Growing up in a small agricultural community in Northern California, we had exactly 3 Chinese restaurants. Because my mom tended to cook almost every night, Chinese take-out was a rare treat that we all looked forward to.
My mom loved the “Mongolian” Beef, my step-dad the Sweet and Sour Pork, my sister was an Almond Chicken gal, and as for myself, I was a fan of the “Singapore” Noodles. After leaving home and making some “real” Chinese and Singaporean friends, I came to the the horrifying realization that the take-out I’d been eating out of those pagoda clad paper containers was not Chinese food at all.
To me, it was a disgraceful hack at an ancient cuisine and I grew to shun the “fake” Chinese restaurants littering America’s strip-malls. Instead, I’d take great pains to seek out authentic holes-in-wall where they speak no English and their idea of service is to toss you out if you take too long to eat.
They say you grow wiser with age, or maybe I just outgrew my food snobbery. Either way, I realized that just as a Shanghainese person might crave the Scallion Pancakes they ate from road-side vendors as a child, or a Singaporean might crave Chicken Rice from a Hawker Centre, I realized that I craved the sweet sticky flavors of the American Chinese kitchen.
But there’s a fine line between moist and greasy, sweet and cloying, and savory and artificial. It’s a line that most American Chinese restaurants cross, and so I’ve decided to come up with my own versions of all my childhood favorites. The great thing is that almost all American Chinese dishes are simple to make and the ingredients easy to find. How else would a chef keep up with the 20+ pages of menu options that show up in most Chinese menus?
So to start things off, here’s my version of Orange Chicken. First I infuse the meat with a soy sauce and ginger marinade, before coating it with potato starch and deep frying. To glaze the savory chicken, I thicken a mixture of marmalade and orange juice with just enough starch to give the chicken a glistening sheen of sweetness. In this case, the cheaper the marmalade you use, the better your orange chicken will turn out, so don’t bother spending a lot of money on a fancy orange preserve.
Equipment you'll need:
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