I did not grow up an orange chicken fan (nor a lemon chicken fan). As a staple in most Chinese restaurants, I’ve always found orange chicken to be overly cloying and sweet, with strangely fluorescent, goopy sauces. In grad school, I had a roommate who was obsessed with orange chicken from a fast food chain that shall remain nameless. I learned to appreciate orange chicken (or OC) on a very occasional level, but potentially just because there wasn’t anything else there I thought would be better. This orange chicken with cauliflower rice from Whole30 Fast and Easy isn’t like those other orange chickens. There’s no thick breading or greasy sauce. No unidentifiable pieces of meat. This is orange chicken taken to a much, much healthier plane, while staying close to the backbone of what orange chicken lovers want out of the dish.
I really enjoyed this orange chicken. Although I thought the sauce was a little on the sweet side, the sole sweetener here is the freshly-squeezed orange juice and in my opinion it contrasted well with the slight bitterness from the broccoli and cauliflower. On the other hand, Caleb thought the sauce itself was bitter. He’s weird like that? We’ve had similar differences of opinion about citrus sauces in the past, and apparently he’s rather sensitive to the potential for bitterness when you zest an orange. Make sure you avoid catching any of the white pith when you zest your orange and strain the juice so you don’t have any of the skin or pulp in the sauce (which I neglected to do). Hopefully you will like this as much as I did. It could use a little heat (I think almost everything savory can).Glow-y review of the recipe notwithstanding, the problem with “fast and easy” recipes is they tend to rely on convenience foods (e.g., purchased pre-cut vegetables, purchased rotisserie chicken, etc). So while they are “fast and easy”, they require you to buy items being sold at a (often considerable) markup so that you have less work to do yourself in the kitchen. I get why those convenience prepared foods are so nice to have as ready-to-go support, but I deeply resent the added cost and they have a much shorter shelf life, which can be a problem depending on your grocery shopping schedule. Case in point, this recipe claims a prep time of 10 minutes, for a total time of 25 minutes, because it’s assuming you’ve purchased a bag of stir-fry vegetables, a bag of cauliflower rice, and a portion of chicken that’s already sliced. If you haven’t done those things, dinner is going to take a little longer. Even if you have done those things, it takes 25-30 minutes to make cauliflower rice in a pre-heated oven. So really, plan on at least 45 minutes, maybe even closer to 60 minutes.
So far, Whole30 Fast and Easy is sitting at a solid 1 good (orange chicken), 1 meh (Brussels sprouts). Next up, the sheet pan shrimp and the fennel soup with spinach and spicy sausage to round out my opinion.
Orange Chicken with Cauliflower Rice
- 4 cups cauliflower rice* or 16 ounces crumbled cauliflower
- 1-2 tablespoons clarified butter, ghee, or olive oil
- generous pinch salt
- 4-5 grinds fresh black pepper
Orange Chicken Stir-Fry
- 12 ounces mixed stir-fry veggies*** bite-sized fresh broccoli florests, carrots, and snow peas
- 2 green onions light green and white parts sliced on the diagonal
- 1 teaspoon grated orange zest** from about 1 orange
- 3/4 cup orange juice freshly squeeze and strained, from about 2 oranges
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
- 1 tablespoon coconut aminos or tamari/soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons cold water
- 2 1/2 teaspoons arrowroot powder or cornstarch or 1 teaspoon tapioca flour
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1 tablespoon clarified butter or ghee
- 1/4-3/4 teaspoon chili flakes optional
Start roasting or sauteing the cauliflower rice. Either spread out on a sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper, then roast at 425 F for 20-25 minutes OR heat 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in a wide Dutch oven over medium heat, add the cauliflower rice, and cook, stirring infrequently, until lightly browned.
If not using pre-prepped stir-fry veggies, chop about 12 ounces worth of veggies you like in a stir-fry into even, bite-sized pieces. You can use a mix or just use all broccoli, or snow peas, whatever you like. Set aside for later. Slice the green onions on the bias and set aside as a serving garnish.
Zest the orange, avoiding the white pith. Then slice in half and juice two oranges to produce 3/4 cup juice. Mince the garlic and fresh ginger. In a small bowl, mix together the orange zest and juice, garlic, ginger, coconut aminos/soy sauce, rice vinegar, and salt.
In a separate small bowl, whisk 2 teaspoons of cold water together with the arrowroot or cornstarch until smooth.
Cut the chicken breasts into 1-inch pieces.
In a large skillet, heat the butter over medium/medium-high heat. Add the sliced chicken pieces in a single layer and cook, flipping/stirring occasionally, until fully cooked, about 5-6 minutes. Transfer the cooked chicken to a clean plate and cover with another plate or foil to keep warm.
Pour the orange juice sauce into that same large skillet. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then while whisking the sauce with one hand, pour in the arrowroot-water mixture. Continue whisking until fully incorporated - work quickly to avoid the sauce gelling inconsistently.
Add the stir-fry vegetables and cook them in the sauce, stirring frequently, until they are just tender, still with a little crunch, about 4-6 minutes. At this point, the sauce should have thickened quite a bit. Add the chicken and stir to reheat it, about 1 minutes.
Serve the chicken and vegetables spooned on top of the cauliflower rice, sprinkle with the sliced green onions (and chili flakes, if using), and dig in.
*It's easy to turn a head of cauliflower into "rice" by trimming the stem and any leaves, roughly chopping the head, and giving it a blitz in the food processor or a blender (with a little water if necessary to help the machine process the food) until the cauliflower resembles rice.
**Avoid getting any of the white pith, otherwise you will risk a bitter sauce.
***Part of what makes this recipe so "fast and easy" is the assumption that you'll buy a bag of stir-fry vegetables and a bag of cauliflower rice. The dish will take longer if you are starting with your own fresh veggies.