This simple Crockpot Orange Chicken takes the Chinese restaurant favorite, gives it a healthy makeover, and turns it into an easy, hands-off slow cooker meal. Instead of sugary ingredients like orange soda or marmalade, this healthy crock pot recipe uses natural sweeteners and everyday ingredients. You can make it with chicken breasts, thighs, or drumsticks and add sesame if you are feeling fancy, and the sweet, sticky, fruity sauce turns every bite into fork-licking gold.
My food-loving husband has a longstanding weakness for Chinese fast food. We used to live within walking distance of a Panda Express, and on weeks when he’d had a rough time at work, he’d sweet talk me into heading over there for lunch or dinner.
^^I’m not going to pretend like this was hard to do—I’m a sucker for sweet, tender bites of chicken in sticky sauces as much as the next sane individual, as this Healthy Orange Chicken, this Crock Pot Cashew Chicken, this Crock Pot Teriyaki Chicken, and this Pineapple Chicken (and this similar but non-chicken Slow Cooker Beef and Broccoli) can all attest.
A Delicious Recipe for Simple Crockpot Orange Chicken
Orange chicken is a staple on many Chinese takeout menus. It typically consists of chicken that is breaded, deep fried, and tossed in a sticky, sweet orange sauce. While a favorite of many, I’ve found most I’ve tasted (even on those fun runs) to be overly sugared and unnecessarily heavy on calories.
This crockpot orange chicken recipe is my healthier, lightened-up version. The sweet, citrusy flavor is reminiscent of a crockpot orange chicken with Panda Express sauce, but the ingredients are far better for you.
It’s also much more economical to make your own orange chicken at home instead of ordering out. Your wallet AND your waistline are going to thank you for making this healthy crockpot orange chicken recipe!
Skip the Marmalade for Skinny Orange Chicken
Almost every other recipe I’ve read for an easy version of homemade orange chicken calls for copious amounts of orange marmalade. Don’t get me wrong; I adore orange marmalade.
I also know that dumping an entire jar of it into the slow cooker would likely send me into a sugar coma and detract from my goal of making this a healthy orange chicken recipe.
Instead of orange marmalade, this is a recipe for crockpot orange chicken with a few simple ingredients.
- Orange Juice. Nothing like a real orange for some real-deal orange chicken.
- Soy Sauce. The salty counterpoint.
- Rice Vinegar. For balance and punch.
- Honey. Sticky sweetness, done more naturally.
- Lots of Garlic and Ginger. To make the crockpot orange chicken sing and zing!
The orange juice mixture makes the chicken flavorful and fall-apart tender, then thickens into that signature sweet and sticky orange chicken sauce, a.k.a. the reason you were likely craving it in the first place.
- Slow Cooker Orange Chicken Drumsticks. Swap the breasts for chicken drumsticks. Remove the skin from the drumsticks, then place the drumsticks in the slow cooker. Stir to coat with the sauce, then cover and cook until an instant-read thermometer registers 165 degrees F when inserted into the thickest part of the meat without touching bone, 2 to 3 hours on HIGH or 4 hours on LOW. Reduce the sauce as directed.
- Slow Cooker Orange Sesame Chicken. After the sauce is reduced (Step 3), stir 1 teaspoon sesame oil into the sauce. Sprinkle the finished chicken with toasted sesame seeds.
- Crockpot Orange Chicken Thighs. Swap the boneless, skinless chicken breasts for boneless, skinless chicken thighs. Cook until an instant-read thermometer registers 165 degrees F when inserted into the thickest part of the meat, 2 on HIGH or 4 hours on LOW.
Tools Used to Make This Recipe
- Programmable slow cooker
- Oversize measuring cup (great for stirring together marinades. No need to dirty another bowl!)
Crockpot Orange Chicken
- 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 4 medium breasts)
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup reduced-sugar orange juice
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic about 2 cloves
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes or more to taste
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- Prepared brown rice for serving
- Sliced green onions optional for serving
- Sliced or slivered toasted almonds and/or toasted sesame seeds optional for serving
- Coat the bottom of a 4-quart or larger slow cooker with nonstick spray. Arrange the chicken in the bottom, then sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- In a medium bowl or large measuring cup, whisk together the orange juice, honey, soy sauce, rice vinegar, garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes. Pour over the chicken. Cover and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours on high or 5 to 6 hours on low, until the chicken registers 165 degrees F and is cooked through. With a slotted spoon, remove the chicken from the slow cooker and let cool slightly. Cut into bite-sized pieces.
- With a mesh sieve, strain the sauce into a bowl or measuring cup. Discard the solids, then return the liquid to the slow cooker. Turn the slow cooker heat to high. Mix the cornstarch with 3 tablespoons water to create a slurry, then stir it into the slow cooker sauce. Cover and cook on high until the sauce thickens, about 10 minutes, stirring it often. Return the chicken pieces to the slow cooker and stir to coat with the sauce. Serve with prepared rice, sprinkled with green onions and toasted almonds or sesame seeds as desired.
- Cooking times can vary widely based on the model and size of your slow cooker. Be sure to check the chicken early, especially if you are using a larger-size slow cooker, to make sure it does not overcook.
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