Spicy Orange Chicken Recipe (Crockpot, GFCF)
I’ll admit it: I crave junk food from time to time. Lately, what has been haunting my wishful ponderings has been the sickly sweet orange chicken dish, found at “fast casual” Chinese restaurants, like Panda Express. I last had Panda’s orange chicken more than ten years ago, and I still remember… If there was a gluten-free version sold somewhere, I’d probably gobble it up. So, perhaps it’s best for my sugar-intake that I haven’t found it anywhere.
A couple of days ago, a bloggy friend sent me a recipe for Crockpot Honey Sesame Chicken from The Comfort of Cooking. Perhaps you’ve seen it; it’s been making the rounds like wildfire, thanks to some fabulous pictures and Pinterest. I looked at it and thought, “That is a LOT of honey.” I buy semi-local honey, from The Honeyman in Prescott Valley, Arizona. It’s raw, thick, and amazingly delicious. It’s also expensive. My thought was, “A cup of honey is worth roughly $2.75.” I’m sorry, but that’s too much invested, honey-wise, into one recipe.
I also thought, “Two pounds of chicken? That’s not going to feed my family.” Along those lines, my friend Tina mentioned that she had doubled the chicken and the recipe had still turned out well.
Another thought: “KETCHUP??? In an already sweet recipe?? Hmmm… I’m not going to do that. Tomato paste and apple cider vinegar would be better.”
Then, “Only a half cup of onion? Crockpotted onions are amazing. Needs more onion.”
And then, I looked in my freezer and saw a half container of orange juice concentrate that I keep specifically for cooking. The gears in my brain, especially the ones marked Fiddling with Recipes, started whirring.
And the resulting recipe was so different than the original that, while I freely admit I used it as a launch pad, I thought I could probably safely call it a new recipe.
The resulting recipe was also AMAZING and TASTY. When I sampled the first completed spoonful, I about melted. So perfect. So, so perfect. Granted, it’s not as sweet as Panda’s orange chicken; I think you’d need to throw in two or three cups of sugar to accomplish that. However, it’s orangey-enough and sweet-enough to satisfy the cravings. I was a bit afraid that it would be too spicy for my little girls, ages 4 and 6. They made comment about the spiciness, but each of them simply picked up a cup of water and braved their way through, as the flavor was compelling enough to keep eating. Everyone — all seven of us — really loved this recipe. It received thumbs up and requests for me to make it again in the future.
One more recipe note: You may notice that ½ teaspoon of citric acid is called for. “Wha…?” may be your response and you may be tempted to omit it. PLEASE DON’T. Let’s call it the Secret Ingredient. Citric acid enables you to taste the tang of the oranges. It’s a must. If you have a Sprouts in your area, you can find it in the bulk spice section for less than a dollar per ounce. It can also be found in the canning section of any well-stocked grocery store. Or, if you have a cheese-making store nearby, they will certainly stock it, as well.
OK. One more recipe note: The only mixed reviews were about the cooked orange peel in the recipe. Some loved it, some picked them out.
Spicy Orange Chicken (Crockpot, Gluten-Free, Casein/Dairy-Free)
Prep time: About 10 minutes.
Cook time: Four hours
8-10 fresh or thawed boneless, skinless chicken thighs or 4-6 chicken breasts (3-3½ pounds)
sea salt and cracked pepper
one medium onion, chopped
½ cup honey
½ cup orange juice concentrate, thawed
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup gluten-free soy sauce
1 tsp red pepper flakes (more or less, to taste — 1 tsp will make it noticeably spicy but not HOT)
1 small orange, divided use
5 medium carrots, peeled and chopped (about 1 lb.)
1 red bell pepper, cored and diced
5 tsp corn starch
1/3 cup water
½ tsp citric acid
2 tsp sesame seeds
3 green onions (scallions) chopped
2 cups uncooked brown rice
4 cups water
Cut chicken pieces in half, lightly season with salt and pepper, and place in the bottom of a Crockpot. Turn Crockpot on high.
Chop onion and place on top of the chicken.
In a glass bowl, gently heat honey in a microwave until thin. (Alternately, you can place the container of honey in a pan of hot water until warmed through.) Into the warmed honey, whisk the orange juice concentrate, tomato paste, apple cider vinegar, minced garlic, soy sauce, and red pepper flakes. Pour atop the chicken and onions. Cover and cook on high for two hours.
Slice the orange in half, and slice each half very thinly. Set aside half of the slices for garnish. After the chicken has cooked for two hours, add the remaining slices to the simmering chicken, stirring to mix. Turn Crockpot to LOW. Cook for one hour.
After the chicken has cooked for an hour (for a total of three hours), the chicken should be very tender. Break up the pieces, still in the Crockpot, with a wooden spoon. In a small bowl, mix 1/3 cup water, the corn starch, and citric acid, combining well. Stir into the simmering chicken, mixing well. Then, stir in the chopped carrots and red bell pepper.
As brown rice needs to cook for about 45 minutes, start it now: In a medium-sized saucepan, combine the brown rice and four cups of water. Bring to boil, then cover and turn heat to low, simmering the brown rice for 45 minutes.
Continue to cook the chicken and veggies on low for an additional hour (a total of four hours), stirring occasionally, breaking up more chunks of chicken as you stir until you have a shredded consistency, as in the picture above.
Ladle shredded chicken, veggies, and sauce into a serving dish. Garnish with the remaining orange slices, sesame seeds, and chopped green onion. Serve over hot, cooked brown rice.