How to Make Panda Express Orange Chicken

Learn how to make Panda Express orange chicken at home!

When walking through a food court, there will be a few unmistakable scents wafting through the air. Hello, Auntie Anne’s soft pretzels and Cinnabon cinnamon rolls! But the food court aroma I have the hardest time resisting? Panda Express orange chicken.

This copycat recipe for orange chicken is highly sought-after. The end result will be spot on. In fact, when I ordered orange chicken from Panda Express last week, I could barely tell the difference between this recipe and the real deal from the fast-food chain.

Panda Express Orange Chicken Recipe

This recipe for copycat Panda Express orange chicken is super easy. Simply batter and fry the chicken (check out our top deep-frying tips if you’re a newbie), then whip up a wok full of the iconic sweet and spicy orange sauce.

Ingredients

Panda Express Orange Chicken ingredientsLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

  • 1-1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1/2 tablespoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 1-1/2 cups flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/4 cups sparkling water, cold
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • Additional canola oil, for frying

Editor’s Tip: Use chicken thighs to replicate the tender, juicy chicken pieces at Panda Express. However, if you prefer white meat you can swap the thighs for boneless, skinless chicken breasts instead.

Sauce:

  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, minced
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons ginger, minced (about a 1-inch piece)
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch

Directions

Step 1: Slice the chicken

Raw chicken on a cutting boardLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

Start by cutting the chicken into small, bite-size pieces—about 1 to 1-1/2 inches—on a cutting board (here’s why you should have a separate cutting board for chicken). Set aside.

Step 2: Make the batter

Panda Express Orange Chicken 052022 Toh 04 Lauren Habermehl JveditLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

Whisk together the flour, cornstarch, salt and pepper. Then, beat in the egg, sparkling water and 1 tablespoon of sesame oil until smooth. The mixture should resemble a thick pancake batter.

Step 3: Coat the chicken

making Panda Express Orange ChickenLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

Toss the chicken pieces in the batter until each piece is evenly coated. Cover, transfer to the refrigerator and let the chicken soak in the batter for at least 30 minutes.

Editor’s Tip: Resting the chicken in the batter is important because it allows the flour to properly hydrate, which helps the batter adhere better to the chicken and become perfectly crispy.

Step 4: Fry the chicken

making Panda Express Orange ChickenLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

Next, heat the oil to 350°F in a large wok or Dutch oven—between 1/2- and 1-inch of oil will be enough. Working in batches, add a few pieces of the battered chicken to the preheated oil. Cook, turning occasionally until the chicken is deeply golden on all sides and cooked through. Each batch should take about 5-6 minutes. Transfer the fried chicken pieces to a paper towel-lined sheet pan to drain excess oil.

Step 5: Start the sauce

making Panda Express Orange ChickenLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

As your last batch of chicken cooks, start the sauce by warming 1 tablespoon of canola oil over medium-high heat. Add the red pepper flakes, garlic and ginger, and cook until fragrant; about 30 seconds.

Editor’s Tip: Don’t walk away during this step. If you accidentally burn your garlic (not at all the same as roasted garlic), toss everything and start fresh. Otherwise, your sauce will have a bitter flavor.

Step 6: Make it sweet and savory

making Panda Express Orange ChickenLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

Add the sugar, brown sugar, orange juice, rice vinegar and soy sauce. Stir until the sugars dissolve, and the mixture begins to bubble.

Step 7: Thicken

making Panda Express Orange Chicken sauceLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

Finish the sauce by whisking together 2 tablespoons of cornstarch (or try one of these other sauce thickeners) with 1 tablespoon of water in a small bowl. Add it to the wok and whisk until smooth. Cook the sauce until it thickens and clings to the back of a spoon.

Editor’s Tip: Ideally, you’re looking for a consistency like honey. If you accidentally thicken the sauce too much, you can thin it back out with a bit of orange juice, water or chicken stock.

Step 8: Add the chicken

making Panda Express Orange ChickenLauren Habermehl for Taste of Home

Add the fried chicken pieces to the sauce and gently toss until every inch of the chicken is coated in the sweet and spicy orange sauce. Serve immediately to share this Panda Express goodness with your family!

Panda Express Orange Chicken Tips

Here are our top tips for making and serving copycat Panda Express orange chicken at home.

What do you serve with orange chicken?

Steamed rice and broccoli are the traditional pairings, but feel free to get creative! We also love orange chicken paired with long udon noodles, served over a bed of homemade fried rice, eaten as lettuce wraps or even served taco-style inside of homemade tortillas.

How do you garnish orange chicken?

Use a sprinkle of scallions or Thai basil (it’s different from other basil types), a pinch of chili flakes or a healthy scoop of toasted sesame seeds to garnish your bowl of copycat Panda Express orange chicken.

Can you make Panda Express orange chicken spicy?

Absolutely! The best part of making restaurant copycat recipes is that you can tailor them to your family’s taste preferences. Add extra chili flakes for a spicier orange chicken recipe. Alternatively, you can reduce or omit the chili flakes completely to cater to palates that are sensitive to spicy foods.

Can you use a skillet instead of a wok?

Yes! Any deep vessel will work—it just needs to be able to hold the oil for frying. A Dutch oven, stockpot or even a deep skillet would all work.

Can you bake orange chicken?

Because this chicken is battered, we don’t recommend baking this recipe as it is written. However, you can make an oven-baked Panda Express chicken recipe by omitting the wet ingredients (egg, oil, sparkling water) from the batter. Instead, toss the chicken pieces directly in the dry ingredients, then spread the chicken in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 375° for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the pieces reach an internal temperature of 165°. Then, continue to make the sauce as directed in the recipe.

Can you make slow cooker orange chicken?

Sure! However, know that the chicken will not be as crispy and that it will not be your typical dump-and-go slow cooker recipe, since you will need to fry the chicken first. To finish this orange chicken recipe in a slow cooker, prepare the recipe as directed above through Step 4, then transfer the chicken pieces to a greased slow cooker. Whisk together all of the sauce ingredients in a large measuring cup and then pour it over the chicken pieces. Cook on low for 2-3 hours until the sauce has thickened.

Can you freeze orange chicken?

You bet. Simply place portions of cooked chicken and sauce in freezer-safe containers, then freeze for up to 3 months. To serve, thaw leftovers overnight in the fridge, then reheat in a skillet. Plan to add a little extra water or orange juice as the dish heats. Serve with fresh rice. Learn more about how to freeze chicken.

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Lauren Habermehl
Lauren Habermehl is a recipe developer, food photographer and creator of the blog, Frydae. She is a prolific quoter of FRIENDS, lover of weekend DIY projects and procrastinating fitness enthusiast who enjoys exploring the Milwaukee-area with her husband, daughter and ugly mutt named Tyson Doodles.