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Orange chicken is never really popular in Southeast Asia. Some restaurants in Singapore may offer it but I do not recall my family or friends ever ordering it whenever we dine out. The Chinese orange chicken is made by deep frying chicken pieces and coating the meat with a tangy orange sauce made from fresh orange juice. The original Chinese version actually uses dried orange peel, thus called 橙皮鸡 or orange skin chicken, it is also not as sweet as the modern version.
To make this dish slightly healthier, I made a few modifications. Firstly, using the air fryer to fry the chicken instead of deep frying it, it saves me a lot of oil too. Secondly, I used lean chicken breast meat. As breast meat can be tough, I tenderised it with baking soda for 30 minutes, rinse it off, then coat with salt and corn starch before brushing it with a thin layer of vegetable oil before air frying. The orange sauce is made from freshly squeezed orange juice, full of vitamin C. And even though it’s cooked with soy sauce, I added Manuka honey, another good stuff, so the natural sweetness of the fresh orange and honey really makes the dish shine.
The harmonious fusion of crispy textures and vibrant zesty flavours is what makes this orange chicken dish so incredibly delicious. In fact, I made a batch in advance and pack into individual lunch boxes with jasmine rice and some tomatoes, making it a meal prep option. We had it for lunch and sometimes dinner during the week, simply by reheating it in the microwave for 3-4 minutes, or transfer it into a pan and warm it over the stove on medium heat.
Orange chicken is in fact one of the classic Chinese-American dishes that evolved to accommodate the ingredients available to the Chinese in the United States in the older days, as well as Chinese restaurants adapting the dish to the American palates. And it was precisely in the United States that I realised how popular and commonly available this dish is in Chinese restaurants in Chinatown and the franchising Panda Express.
Now, talking about Panda Express, when I was in the US for more than a month at one point of time, I was really craving for Chinese food and was jumping with joy when I saw Panda Express in one of the shopping mall in Michigan. But much to my disappointment, I find their rice noodles hard like cardboard and their famous General Tsao chicken tough and masked with too much of the sweet sauce. The same comment extends of their orange chicken, too tough, too sweet, too difficult to eat.
If you have an air fryer, do check out my other air fryer recipes:
- Air Fryer Prawn Paste Chicken (Har Cheong Gai 虾酱鸡)
- Air Fryer Tonkatsu (Japanese Pork Cutlet)
- Air Fried Soy Chicken Recipe With Potatoes
- Air Fried Lamb Rack Recipe
Watch how to cook Air Fryer Orange Chicken on YouTube
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Orange Chicken 鲜橙鸡柳 (Air Fryer)
- 1 spring onion
- Orange zest from the orange
Prepare the ingredients
- Cut the green part of 1 spring onion thinly (about 3mm) for garnish.1 spring onion
- Grate 1 knob ginger to make 1 tsp grated ginger.Mince 2 cloves garlic.2 cloves garlic, 1 knob ginger
- Squeeze 2 oranges to make1 cup of orange juice. Then sieve to remove the pulp. Grate the oranges to get the Orange zest.2 oranges, Orange zest
- In a small bowl, whisk 1 tbsp corn starch with 2 tbsp water to make a slurry.1 tbsp corn starch, 2 tbsp water
Make the orange sauce
- In a medium non-stick pan, warm 1 tbsp vegetable oil over low heat. Add garlic and ginger and sauté until aromatic.1 tbsp vegetable oil
- Add orange juice, 2 tbsp honey, 2 tbsp rice vinegar, 2 tbsp soy sauce, and 0.25 tsp red chilli flakes. Bring to boil.Add slurry to orange sauce and stir well. Continue to simmer for 2 minutes, until the sauce thickens.2 tbsp honey, 2 tbsp rice vinegar, 2 tbsp soy sauce, 0.25 tsp red chilli flakes
- Once the sauce is thickened enough to cost a spoon, add orange zest, then remove from heat. Keep the sauce warm while we prepare to air fry the chicken.
Air fry the chicken
- Cut 600 g chicken breasts or thighs into inches.This is an optional step. Add 1.5 tbsp baking soda to chicken to tenderise it for 30 minutes. Then rinse off the baking soda under running water. Pat dry with paper towel.600 g chicken breasts or thighs, 1.5 tbsp baking soda
- Coat the meat with 1 tsp salt. Then coat the meat evenly with 0.5 cup corn starch.0.5 cup corn starch, 1 tsp salt
- Brush a thin layer of 0.5 cup vegetable oil all over the chicken pieces.0.5 cup vegetable oil
- Pre-heat the air fryer for 3 min at 180C / 356F.Place the chicken pieces into the air fryer, try not to overlap the meat.
- Air fry for 15 minutes at 180C /356F.Toss the chicken every 4-5 minutes during air frying to ensure the chicken cooks evenly.
- Air fry the chicken until golden brown and crispy. Note: if frying in a pan, heat vegetable oil in a heavy-based deep pan over medium-high heat. Ensure the oil covers the chicken pieces fully. Then fry the chicken until golden brown and crispy.
- Pack cooked Jasmine rice and the orange chicken into individual boxes, add sides of tomatoes, and garnish with orange slices on the side.
- Keep in the chiller for up to 2-3 days. Or in the freezer for up to a week.
- To serve, heat in the microwave on high for 2-3 minutes.