Coated in a thickened sweet and savory sauce, this easy mandarin chicken recipe is so much better than take-out. With hints of garlic, ginger, and chili, it’s a perfectly homemade dish ready in only 30 minutes.
Better Than Takeout Mandarin Chicken
This juicy mandarin orange chicken is twice golden from being cooked until crispy and then tossed in a lovely orange-based sauce. Ready in just 30 minutes and made with simple ingredients, it beats your usual take-out any day of the week.
Made with brown sugar, oyster sauce, and soy sauce, the homemade sauce is packed with saltiness, umami, and deep, caramel-like sweetness. It also has some dried red chili for a bit of heat. Topped with green onions and sesame seeds, it’s a gloriously easy meal that’ll have you driving past your favorite Chinese restaurant.
As long as you let the chicken turn crispy and the sauce thickens, it’s practically a fail-proof recipe that you can whip up even on the busiest days. Once it hits the pan, you’ll only be able to think about savoring these bite-sized pieces of sweet and savory heaven.
What’s The Difference Between Mandarin Chicken and Orange Chicken?
Although they’re both made with an orange-based sauce, mandarin chicken and orange chicken are different dishes. Mandarin chicken is typically sweeter because it uses more dark brown sugar than orange chicken. The sauce for mandarin chicken also tends to be thicker and much stickier. Taste-wise, they’re pretty similar, though.
Mandarin orange chicken requires basic Asian ingredients like soy sauce and oyster sauce. Check the recipe card for full ingredient amounts.
Boneless, skinless chicken breast – You can also use chicken thighs.
Cornstarch – Feel free to substitute it for all-purpose flour.
Fresh ginger – You can use 1/2 teaspoon of ground ginger instead.
Garlic – Substitute it with 1-1/4 teaspoons of garlic powder if needed.
Dark brown sugar – Light brown sugar works too. No white sugar, please.
Soy sauce – If you’re using low-sodium soy sauce, you may need to increase the amount to taste or add a pinch of salt.
Oyster sauce – You can substitute it for 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar if needed.
Fresh orange juice – If you use boxed juice, use an organic one.
Vegetable oil – Feel free to use canola, corn, or peanut oil. No olive oil, please.
Dried red chilis – Swap it for 1/2 to 1 teaspoon chili powder.
Sesame seeds – Use black or white.
How to Make Mandarin Chicken
Two secrets to making good mandarin orange chicken are letting the chicken become crispy and allowing the sauce to thicken.
Dredge the chicken. Toss the chicken and cornstarch in a large bowl until the chicken is completely coated.
Make the sauce. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk the ginger, garlic, dark brown sugar, soy sauce, oyster sauce, and orange juice until well combined. Set it aside.
Fry the chicken. Shake any excess cornstarch off the chicken. Add the oil to a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and fry it for 2-3 minutes on all sides or until crispy and golden. Don’t overcrowd the pan. Cook the chicken in batches if needed. The oil should be enough to make your chicken crispy but carefully pour off any excess if there’s any.
Add the sauce. Pour the sauce into the pan and add the dried chilis. Stir well until the chicken is completely covered in sauce. When the sauce reduces and thickens (about 7-10 minutes), lower the heat to medium-low. Let the chicken simmer in the sauce for 5 minutes. Adjust the seasoning with more soy sauce for saltiness or sugar for sweetness.
Serve. Remove it from the heat. Serve warm and garnish with green onion and sesame seeds.
Can I Make This In The Air Fryer?
Yes! Sort of. Once coated in cornstarch, spray the chicken with cooking spray. Place it in the air fryer and fry it at 375˚F for 5 to 6 minutes; shake the basket, and spray it with more cooking spray. Cook for another 5 minutes or until golden and crispy. Cook the sauce in a pan; toss the chicken in the sauce and cook for a couple of minutes, until thickened and the chicken is well coated.
Tips & Variations
These tips and variations will take your mandarin orange chicken to new heights.
Add orange peel. If using fresh orange juice, chop 1/2 of the orange peel and add the chunks to the sauce for a more citrusy flavor. Remove it right before serving.
Make it vegetarian. Dice some extra-firm tofu and use that instead of chicken.
Use hoisin sauce. If you’re out of oyster sauce, hoisin sauce provides a similar sweetness but gives the dish a different complexity and slightly different flavor. Give it a try!
Skip the coating. The cornstarch makes the chicken nice and crispy, but making this recipe without it is just as good.
Prep ahead. Slicing the chicken and preparing the sauce in advance will give you a head-start when throwing this recipe together throughout the week.
What to Serve With Chinese Mandarin Chicken
To keep with the take-out theme, I love to serve this mandarin orange chicken over a bed of Instant Pot Jasmine Rice, Easy Chicken Fried Rice Recipe, or Shrimp Fried Rice. For something a little less carb-heavy, try it with my Shrimp Fried Cauliflower Rice.
It also pairs well with a variety of Asian-style sides and mains like my Pork Chop Suey, Pepper Steak Stir Fry, and Asian Chicken Noodle Soup.
How to Store & Reheat Leftovers
Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 4 days. Don’t store it longer than this to reduce the risk of food poisoning. Similarly, never leave it unrefrigerated for more than 20 minutes to avoid the build-up of bacteria.
Reheat it in the microwave for 1 to 2 minutes or until warm. You can also heat it in a pan over medium heat, occasionally stirring, for 5 to 7 minutes.
More Asian-Inspired Recipes
Prep Time 10mins
Cook Time 20mins
Total Time 30mins
Toss the chicken and cornstarch in a large bowl until the chicken is completely coated.
In a medium-sized bowl, whisk the ginger, garlic, dark brown sugar, soy sauce, oyster sauce, and orange juice until well combined. Set it aside.
Shake any excess cornstarch off the chicken. Add the oil to a large pan or a wok over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and fry it for 2 to 3 minutes on all sides or until crispy and golden.
Pour the sauce into the pan and add the dried chilis if using. Stir well until the chicken is completely covered in sauce. When the sauce reduces and thickens, lower the heat to medium-low. Let the chicken simmer in the sauce for 5 minutes.
Remove from the heat.
Garnish with green onions and sesame seeds, and serve warm.
Chicken: I used chicken breasts to make this recipe, but you can also use boneless, skinless chicken thighs. You can also make it vegetarian and use firm tofu instead of chicken.
Oil: When frying, you want to use oil with a high smoke point, which means it can withstand high temperatures. For this reason, I suggest you use vegetable oil or peanut oil for this recipe. Don’t use olive oil because it has a low smoke point.
Oyster Sauce: If you do not have oyster sauce, you can use hoisin sauce. If you’re out of hoisin sauce, use more soy sauce or tamari sauce with a pinch of brown sugar.
Orange Juice: I love this recipe with freshly squeezed orange juice, but you can also use store-bought orange juice. Reach for the “no added sugar” if possible.
Dried red chilis: You can substitute with 1/2 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon chili powder.
To Freeze: If you want to freeze this recipe, you will want to keep the chicken and sauce separate. Place the uncooked sauce in a zip-top bag and seal. Place the cooked and cooled chicken into a separate bag and seal. Store in the freezer for up to 3 months.
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