There’s lemon chicken and there’s orange chicken. Both are found in the menu of many Chinese restaurants but, curiously, neither is a traditional Chinese dish.
Lemon chicken was the specialty of the former Pearl’s Chinese Restaurant at 148 West 48th Street in New York City and a creation of a chef named Lee Lum.
Orange chicken is American too. Developed by a chef named Andy Kho in 1987, it is reputedly inspired by the flavors of the Hunan Province in China.
Chunks of chicken fillets lightly coated in starch, deep fried then tossed in a sticky sauce made with lemon juice, orange juice and sugar. Chinese-style lemon orange chicken is so addictive!
The sauce contains no thickener. It’s freshly squeezed lemon juice, orange juice, sugar and a bit of salt boiled until reduced to a sticky syrup. Then, it is cooled to thicken.
While the lemon-orange sauce cools, chicken fillets are cut into chunks, seasoned then tossed in starch.
The chicken fillets are deep fried until golden and crisp. And, for extra crispness, I double fry. Initially on medium heat then, after allowing the chicken to rest a bit, they are fried a second time over high heat.
That’s the lemon-orange sauce after reducing and cooling.
And the ultra-crisp chicken fillets that have been twice fried.
The chicken fillets are dumped in a mixing bowl, the sauce is poured in and everything is tossed together.
You might have a pool of sauce at the bottom of the bowl at first. Continuously tossing is like glazing the chicken over and over. Just keep going and, pretty soon, there will be very little sauce left in the bowl.
Transfer the chicken to a platter or bowl and just drizzle any remaining sauce over them.
And the greens? I used mint because mint and citrus juice just go so well together. Scallions or cilantro are good too.
Chinese-inspired Lemon Orange Chicken
- Wipe the chicken thigh fillets and cut into chunks. Toss with 1 ½ teaspoons salt and all of the pepper. Marinate in the fridge for eight hours or overnight.
- Place lemon juice, orange juice, zests, ½ teaspoon salt and all of the sugar in a sauce pan. Boil, uncovered, for ten minutes or until reduced by half and syrupy. Set aside to cool.
- In a pan, heat enough cooking oil to reach a depth of at least three inches.
- Place the chicken in a resealable bag, add the starch, seal and shake to coat each piece lightly.
- Over medium heat, fry the chicken in batches until lightly browned, about four minutes per batch.
- Turn up the heat to high, refry the chicken for one to two minutes until golden and crisp.
- Place the chicken a mixing bowl. Drizzle in the cooled sauce and toss to coat each piece well.
- Serve the lemon orange chicken immediately.
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