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 Orange Chicken 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 Air Fryer Orange Chicken 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:
- 481 calories
- 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.
Orange Chicken Ingredients
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 Orange Chicken Sauce
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 Orange Chicken
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.
Sides for Air Fryer Orange Chicken
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
- Our air fryer chicken pot pie recipe is an easy way to recreate this American sweetheart. The pot pie deliciously combines nutritious meat and vegetables with cream sauce, and stuffs all in a flaky pie crust.
- 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.
Air Fryer Orange Chicken Recipe
Our air fryer orange chicken recipe is a healthier take on the Chinese popular staple. It's served with rice to make a delicious, easy meal.
- cook TIME 17 mins
- prep TIME 5 mins
- total TIME 22 mins
- COURSE Main Course
- CUISINE Chinese
- CALORIES 481 kcal
- 18 oz skinless boneless chicken thigh (cut into chunks)
- 4 tbsp orange juice
- 2 tsp orange zest (from about an orange)
- 3 tbsp reduced-sodium soy sauce
- 1 tbsp rice vinegar
- 1/2 tbsp white sesame seeds (toasted)
- 1 1/2 tsp sesame oil
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp garlic (about 3 cloves, minced)
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- 2 tbsp scallion (chopped)
- 1 tsp paprika (divided)
- 1 1/2 tsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp lime juice
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/4 tsp chili pepper flakes
- 3 1/2 cups cooked medium-grain rice
Marinate 18 oz chicken thighs with 2 tbsp olive oil, 1 tbsp garlic, and 1/2 tsp paprika.
Use foil to form a baking sheet with high walls, like so, and place the chicken onto it. Transfer the whole ‘baking sheet’ into the air fryer and cook at 400°F for 12 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a bowl, mix together 4 tbsp orange juice, 3 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tbsp rice vinegar, 1 tbsp cornstarch, 2 tsp orange zest, 1 1/2 tsp sesame oil, 1 1/2 tsp brown sugar, 1 tsp lime juice, and 1/2 tsp pepper.
Once the chicken’s finished, pour the sauce on top of the chicken, and cook for another 5 minutes or until it thickens.
Sprinkle 2 tbsp scallion, 1/2 tbsp white sesame seeds, and 1/4 tsp chili pepper flakes. Enjoy with 3 1/2 cups cooked rice.
Tuyet PhamChef, Culinary Consultant
Luna ReginaWriter, Author
Natalie Butler, RD, LDNutrition Reviewer
April 8, 2023 at 5:26 AMIt's a healthier version of the classic Chinese takeout dish, and the orange sauce is just the right amount of sweet and tangy.