Healthy Orange Chicken
Panda Express should be exceptionally nervous right now. This sheet pan Healthy Orange Chicken and broccoli just bested its signature entrée.
Classic orange chicken is an Americanized Chinese fast food classic that consists of cubed pieces of chicken breasts that are breaded and deep fried, then coated in a sweet, sticky orange sauce.
While orange has its diehard fans (including my husband), it can be cloyingly sweet. The fast food variety certainly isn’t winning any nutritional awards.
But if you place a plate of today’s healthy orange chicken recipe near me? I promise there won’t be any leftovers!
It’s better tasting, better for you, and less expensive than orange chicken from [insert your Chinese takeout chain here].
This skinny orange chicken is also quick and easy to put together. You won’t regret ditching the delivery and making this homemade version instead.
In place of the OMG what did I just do?? feelings of regret you may have experienced upon hitting the bottom of a white cardboard delivery container, you’ll feel great eating a monster portion of this lightened-up recipe tonight.
In the unlikely event of leftovers, you’ll want to do it again tomorrow too.
Like many of my other healthy fast food make overs (this Teriyaki Beef Stir Fry being the most recent favorite), this recipe keeps the spirit of the dish, but delivers it in a more wholesome way.
You’ll find the signature orange chicken sauce and orange chicken crispy coating, but the chicken is baked and not fried.
And since we’re heating up the oven and need a side dish to serve with our homemade orange chicken anyway, why not take a note from this Sheet Pan Shrimp and Broccoli and throw a head of broccoli onto the sheet pan alongside the chicken as it bakes?
Cooking the chicken and broccoli side by side is a dynamite two-for-one approach that this household plans to revisit on many a busy weeknight to come (I also enjoy using broccoli for this Crockpot Beef and Broccoli).
Secret to the BEST Healthy Orange Chicken
The secret to the best orange chicken is in the sauce!
Instead of orange chicken with orange marmalade and brown sugar (which is essentially two rounds of sugar), this orange chicken sauce is made of a few wholesome ingredients. I based it loosely off of my equally healthy and delicious Crockpot Orange Chicken.
The most important ingredient is real orange juice and orange zest.
You simply cannot beat the taste of fresh orange. It makes the chicken taste like the citrusy, sweet (but not too sweet), and delightfully sticky fast food favorite, only better.
You can buy orange chicken sauce, but it’s generally full of added preservatives and sugar. Once you experience the fresh flavor of orange chicken sauce from scratch, you’ll never want to use the bottled kind again.
How to Make Orange Chicken from Scratch
Ready for Panda Express orange chicken taste, with fewer calories and without the mess of a deep fryer? Here’s what you need.
For the Crispy Baked Chicken
- Chicken Breasts. Because we’re baking the chicken instead of frying it, this orange chicken is good for you. After it’s baked, the chicken becomes the perfect combination of crispy outside and moist and tender inside. I used boneless skinless chicken breasts, but you could also try this as an orange chicken thighs recipe.
- Panko Breadcrumbs. Whole wheat Panko crumbs are the best way to help crisp up the chicken without frying it. They also absorb the sauce, giving the chicken pieces their hallmark sticky texture.
- Green Onions. One of my favorite additions to stir fry recipes. They add balance to the sweetness of the sauce and give freshness and color to the dish.
For the Homemade Orange Chicken Sauce
- Orange Zest + Juice. The key to our fresh, bright orange flavor. The best part: both of these ingredients can come from the same orange (winning!).
- Honey. In lieu of using refined sugar n this recipe, I added honey. It gives the orange sauce its trademark sweetness while keeping the recipe on the healthy side.
- Soy Sauce. A star ingredient in almost every stir fry recipe. Soy sauce brings a savory, salty complement to the sweetness of the orange and honey.
- Ginger + Garlic. The Asian flavor dream team!
- Cornstarch + Water. Creates a cornstarch slurry to help thicken the sauce.
- Red Pepper Flakes. Orange chicken is not spicy on its own, so I threw in red pepper flakes for some heat. Add as much or as little as you want to reach your desired level of spiciness.
- Add the broccoli to a greased baking sheet, topping it with the oil, salt, and pepper. Toss to coat, then spread into an even layer, moving it over to one side of the baking sheet.
- Toss the chicken with the breadcrumbs, then add the chicken pieces in a single layer on the baking sheet next to the broccoli.
- Bake for 10 minutes at 400 degrees F, then flip over the pieces of chicken. Return the pan to the oven and bake for 5 to 10 additional minutes, until chicken is cooked through.
- As the chicken bakes, prepare the sauce: Whisk the sauce ingredients together in a saucepan, then add the slurry. Boil until the sauce has thickened, then stir in the red pepper flakes.
- Add the chicken and green onions to sauce, stirring to coat. Serve hot with the broccoli and rice. ENJOY!
More Sides to Serve with Orange Chicken
- Vegetables. This recipe includes a moderate portion of broccoli for each serving, so you could also include additional roasted vegetables for a larger serving. Red peppers, sugar snap peas, or mushrooms would be delicious.
- Rice. We love serving this baked orange chicken recipe over a bed of brown rice or quinoa. For a low-carb option, cauliflower rice would also be tasty.
- Salad. Try serving your leftover orange chicken on top of a green salad, like this Ramen Salad.
Make Ahead and Storage Tips
- To Make Ahead. Cut the chicken into pieces, and chop all vegetables up to 1 day in advance. Store each in a separate container in the refrigerator for healthy orange chicken meal prep.
- If you want to make extra broccoli, it can be chopped up to 2 days in advance or fully roasted 1 day in advance; this lightening-fast Roasted Frozen Broccoli is great to make a day ahead then reheat in the oven towards the end of the chicken’s baking time.
- To Store. Place leftover orange chicken in an airtight storage container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- To Reheat. To help the chicken recrisp, rewarm this recipe on a baking sheet in the oven at 350 degrees F until hot. In a pinch, you can also reheat it in the microwave.
- To Freeze. Store orange chicken in an airtight freezer-safe storage container in the freezer for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating. The chicken may not be as crispy once thawed, but it will still taste delicious.
More Homemade Healthy Asian Chicken Recipes
- Slow Cooker Honey Garlic Chicken
- Teriyaki Chicken Stir Fry
- Crock Pot Cashew Chicken
- Crock Pot Sweet and Sour Chicken
Recommended Tools to Make Healthy Orange Chicken
- Baking Sheets. These are heavy-duty and will last for years to come.
- Small Whisk. Ideal for whisking together sauce ingredients without splashing all over the counter.
- Nonslip Cutting Board. Great for chopping, and it’s easy to clean if you are cutting meat for any of my healthy chicken recipes.
Swap the takeout menu for your trusty sheet pan, pick up your chopsticks (or a fork, I won’t judge!), and let this healthy orange chicken and broccoli be your weeknight winner.
If you try this tasty orange chicken recipe, please leave a comment to let me know how it goes. Your comments and ratings really help my blog and are so helpful to other readers too!
Healthy Orange Chicken
FOR THE BROCCOLI:
- 1 medium head broccoli - cut into florets (about 4 cups florets)
- 1 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
FOR THE CHICKEN:
- 1/3 cup whole wheat Panko breadcrumbs
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts - cut into 1-inch pieces (about 2 small/medium breasts)
- ¼ cup chopped green onions
FOR THE SAUCE:
- Zest of 1 medium orange - about 2 tablespoons
- ½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice - from the same 1 medium orange
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
- 2 cloves minced garlic - about 2 teaspoons
- ¼ cup water
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes - to taste
- Place a rack in the center of your oven and preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Spray a rimmed baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray.
- Prepare the broccoli: place the broccoli on the baking sheet. Drizzle with the oil and sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Toss to coat, then spread into an even layer on one side of the sheet pan.
- Prepare the chicken: Place breadcrumbs, salt, and pepper into a large ziptop bag. Shake a little to combine. Add the chicken pieces, seal, then shake to coat the chicken evenly. Place the chicken pieces in a single layer on the open side of the baking sheet.
- Bake for 10 minutes, then remove the pan from the oven and turn the chicken pieces over. Return the pan to the oven and bake for 5 to 10 additional minutes, until the chicken is cooked through. When a piece of chicken is cut, the juices should run clear.
- While the chicken cooks, prepare the sauce: In a medium saucepan (one large enough to hold the sauce and the chicken), whisk together the orange zest, orange juice, honey, soy sauce, ginger, and garlic. In a small bowl, whisk together the water and corn starch, until it is very smooth. Add to the saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook until the sauce is thickened and reduced, about 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in the red pepper flakes. Taste (be careful; it will be hot!) and adjust the seasoning as desired.
- Add the baked chicken to the pot and stir to coat with the sauce. If the broccoli is not yet as crisp as you would like, spread it out over the surface of the entire pan (including the open side where you were previously roasting the chicken) and return it to the oven until it is as baked as you like (I left it in for about 3 more minutes). Stir the green onions into the pot with the chicken. Serve hot with the roasted broccoli and rice.
- TO STORE: Place leftover orange chicken in an airtight storage container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- TO REHEAT: To help the chicken recrisp, rewarm this dish on a baking sheet in the oven at 350 degrees F until hot. In a pinch, you can also reheat it in the microwave.
- TO FREEZE: Store orange chicken in an airtight freezer-safe storage container in the freezer for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating. The chicken may not be as crispy once thawed, but it will still taste delicious.
- On 3/12/20 recipe was updated to reduce cornstarch to 2 tablespoons based on feedback that the sauce became too thick; if you like a super duper thick sauce, feel free to use the original 3 tablespoons.
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