Mandarin oranges are native to southern China, where they are eaten primarily as a fresh fruit. But since canned or jarred mandarin oranges are common in the United States, they are typically added to other dishes. Eating citrus fruits whole (instead of just drinking their juice) provides important fiber, especially the soluble kind which is linked to lowering cholesterol levels. This juicy Light Mandarin Orange Chicken is a great way to use mandarin oranges for a complete, healthy, low calorie and delicious dinner.
Light Mandarin Orange Chicken
- 2 pieces of plastic wrap
- 1 meat mallet (or rolling pin)
- 1 medium nonstick saucepan
- 1 small bowl
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- ⅛ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1 small red pepper. finely chopped
- ½ cup orange juice
- ¼ cup cold water
- 2 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 jar mandarin oranges, drained (about 12 ounces)
- 2-3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
- 2 cups hot cooked rice (I prefer brown, yellow, or jasmine with this dish)
- Additional fresh cilantro for garnish (optional)
- Pound the chicken slightly between 2 pieces of plastic wrap to 1/4-inch thickness using a meat mallet (or rolling pin). Broil the chicken breasts 6 inches from your oven’s heat source for 7 to 8 minutes on each side or until chicken is no longer pink. (or you could grill the chicken on a covered grill over medium-hot coals for 10 minutes on each side or until chicken is no longer pink in center). When done cooking, sprinkle the chicken breasts with the salt and pepper. Set aside.
- Spray a medium nonstick saucepan with cooking spray and place over medium heat until hot. Add the onion and pepper and cook for about 5 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Add the orange juice, ginger and sugar to the saucepan and bring to a boil.
- Combine the cornstarch and water in a small bowl and add it to the juice mixture, stirring until thickened. Boil for 1 minute longer, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to medium low, stir in the orange segments and cilantro, and place the chicken breasts in the mixture for 1-2 minutes until heated through.
- Serve chicken over the cooked rice, top with any leftover sauce, and garnish as desired (I usually serve this with steamed broccoli seasoned with a little garlic and lemon).
Alternative Method: Air Fryer
If you’re looking for a healthier and quicker way to prepare Light Mandarin Orange Chicken, using an air fryer is a fantastic alternative method. This method will give you crispy and flavorful chicken without the need for excessive oil. Here’s how to make Light Mandarin Orange Chicken using an air fryer:
- 1.5 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1/2 cup mandarin orange juice
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon grated ginger
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon orange zest
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- Optional: red pepper flakes or sriracha sauce for added heat
- In a bowl, combine the mandarin orange juice, soy sauce, minced garlic, grated ginger, honey, and orange zest. Mix well to create the marinade.
- Place the chicken pieces in a separate bowl and pour the marinade over them. Toss the chicken to ensure it is evenly coated. Let it marinate for at least 30 minutes or up to overnight in the refrigerator.
- Preheat your air fryer to 400°F (200°C) for about 5 minutes.
- Remove the chicken from the marinade, allowing any excess marinade to drip off. Place the chicken in the air fryer basket in a single layer, making sure not to overcrowd.
- Cook the chicken in the air fryer for 12-15 minutes, flipping halfway through the cooking time, until the chicken is cooked through and golden brown. Adjust the cooking time as needed, depending on the size and thickness of the chicken pieces.
- In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch with a tablespoon of water to create a slurry. Pour the slurry into a small saucepan and heat over medium heat until it thickens into a glossy sauce. This will be used to glaze the cooked chicken.
- Once the chicken is cooked, remove it from the air fryer and place it in a bowl. Pour the thickened sauce over the chicken and toss to coat evenly. If desired, add a pinch of red pepper flakes or a drizzle of sriracha sauce for some heat.
- Serve the Light Mandarin Orange Chicken as a main dish with steamed rice or noodles. Garnish with sliced green onions and sesame seeds for added flavor and visual appeal.
Using an air fryer allows you to achieve crispy and flavorful Light Mandarin Orange Chicken with minimal added oil. Enjoy the delicious results in a fraction of the time it would take to bake or stir-fry.
To ensure the best results and make your Light Mandarin Orange Chicken truly shine, here are some valuable cooking tips and insights to keep in mind:
- Marinate for Flavor: For an extra burst of citrusy goodness, marinate the chicken in a mixture of mandarin orange juice, soy sauce, garlic, and ginger for at least 30 minutes or overnight. This step allows the flavors to penetrate the meat, resulting in a more flavorful dish.
- Perfectly Tender Chicken: To achieve tender and juicy chicken, be mindful not to overcook it. Stir-fry the chicken just until it’s cooked through, which usually takes about 5-7 minutes. Overcooking can lead to dry and tough meat, so keep a close eye on it while cooking.
- Thicken the Sauce: If you prefer a thicker sauce, mix a teaspoon of cornstarch with a tablespoon of water and add it to the sauce during the last few minutes of cooking. This will help thicken the sauce to your desired consistency, creating a velvety coating over the chicken.
- Balancing Sweetness and Tanginess: Adjust the sweetness and tanginess of the dish according to your preference. If you prefer a sweeter flavor, add a touch more honey or sugar. For a tangier taste, squeeze in some fresh lemon juice or increase the amount of orange zest.
- Avoid Overcrowding the Pan: When stir-frying the chicken, make sure not to overcrowd the pan. Cook the chicken in batches if needed, allowing each piece to make direct contact with the pan’s surface. This ensures even cooking and prevents the chicken from steaming rather than achieving that desirable golden brown sear.
Serving & Storing Your Light Mandarin Orange Chicken
To elevate your Light Mandarin Orange Chicken experience, here are some serving suggestions and ideas to complement the flavors and create a memorable meal:
- Recommended Sides: Serve the Light Mandarin Orange Chicken with steamed jasmine rice or fluffy brown rice to absorb the delicious sauce. For a healthier option, try cauliflower rice. Additionally, stir-fried vegetables such as broccoli, snap peas, or bok choy make excellent side dishes to add color, texture, and extra nutrients to the meal.
- Garnishes and Accents: Sprinkle some toasted sesame seeds and fresh cilantro leaves over the dish for added visual appeal and a burst of flavor. Thinly sliced green onions or chopped scallions also make a great garnish, adding a subtle onion flavor.
- Creative Serving Ideas: Get creative with your presentation by serving the Light Mandarin Orange Chicken in lettuce cups for a refreshing and low-carb option. You can also use the chicken as a filling for wraps or tacos, adding a delightful Asian twist to your handheld favorites.
- Beverage Pairings: Pair this vibrant dish with a crisp and refreshing beverage like iced green tea, sparkling water infused with citrus slices, or a light-bodied white wine such as Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling. These pairings will complement the flavors and provide a well-rounded dining experience.
- Leftover Magic: If you have any leftovers, store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Light Mandarin Orange Chicken can be reheated in a skillet or microwave. For a quick and convenient lunch, transform the leftovers into a flavorful stir-fry by adding fresh vegetables and serving over rice or noodles.
Can I use chicken thighs instead of chicken breasts?
Absolutely! Chicken thighs can be used in place of chicken breasts if you prefer dark meat. Keep in mind that the cooking time may vary slightly, and you may need to adjust it accordingly.
Is it possible to make this dish vegetarian or vegan?
Yes, you can make a vegetarian or vegan version of this dish by substituting the chicken with tofu or plant-based protein alternatives. Adjust the cooking time accordingly and ensure that the sauce and marinade ingredients are suitable for your dietary preferences.
Can I make Light Mandarin Orange Chicken ahead of time?
While the dish is best enjoyed fresh, you can prepare the marinade and chop the ingredients ahead of time for convenience. When ready to serve, simply cook the chicken, stir in the sauce, and heat until warmed through.
How spicy is the dish? Can I adjust the heat level?
The dish is typically mild with a hint of tanginess. However, if you prefer a spicier kick, you can add a pinch of red pepper flakes or a dash of your favorite hot sauce to the sauce mixture.
How should I store any leftovers?
Store any leftover Light Mandarin Orange Chicken in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Reheat in a skillet or microwave until heated through. Enjoy the flavors all over again!
Spice up your cooking routine with these alternative methods for making Light Mandarin Orange Chicken. From the flavorful pressure cooking of the Instant Pot to the charred goodness of the grill, each method offers a unique twist on this beloved dish. Find your favorite and impress your taste buds.