Lightened-Up Chinese Orange Chicken (30 Minutes!)

To me, this is the perfect Monday dinner.

Beyond being fast, flavorful, and requiring minimal attention, it’s a completely healthy dish with a subtle cheat-meal vibe.

And if that isn’t exactly what you need after a snowed-in weekend, you probably aren’t drinking enough.

Party habits or not, there’s still plenty of reasons to love this feel-good meal. Now I want to be clear that this is definitely a lightened-up version of Chinese orange chicken, so don’t go into this expecting P.F. Chang’s — There’s no deep-frying, no 15-ingredient sauce, and definitely no MSG. But the flavor is VERY similar, it’s still super fun to eat, and best of all, it’s ready in just 30 minutes.

The biggest difference between this dish and your typical restaurant version is the texture. Because I’m using boneless, skinless chicken breasts that are lightly floured + seared, this incarnation definitely lacks the crispy crunch of traditional Chinese orange chicken. But the real cornerstone of orange chicken isn’t being fried, it’s the flavor. And this recipe makes it happen with a simple six-ingredient sauce.

To make this fast and flexible for weeknight cooking I fashioned a sauce of apricot preserves, fresh orange juice, and rice vinegar. The apricot preserves may seem surprising, but for whatever reason the apricot’s delicate tartness works beautifully with fresh orange juice. When I tried using orange preserves the taste was overwhelmingly harsh, but the apricot adds a complimentary sweetness that doesn’t overload the palate with an aggressive orange flavor. Instead it creates a perfectly balanced sauce that’s thick, juicy, and bursting with citrus, it’s seriously so good.

And yes, I highly recommend using fresh orange juice, so don’t be lazy! The store-bought stuff is garbage, frankly, and squeezing oranges takes barely a minute. So as always — Go as fresh as you can, and the taste will reward you.

The sauce cooks up in just a few minutes, and once it’s prepped sear the chicken and you’re done. For extra pretty photos I served this over white rice, but feel free to make bowls with brown rice, quinoa, all veggies, whatever! It’s easily customized, so get creative and have fun. xo

Lightened-Up Chinese Orange Chicken (30 Minutes!)

Ingredients:

  • CHICKEN:
  • 1 1/2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • a few pinches salt & pepper
  • 2 1/2 tbsps all purpose flour, sifted
  • 2 tbsps sesame oil
  • 2 scallions, diced
  • sesame seeds for garnish (optional)
  • rice or quinoa for serving
  • SAUCE:
  • 3/4 cup apricot preserves
  • 5 – 6 navel oranges, juiced (should yield 1 1/4 cups)
  • 2 tsps rice vinegar
  • 2 tsps all purpose flour, sifted
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper

Directions:

  1. Begin by preparing the sauce. In a small saucepan combine the apricot preserves, fresh orange juice, and rice vinegar over a medium flame until a rolling boil is reached. When ready, whisk in the flour until well combined — There will be a few flour particles that don’t immediately incorporate, but they will eventually! Taste test before adding the sugar (if using) and red pepper, then reduce flame to low and allow sauce to simmer until needed.
  2. Meanwhile, on a cutting board cut the chicken into cubes before transferring to a large mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper, then combine with the flour, tossing until evenly coated.
  3. Heat a large skillet over a medium-high flame. Add the sesame oil, swirling to coat the bottom. Arrange the chicken in a single layer, then sear for 2-3 minutes on either side until cooked through.
  4. Transfer the cooked chicken directly into the orange sauce, allowing all ingredients to simmer for 1-2 minutes. When ready, plate over rice or quinoa and garnish with scallions and sesame seeds — EAT!

dig in!

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