Thursday, April 23, 2009

Red-Braised Beef

A traditional Chinese dish (one of my favorites) is "red"-cooked beef and tendon. I think the reason it's called "red" is due to the resulting color, which isn't really red as it is rich, shiny, and wonderful. I suppose you could say it has reddish tones.

The flavor is indescribably good. It's flavored with soy sauce, sugar (in the form of rock candy), rice wine, and star anise. That's it. And yet the transformation of the meat once it's been braised for hours is quite incredible.

Most commonly this dish is made with beef brisket, but my mom likes to make it with beef banana shank because it has less fat content. Once it's all been cooked, the beef is so tender and falling apart that the difference between the two is minimal, so I'm good with going with the healthier version.

Just as important as the beef is the tendon, a creamy white substance that connects muscle to bone. The only way to eat it is when it's been cooked for a long time, so that it becomes soft, melty, slightly sticky, and delicious. Both the beef and the tendon need to be pre-boiled, to get rid of some of the surface blood and impurities, and when you do this, they both become very hard and solid. Only hours of cooking will coax them into being as tender as they need to be.

The recipe I got from my mother is imprecise ... she's a wonderful cook, and as is the case with most wonderful cooks, does no actual measuring. Grrr. So I had the ingredients and the general method down, but actually making it turned out to be more challenging. I made this about 3 times (always too salty) before I finally perfected it this last time. The key is not to use too much soy sauce. It'll seem like it's not enough, just a small amount sitting at the bottom of the pot, with huge hunks of beef and tendon on top -- what chance does the soy sauce have of seasoning it all? Don't worry, it will.

Speaking of soy sauce, the absolute key to red braising is using dark soy sauce. If you don't, it won't get that deep, dark, 'red' color, which is what makes a red-braised dish so appealing. However, you also don't want to use only dark soy sauce, which contains molasses, as it hasn't got the same flavor as regular soy sauce. You want to use a mix of both. Dark soy sauce is available at Asian markets like 99 Ranch, but in this day and age your local Safeway may carry it also.

If you find that you have star anise but it's in bits and pieces, use a cheesecloth and some kitchen twine to make a pouch for it. It's important not to let a bunch of stray pieces of star anise get lost in the pot, because at some point you'll need to fish them out (if you leave them in for the entire duration of cooking, your dish will end up bitter -- at least according to my mom). As for the rock candy, it's traditional to use it (and very common in Chinese grocery stores, so if you're there for the star anise, might as well pick up a box), but ultimately it's really just sugar, so if you don't want to bother, substitute with plain sugar and I'm sure it'll be fine. Here's the rock candy that's popular in our household:

Finally, you can cook this in a pot on the stove (as my mother does), but that requires a little more attention as you don't want the sauce to burn. If you're more like me and want to use something you can turn on and pretty much not have to worry about, use a slow cooker.

Red-Braised Beef and Tendon


  • 1.5 lb beef tendon
  • 1.5 lb beef banana shank (whole)
  • 1/4 cup dark soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup regular soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tbsp rice wine (I like Shaoxing)
  • 2-3 slices of ginger (about 2 inches in length)
  • 1 medium-sized chunk of rock candy or 1 scant tbsp sugar
  • 1 1/2 whole star anise (phonetically called "bak gok" in Cantonese)


  1. Boil a large pot of water. Add tendon and shank and boil for a few minutes, to let the blood and other impurities out -- there will be foamy gunk. Remove tendon and shank from water and put them into a clean slow cooker or pot, arranging the pieces so that you get maximum surface area.
  2. Pour the soy sauces directly over the meat, doing your best to splash a bit on every surface of the meat and tendon. Tuck the ginger in between the pieces of beef. Add the star anise, making sure that it's in the soy sauce (same thing if you're using a pouch). Add the water and rice wine. It will seem like there's very little liquid in the pot; resist the temptation to add more.
  3. Set your slow cooker to 'high' (or simmer this on the stove using low heat) and cook for a few hours. Periodically, about once an hour, check on it and turn the pieces, as well as skim off any fatty oil that accumulates on the surface.
  4. After about 3 hours, remove the star anise and add the chunk of rock candy. Cook for another 2-3 hours, again turning the pieces every so often and skimming off fat.
  5. After 5-6 hours, the beef will be soft enough to cut. Remove the meat and the tendon from the pot and cut into smaller pieces (the meat may be so tender at this point that you can just use tongs to pull it apart). Add the meat back into the sauce, stir everything to coat, and cook an additional 30 minutes to an hour.
  6. Serve with rice and some veggies (like garlic stir-fried spinach)!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Red Hot and Blue's Potato Salad

One of my favorite places in the country is Washington, D.C. I lived there for about two years, and in that time I grew to love it (and its surrounding areas). I moved back to the west coast because it ultimately proved too hard to be in a whole other timezone from my family and friends (and I didn't enjoy the job I had there), but I always think of D.C. fondly and wish it were located on the west coast, because then I'd move there like that. Of course, if it were on the west coast, it wouldn't be what it is.

When you live in a place, you find restaurants that you come to know and love, and that you miss once you don't live there anymore. (Even though I don't think the Pacific Northwest is for me in a forever way, there are restaurants here that I'll miss once I leave, whenever that might be.) This includes one-of-a-kind restaurants like Bistrot Lepic in Georgetown (D.C.), or Umi Sake House in Belltown (Seattle). But it also includes chain restaurants that are particular to the area. I miss In-N-Out Burgers like crazy, as well as Mimi's Cafe, both of which are very common in California (in fact, it looks like Mimi's just doesn't like the north of the country, for some reason).

The chain I miss from D.C. is Red Hot and Blue. It's a barbecue joint. The barbecue itself is good, nothing I'd turn my nose up at, but it doesn't especially stand out. What does stand out? Their potato salad. It is AMAZING. It's the best potato salad I've ever had, and with something as ubiquitous as potato salad, you better believe I've had my fair share of it. Red Hot and Blue serves it at room temperature, and it is definitely best that way. It's fairly simple, and a bit unusual, as far as potato salads go. I say this because of the presence of green onions, which I've generally found is not a common ingredient in this dish.

This copycat recipe is one that I created on my own -- not that it took rocket science or anything. It's not difficult to discern the red potatoes (since Red Hot and Blue leaves the skin on), eggs, and green onions when you're eating it. And of course, there's the mayo, a necessary component of potato salad. I do have to say that the final ingredient is somewhat of a 'secret' ingredient (though not really), because it's not immediately obvious. Something made this potato salad taste especially good, but what? I tried making it once, using just the four ingredients I named, and it just didn't taste right, it wasn't as good. So the next time I was at Red Hot and Blue (ironically, not until I had moved away and was visiting -- dragging my companion to the restaurant just so I could have their potato salad again), I took a chance and asked my waitress what made their potato salad taste the way it did -- was there some special seasoning? And bless her heart, she actually went and asked the kitchen, and the answer was: celery salt. I still wish that my financial situation at that time had more closely resembled what it does today, so that I could have left her a bigger tip. Because thanks to her, now I can have Red Hot and Blue's delicious potato salad any time I want, without having to fly across the country for it.

To make it more like Red Hot and Blue's version, you'll want to cook the potatoes to a point where they are just soft enough to sink your teeth into, but before they start to get really mushy. I went a little too far this time and so it ended up being half mashed. It's no less delicious that way, and in fact has its own charms, but I want to make sure I'm conveying the true, authentic Red Hot and Blue experience. I've used different kinds of mayo and they all seem to work (unlike for Hodge Podge Salad, which absolutely requires Miracle Whip) -- this time I used one from Trader Joe's. It may be easier to achieve a firmer consistency with the potatoes if you boil them whole; I tend to be lazy and pre-chop them into medium-sized pieces before boiling so I don't have to deal with hot potatoes. The eggs can be boiled right in with the potatoes or separately; up to you. The components for this potato salad are so few and simple that you just can't leave anything out, or the flavor simply won't be the same. You've been warned.

Even though this isn't an official version of their recipe, every time I've made it I've been happy with the results. It tastes like Red Hot and Blue's version, which is what I'm looking for. When searching for copycat recipes for this potato salad online, I found one that sounded similar (but had no measurements), though it included celery. I don't remember celery being in Red Hot and Blue's potato salad, but it's been awhile, maybe my memory's wrong. Or maybe it's something they've added recently. I don't think it'd detract from it, so perhaps one day I'll try it. For now, I'm sticking with my version!

Red Hot and Blue's Potato Salad (copycat recipe by yours truly)

  • 2-2 1/2 lbs red-skinned potatoes, skin on
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 bunch green onions, just the green parts, diced finely
  • generous 1/2 cup real mayonnaise
  • 3/4 tsp celery salt


  1. Place potatoes and eggs in a large pot of cold water and bring to a boil. Cook for 10-15 minutes, until the potatoes are tender but not mushy. You can pre-cut the potatoes if you wish, though this will probably make for mushier results unless you're super diligent about checking them. The eggs can be boiled separately if you wish; they just need to be hard boiled.
  2. When potatoes are done, drain them into a colander. Run cold water over the eggs to make them easier to handle. If you boiled the potatoes whole, chop them into bite-sized pieces when cool enough to do so. Shell the eggs and dice them. If you're watching your cholesterol intake like me, set aside half of the yolks to throw away or use for another purpose -- like giving them to the dog for a nice treat.
  3. In a large bowl, gently mix all the ingredients together (you don't want to end up with mashed potatoes if you're too rough with this step!). Serve at room temperature for best flavor.

Monday, April 20, 2009

"Perfect" Mac and Cheese

Some would say that I'm picky about my mac and cheese. Some would say that I'm very not picky about it. How can both be true? Well, it might be clearer after I make this confession: My favorite kind of mac and cheese is from Stouffer's, the kind you buy frozen then bake.

Maybe it's a childhood thing. It's what I had as a kid and so I associate it with being the right mac and cheese. I've had the Kraft stuff out of the box. It's crap. I've had the stuff they serve at Souplanation. It too, is crap. I've had mac and cheese at fancy joints and not-so-fancy joints, and sometimes it's been OK. But none of them have ever held a candle to Stouffer's.

Well, I take that back. This last December, I finally had a mac and cheese that I thought was absolutely delicious (as opposed to a waste of my time/appetite, as all the previous experiences had been). It's the side dish they have at Wood Ranch. It's not like Stouffer's; it tastes of real cheese and doesn't have any sauce (Stouffer's is a creamy cheese sauce), but is delicious nonetheless. About a week ago I also had the mac and cheese at Hugo's, and that was pretty good. Worth the calories to eat, at least. Maybe it's a coincidence that after so many years I've found two good mac and cheeses in succession, or maybe I'm getting less picky. I think it's the former, though.

By now many of you are probably thinking, just make your own! Oh I have. I've tried a number of homemade mac and cheese recipes, but they were all disappointing. They used a tremendous amount of cheese, but they all ended up being fairly tasteless. Considering that cheese is getting more and more expensive (and in any case, mac and cheese isn't the healthiest of meal options), I opted not to attempt it over and over again until it was perfected. I figured if I had a craving for mac and cheese, my grocery store's freezer section had the best kind readily available.

Then I came across a mac and cheese recipe that wasn't much of a recipe, more of a guideline. It breezily talked of making a white sauce out of a roux, then adding some seasoning, liberal amounts of cheese, and pasta. Little to no measurements were given. Specifics about the type of cheese were omitted. It didn't mention baking the mac and cheese at all, which in my book is necessary in order to get the crusty bits that I love so much (it also makes the creamy sauce in the end result). And yet, it sounded right. I finally had the chance to make it this weekend, and by golly if it isn't the best mac and cheese I've ever made at home! It's not perfect -- but it has the makings to be so. The method is sound; what needs to be perfected is the blend of cheeses I use.

Don't get me wrong ... it was perfectly good the way I made it. But the cheese I used, while good cheese, may not have been the right blend for perfect mac and cheese. From the depths of my refrigerator I unearthed several wedges of cheese, some that had never been opened, but getting a bit moldy. I went to work slicing off every surface of every wedge of cheese to get to the clean, unmoldy, perfectly good cheese underneath. I then proceeded to use my food processor (bless it) and the shredder attachment to shred much of the cheese, which was a combination of: medium orange cheddar, sharp New Zealand white cheddar, 2 kinds of gruyere, and parmesan. Once it was all shredded I mixed it up. The orange cheddar was just a generic grocery brand -- in future I'll definitely be getting the good stuff, as this was fairly tasteless. However, an orange cheese in the mix is necessary to give the final product that familiar orangey color (if you don't care about that, it's not required, of course). Gruyere is good to use because it melts in a non-stringy way, which is good for a mac and cheese cream sauce. I'll be experimenting with the kinds of cheese I use the next time for sure. Another thing I meant to add but didn't this time was just a bit of white wine. I think that'll make some of the flavor bloom, like a fondue.

The most important part about the cheese is that you shred it yourself. The pre-shredded kind has cornstarch in it, and is also generally not as flavorful as the cheese you buy in wedges and have to shred yourself.

The hardest part of the whole thing was finding elbow macaroni. I was very surprised by this, and maybe it's just my local selection. Maybe people always eat the Kraft stuff and rarely make their own, so stores don't carry macaroni anymore. Who knows?

I didn't do any measuring, but the recipe below is a good general guideline that I've approximated.

"Perfect" Mac and Cheese

  • 8oz uncooked elbow macaroni pasta
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 3-4 cups shredded cheese, your choice (recommendations above)
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 4 tbsp flour
  • 1 1/2-2 cups milk, cream, or half and half
  • 2 dashes garlic powder
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • salt and pepper


  1. Make the pasta as directed on the package. Cook to al dente, and if you don't like your pasta softer than that, run cold water over the pasta once it's done to stop the cooking. Otherwise just drain the water and let it sit while you finish making the sauce.
  2. Preheat the oven to 500°F and put a rack at the highest point it will go and still allow you to fit your baking dish. (Alternatively, broiling would probably work also.)
  3. In a large pot (or right in the casserole dish, if you have one you can use on the stovetop like I do), melt the butter. Add the flour and mix thoroughly to create a roux. Cook until dark blonde.
  4. Add the onion and blend well into the roux. Cook a few minutes. The roux will darken a bit more.
  5. Start slowly adding the milk. Add as much as you need to create a thick creamy mixture.
  6. Season the cream sauce with salt, pepper, nutmeg, and garlic powder. (At this point, I'd probably also add the white wine, if using.) Stir well.
  7. Turn the heat to low and start adding the cheese a handful at a time. You don't want the mixture to boil at this point, as it will separate. Keep doing this until all the cheese is incorporated. The mixture will be very thick and may look kind of stringy due to the cheese. Taste it and adjust the seasoning as needed, or add more cheese if you think it needs more.
  8. Add in the cooked pasta and mix gently but thoroughly. Use your spatula or spoon to press the pasta down into the dish and smooth the surface.
  9. Bake for 10 minutes in the oven, or until the top is bubbly and brown in spots. Serve hot.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Hot Cross Buns

So apparently, hot cross buns are an Easter tradition. Who knew? Certainly not I, heathen than I am. ;) All I knew of hot cross buns were from the nursery rhyme. I might have eaten one at some point some years back, but if I did, it was obviously forgettable. But I've seen several recipes for them lately -- probably because it was just Easter -- and it made me want to eat them. Which meant I'd have to make them. But before I could do that, I had to decide if I was going to try to make a sourdough version from my starter ... which I decided against, both because it was going to be more trouble than it was worth (in my humble opinion), and because the sourdough might flavor it in a way that would detract from the final product.

I ended up using two recipes to make these, one for the dough and another for the crosses. I also went my own way when it came to the fruit used in the dough. For the dough, I used this recipe from Wild Yeast. I used active dry yeast rather than instant yeast, but it worked just fine (from what I understand of the difference in the two, instant should work faster, but at all the specified times my dough expanded exactly the amount it should have), possibly because I used my proofing box. For the fruit I used golden raisins and chopped dried mango from Trader Joe's. For the crosses, I used the one from this recipe, which uses a sourdough starter for its dough. The reason I did this was because I liked how the crosses looked in their final product, and because I wanted them to be a bit sweet (which the powdered sugar provided). I also used the method of having the buns touch one another in a baking pan, rather than be spread apart individually. The buns came out beautifully!

When they first came out of the oven, I wanted to wait until they were cool to pull them apart, as I wanted them to be aesthetically pleasing ... but then I thought, "Wait a minute! These are supposed to be hot cross buns." I wanted to eat them as you're "supposed" to, so I pulled them apart while hot, which did make them pull apart a bit messily, and they were so soft that some of them got smooshed, but all in all it didn't go too badly. And they were delicious eaten hot, so there's that.

And now for the pictorial...

Here the final dough has gone through its first rise with folds at 30 minutes.

These have been individually shaped into balls then flattened, and placed in a parchment-lined glass baking pan, evenly spaced apart:

After an hour, they've poofed out nicely and are now snuggling next to one another comfortably, like old buddies:

Here they are with the crosses piped on top (using a plastic baggie with a small hole cut in one corner):

Right out of the oven, after the glaze has been applied on top. Since I used a glass baking dish I lowered the temperatures suggested in the recipe by 25°F:

Close up of the crosses:

A lone hot cross bun, awaiting its fate:

A shot of the interior -- so soft and warm and filled with light spices and hints of sugar (but not too sweet):

Submitted to YeastSpotting.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Umi Sake House

A couple of days ago, I met up with an old friend, J. (and I mean, we go all the way back to our high school days, but didn't realize we were in the same area until last week, due to Facebook) and went to Umi Sake House in Belltown. It was just a couple of blocks down from Wasabi Bistro.

The food and the service were both great. It's a little pricey but not outrageously so. Their $25 omakase was decent in selection and wonderful in freshness (Wasabi Bistro's low-end omakase may be just a bit better, but is also a little more costly). Umi has a huge selection of rolls -- they even have a "fresh" menu of the day for these -- and some may sound familiar while others are a little more out there. For a "trendy" sushi place I was pretty impressed (I must admit to a bias for smaller mom & pop type restaurants). Many times it's all style and no substance, but that wasn't the case with Umi. I'd happily go back.

And now onto the pictures (again, apologies for the blurriness and discoloration on some of these -- the restaurant is dimly lit)...

Their regular menu is on the left; it's long and oversized, and attached on a clipboard. It's two pages. The second page is filled with all their different kinds of rolls and nigiri options. The "fresh" menu is on the left. I'm not sure if that changes daily or weekly or how it works.

I got to the restaurant a bit early, due to overestimating how much traffic would delay me. Our waitress, who was super nice, started me off with some edamame and offered to get some hot ones when J. arrived.

J. ordered a lychee sake (they have many other flavored sakes), which is apparently more like a cocktail than traditional sake. I stuck with water since my body has an intolerance for alcohol. I ate J.'s lychee when he was done with his drink though, and it was really delicious.

We got agedashi tofu as an appetizer ("fried tofu in house ankake sauce") and it was reaaaalllly good. Each tofu was topped with something a bit different: ginger, daikon, green onion, seaweed, and a kind of shaved fish. The sauce was so light and wonderfully tasty that if I'd had a large bowl of white rice I'm not ashamed to say I probably would have doused the whole thing in it.

I also ordered a panda roll from their "fresh" menu. I was trying to decide between that or the caterpillar roll, which is always a favorite of mine. However, I can get a caterpillar roll just about anywhere, and the panda roll really intrigued me. It was made of salmon skin and avocado, with seared albacore tuna wrapped around it, topped with green onions and black bean sauce.

It had a wonderful smoky flavor from the salmon skin, creaminess from the avocado, and heft from the tuna. I'd definitely get it again the next time I go back.

Normally the trendy, unique rolls in restaurants like these don't appeal to me much (I avoid anything with spicy fish, cream cheese, and if I can help it, mayo), but this one sounded really good. It had many things that I liked (and none of the things I don't like). The only thing iffy about it was the black bean sauce, which I thought might be a little too overwhelming. I needn't have feared. It was very light -- not overpowering at all. And I'll give this to Umi also -- their rolls are huge. Other places' rolls are often half this size!

For his main course J. got the chirashi bowl:

And I got the aforementioned omakase. If you ask me, though, our meals looked practically identical, except the chirashi bowl also comes with rice and a bowl of miso soup, for $3 less. If I did it again, I'd definitely get the chirashi over the omakase (at least, the $25 one). However, the next time I go back I'll probably do something a little different -- they had hamachi kama on the menu, which I love and almost ordered, and a little sashimi sampler, both for $10. Then I could also perhaps try another roll or two. This is one of the few restaurants that I can see myself ordering something different each time (normally I'm a creature of habit and stick to one or two items that I know I like).

Hugely enjoyable experience, not the least of which was because of getting back in touch with an old friend. I'm looking forward to our next meal together! :-)

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Spring Hill

On March 31 my cousin and I went to Spring Hill, a restaurant located in West Seattle. The head chef/owner is Mark Fuller, who used to be the head chef at Tom Douglas's Dahlia Lounge. We went for the last day of the Dine Around Seattle promotion, which is one of the best ways to get to dine at some of Seattle's finest restaurants without making your wallet weep. (30 restaurants offering 3-course dinners for $30, which is a bargain considering some of these restaurants charge more than that for a regular entree. Some even offer 3-for-$15 lunches.) If you're in the area and haven't taken advantage, they do it every March and November. This time around I managed to go to 3 restaurants, but didn't take my camera until this last one. :D

Here's the menu ... the Dine Around Seattle menu is on top of their regular menu. Since my cousin had been there before, we didn't make it a point to both order different dishes.

Sorry that some of these photos are blurry. I didn't use my flash due to not wanting to be rude to the other diners (plus flash washes out colors), and I took a lot of shots so some did come out crisp. But some I only took one or two shots, so if I didn't get a clear picture on the first try that was basically it. I used Photoshop to brighten the dark photos as best I could.

Butter lettuce salad with parmesan, radish, and citronelle dressing -- very lemony and so good.

Pork rillette with crostini and thinly sliced apple.

Putting it together...

I had heard how amazing the clam chowder was at Spring Hill and really wanted to try it. It wasn't part of the Dine Around Seattle promotion so we ordered it separately. They bring you the bowl with whole clams, pepper crackers, potatoes, a parsley puree, etc.

The server then pours the creamy chowder over the ingredients.

We mixed it up and the parsley puree infuses the chowder with pretty green specks and adds flavor. We both ate a few spoonfuls before I took this picture, lol.

The restaurant has an open kitchen, and almost every table in the place has a good view of it. Our table was next to where the food was being plated. Seeing all that yumminess constantly was totally awesome. :D

We both ordered the wood-grilled hangar steak, which was unspeakably delicious. You know that one scene in The Matrix, when Cypher goes in to have dinner with one of the Agents, and he forks up a gorgeous piece of steak? My mouth waters at that scene every time. I finally got to eat it myself. ;)

The steak was served on top of Yukon Gold mashed potatoes and either creamed savoy spinach (says the menu) or creamed arugula (says the server).

Spring Hill is the sort of place where they are insistent upon serving food the way it's meant to be eaten -- the menu explicitly says "No Substitutions." They serve their steak medium rare. That means if you want well-done meat, you either need to go somewhere else or order something else. My cousin is pregnant and normally is totally fine with medium rare meat, but wants to be more cautious. She had to practically beg to get the server to ask the cooks to prepare her meat "on the medium side of medium rare." :D Many people may not care for this kind of 'snootiness,' but we personally like that they take a stand about the food they serve. Here's her steak; it was still medium rare, but definitely slightly cooked longer than mine:

For dessert we both got the chocolate fudge cake (it was flourless; it basically tasted like very dark fudge) with salted peanut ice cream. I'm not usually a fan of peanut-flavored stuff (though I do like peanuts and peanut butter), but it had a hint of honey in it, and coupled with the chocolate and bits of salt, it was divine.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Friday Dinner: Panda Express Orange Chicken

There's something about Panda Express's orange chicken. It's not 'real' Chinese food, it's fast food, and yet there is something. Something awesomely yummy. I love a bowl of orange chicken with some fake chow mein and doused with liberally with Sriracha hot sauce. I don't have it very often, for health reasons (and on principle, to avoid Panda Express), but I would be the last person to try and claim that it isn't yummy.

When I found a copycat recipe online for this very orange chicken, I brought it up with Trix as a dinner possibility, and being that she is only human, she said, "If it's wrong, I don't want to be right." It seems a fitting last Friday dinner. Gasp! Why last? Because we're moving to Mondays. Same bat channel, but different bat time. Anyway, back to this Friday dinner.

Here's the thing about Panda's orange chicken -- there's actually no orange in it. They might try and fool us by placing slices of orange in the pan afterward, but the flavoring doesn't actually have any orange (possibly it was named after the color of the glaze once on the chicken?). This recipe calls for an optional amount of orange zest, which I used, and I can confirm: way too orangey for Panda's orange chicken. But that's not to say it wasn't worth adding.

The chicken in Panda's version has a much harder/crunchier coating -- possibly fixed by frying the pieces of chicken for longer, or giving it a thicker coating. The chicken in the homemade version is much more tender, however, and longer frying might compromise that. Many comments to the copycat recipe indicated that doubling the sauce would be a good idea, so we did, and we concur that that's a good idea. One change we'd make, however, is that rather than adding to the just-boiled sauce, we'd thicken it first, then add the chicken. That might help the chicken retain some crispness.

And now, a pictorial of the efforts Trix and I made...

Here's Trix's chicken frying (I used my deep fryer, so there's really nothing to see):

Here's about half my chicken draining on a paper towel:

Trix's chicken in the thickened sauce:

My chicken, plated. It probably would have looked more attractive if I hadn't heaped the entire portion on there, but oh well:

Trix's chicken, plated:

And now here is our improved copycat recipe for orange chicken, which is very good, even if not exactly like Panda Express's.

Orange Chicken

  • 2 lbs boneless skinless chicken, chopped into bite sized pieces
  • 1 egg
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • Pinch of white pepper
  • 2 tbsp oil, divided, plus more oil for frying
  • ½ cup + 1 tbsp cornstarch, divided
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 1 tbsp ginger, minced
  • 1 tsp garlic, minced
  • ½ tsp crushed hot red chili pepper
  • ¼ cup green onion, chopped
  • 1 tbsp rice wine
  • ¼ cup water
  • Zest of ½ an orange (optional)

For the “Orange” Sauce

  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 tbsp water
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ cup white vinegar


  1. In a large bowl, mix together the egg, salt, pepper, and 1 tbsp of oil. Mix well. Stir in the chicken pieces.
  2. In medium bowl, stir together the flour and ½ cup cornstarch. Add the chicken pieces, stirring to coat.
  3. Heat oil for deep frying in a wok or deep fryer to 375°F.
  4. Add the chicken, small batches at a time, and fry for 4-5 minutes until golden crisp (but avoid overcooking the chicken). When done remove the chicken from the oil with tongs and drain on paper towels.
  5. Clean the wok if you used it and heat for 15 seconds over high heat. Lower to medium high and add 1 tbsp of oil.
  6. Add the ginger and garlic and stir try until fragrant, about 10 seconds.
  7. Add the crushed chiles and green onions, then the rice wine, stirring for a few seconds.
  8. Add the orange sauce and bring to a boil.
  9. Stir the remaining 1 tbsp of cornstarch into the water, add this mix to the chicken and heat until the sauce has thickened.
  10. Add the cooked chicken, stirring until well incorporated.
  11. Turn off the heat and stir in the orange zest if using.
  12. Serve over white rice.