Our air fryer orange chicken recipe gives you a healthier, quicker way to make your favorite treat. It might not have the addictive crunchy texture, but its taste is surely worth trying.
What Does Orange Chicken Taste Like?
Hidden behind the glossy sauce are deep-fried chicken nuggets, crunchy on the outside yet juicy on the inside. The sauce is a delicious balance of sourness, sweetness, and saltiness coming from soy sauce, orange juice, vinegar, and sugar. Combined with the other seasonings and aromatics, the sauce is even more addictive.
Although the dish is Chinese in origin, you may not be able to find it there as it’s an American adaptation. What you might find, instead, is ‘dried citrus peel chicken’, a staple of the Hunan province. The chicken is cooked with lots of tangerine or orange peels, which smell fresh and make it distinctive from the ‘American’ version.
1. Is It Spicy?
Hunan people love incorporating chilis into their cuisine, so it’s only natural that their ‘dried citrus peel chicken’ is spicy. Orange chicken, on the other hand, isn’t at all since it was modified to fit Americans.
Still, if you love your food spicy, a lot of red pepper flakes or fresh chilis will do.
2. Orange Chicken vs General Tso
General Tso’s chicken tastes a lot like orange chicken — crunchy nuggets coated in a sticky, sweet and sour glaze. It’s typically prepared with a little red chili powder, the heat from which sets the two dishes apart.
The two are thought to be American mutations of Chinese sweet and sour dishes. As such, they’re not likely to be found in China.
Is This Chicken Recipe Healthy?
Deep-fried foods like this dish will still contain frying oil when served and add plenty of empty calories to your diet. As such, they should be considered an occasional treat.
Our air fryer orange chicken recipe, on the other hand, doesn’t deep-fry the meat and cooks it using a small amount of oil. Each serving, including cooked rice, contains just 481 calories, about 18 – 24% of the daily recommendations.
The dish also tends to be made with a lot of refined (or added) sugar and sodium. To keep these at moderate levels, we made just enough of the orange sauce that we didn’t have to use lots of sugar and soy sauce. Plus, we used low-sodium products to make sodium management easier.
With these small adjustments, the nutritional profile looks like a delicious meal you can have daily:
555 mg sodium
1 g added sugar, plus 1.6 g from orange juice
To learn more about these numbers, you can have a look at our dietary guidelines. We explain the limits and suggestions in detail there.
The dish is usually prepared with chicken breasts, cut into chunks, coated in flour, then deep-fried. Although juicy and delicious when cooked whole, chicken breasts will dry out easily as small chunks. As ours isn’t coated or deep-fried, we used chicken thighs to avoid ending up with tough meat.
Besides the 4 main components (soy sauce, orange juice, vinegar, and sugar), there are:
Sesame oil, for that familiar aroma Asian foods often have.
Orange zest, lending the chicken a fresh fragrance.
Lime juice, adding a touch of tanginess.
Garlic, giving the dish tons of flavor.
Pepper, for presentation and a little warmth. We also used paprika for a mild kick.
Cornstarch, Chinese cuisine’s most used thickening agent.
How to Make
Normally the dish needs two different stations: the chicken in the deep-fryer and the sauce in the pan. Sauce ingredients are first combined and heated in the skillet until thickened, then the nuggets are added and tossed in this sauce.
Our air fryer orange chicken recipe makes both in your air fryer. We shaped a large sheet of foil into a small tray, placed it in the air fryer, then cooked everything in this tray. It’s more convenient and in the end, you don’t need to clean a single item besides the knife and cutting board.
How to Reheat
Deep-fried foods coated in sauce should all be consumed in the same sitting. Since ours doesn’t belong to this category, you can either refrigerate (for 5 days) or freeze the leftovers (for 3 months).
We recommend that you portion the leftovers into individual reusable Ziploc bags or one-time biodegradable bags, seal them tight, and squeeze them into your fridge. This method comes in handy when you have a stocked fridge.
To reheat, transfer the leftovers to the pan (or pull it straight from the fridge) and cook on medium for about 5 minutes. Add 1 or 2 tablespoons of water if the chicken looks dry and keep cooking until it’s reheated and the sauce reaches your desired consistency.
Chinese meals often compose a main dish to be surrounded by complementary sides. To maintain the spirit, we served our orange chicken and cooked rice with a hearty soup and a glass of juice.
Recipes for Cooking Chicken in an Air Fryer
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Our air fryer chicken Schnitzel recipe follows healthy eating guidelines by preparing a nutritious meal of breaded chicken, spiced roasted vegetables, and Hollandaise sauce. We’ll show you how we made the Hollandaise sauce from scratch.
Tuyet Pham is an award-winning Saigonese chef who believes that joy is the secret ingredient to delicious food. At Healthy Recipes 101, Tuyet personally tests and simplifies every recipe, ensuring maximum flavor with minimal effort. With a background at prestigious French restaurants P’TI Saigon and Le Corto, Tuyet knows how to make every dish exceptional.
Luna Regina is an accomplished writer and author who dedicates her career to empowering home cooks and making cooking effortless for everyone. She is the founder of HealthyKitchen101.com and HealthyRecipes101.com, where she works with her team to develop easy, nutritious recipes and help aspiring cooks choose the right kitchen appliances.
Natalie Butler is a registered dietitian nutritionist with a passion to help others live their best life through food, fitness, safer beauty and a healthy lifestyle. She has expertise with a variety of diets and diseases and believes that there is no one-size-fits-all approach for health.
It's a healthier version of the classic Chinese takeout dish, and the orange sauce is just the right amount of sweet and tangy.