, I used tamari sauce because it is a gluten-free soy sauce. But then, when I decided to also eliminate soy along with gluten, I needed another choice. Coconut aminos is the answer! It's not quite as pungent as soy sauce so I add a little more vinegar.
The sauce will start to boil which is when you'll add a corn starch (or potato starch) slurry. A slurry is a 1:1 combination of starch to water and it will quickly thicken the sauce. Put the chicken back in and coat it with the sauce.
How to serve Zesty Orange Chicken
Always with steamed rice! Don't forget to remove the star anise ... they are hard and you don't want anyone breaking a tooth! I leave the chiles in, but I always warn that they are SPICY!
Zesty Orange Chicken
FOR MARINATING THE CHICKEN
- 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs cut into 1-2 inch chunks
- ¼ teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon dry sherry
- ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
- salt and pepper to season
- ¼ cup corn starch (or a 1:1 gluten-free flour blend) if frying
- 1-2 Tablespoons oil for sauteeing You'll need a cup or more if frying.
FOR THE SAUCE
- 1 tablespoon avocado oil
- 6 dried red chili peppers chiles de arbol or szechuan red chilis
- zest of one orange
- 2 star anise
- ½ cup fresh orange juice
- ½ cup chicken stock
- 3 Tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- 1 Tablespoons coconut aminos
- 2 Tablespoons coconut palm sugar
- 2 Tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 Tablespoons water
- 1-2 scallions for garnish
FOR MARINATING THE CHICKEN
- Mix the sesame oil, dry sherry, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Toss the chicken pieces with the marinade and let it sit while you prepare the ingredients for the sauce.
- After the chicken has marinated, dredge it with the cornstarch (you can also use a 1:1 gluten-free flour blend), and shallow-fry in oil that is deep enough to cover it at least half-way. This takes lots of oil and time. You can simply stir-fry it in your wok or skillet leaving off the corn starch. This also reduces calories!
FOR THE SAUCE AND COOKING THE CHICKEN
- Mix the fresh orange juice, chicken stock, rice wine vinegar, coconut aminos, and coconut palm sugar. Set aside.
- Mix the cornstarch with the water creating a slurry. Set aside.
- Remove the chicken from the wok and remove excess oil, especially if you dredged and fried the chicken. Add a little more oil, then add the orange zest, chiles, and star anise. Stir it around for about 30 seconds, then add the Fresh orange juice mixture.
- When the fresh orange juice mixture starts to boil, add as much of the slurry as needed to thicken the sauce. Stir constantly while it thickens.
- Add the chicken back in and stir to coat each piece of chicken with the sauce. Remove the pieces of star anise.
- Serve with steamed rice and garnish with sliced scallions.