The idea for this Simple Orange Chicken Recipe was originally given to me by my good friend (and photographer!), Debby Gans. Debby has been helping me test recipes for my upcoming Clean Cuisine cookbook and a version of this Orange Chicken was the first recipe we made together. Oh. My. Gosh. Amazing!!
A former caterer, Debby has A LOT of experience in the kitchen and she developed the chicken recipe herself. Although it does not have an Asian flavor, the inspiration for the dish came from the Sticky Orange Chicken often served at Chinese restaurants. One of Debby’s go-to recipes for entertaining, this Simple Orange Chicken Recipe is a dish her entire family (including her kids, Carly and Benji) are crazy for.
I can’t mention Debby’s kids in a sentence without saying how exceptional they are. I’m not just saying that. Her incredibly bright and beautiful daughter Carly is the one in the photo below. Carly helped us test (and taste!) the recipe. And although Debby’s son, Benji, was not able to participate in the cook-off, I can’t pass up an opportunity to share his TedX talk. No, the TedX talk has nothing to do with Orange Chicken, but if you know any children on the autism spectrum, you just have to watch (and share!) Benji’s video…
Benji’s Story (the Short Version)
When Benji was diagnosed with autism, his parents were told he would never speak. However, he took the stage at TEDxTheBenjaminSchool Muthos and earned a standing ovation. Watch and be inspired by both Benji and his incredible mother, Debby Gans, as they recount their journey, which has included a number of alternative treatments.
Learn More About Benji on His Blog…
Back to the Simple Orange Chicken Recipe…
In all honesty, Debby’s original Simple Orange Chicken Recipe was even simpler than the version here. But we wanted to make it as clean as possible—without sacrificing flavor!
Our 4 Recipe Tweaks:
- We swapped cassava flour for gluten-free all-purpose flour. Debby’s original recipe was gluten free (going gluten-free is one of the lifestyle modifications that has made a big difference for Benji), but she used gluten-free all-purpose flour instead of the cassava flour called for in this recipe. The cassava flour is a “whole food” flour and is more nutrient-dense than the all-purpose gluten free flour used in the original recipe. Debby and I both agreed the cassava flour version tasted better too! Note: You can read more about the benefits of cassava flour in this blog post.
- We used sugar-free and gluten-free vodka (Devotion brand) instead of Triple Sec. You might be surprised we are calling the recipe kid-friendly when it has vodka. But don’t worry, just like a Pasta Alla Vodka recipe, the alcohol in this dish gets cooked off. You don’t actually use all of the vodka called for in the recipe either (that’s because you will have leftover sauce!) Although the Triple Sec Debby initially used has less alcohol than vodka, it has A LOT more sugar (11 grams of sugar per ounce!) I decided to swap the sugary Triple Sec with vodka since the heat will burn the alcohol off, but the not sugar.
- We sweetened with “whole food” pureed dates & raw honey instead of the refined sugar (found in Triple Sec). One of the things that makes the Simple Orange Chicken recipe so incredibly delicious is that it is sticky sweet. Unfortunately, when we read the back of the label on the Triple Sec we found out it was sweetened with high fructose corn syrup (booh!) But we were able to achieve the perfect combination of sweetness and stickiness by pureeing “whole food” dates with raw honey. So the recipe now officially has no refined sugar.
- We used orange essential oil rather than the “natural orange flavor” (found in Triple Sec). Any food or beverage with “natural flavors” as an ingredient is one to be suspicious of. Although not all are bad, consumers are just now becoming aware of “natural flavors” as a general term for undisclosed additives that may be harmful to health. High quality therapeutic-grade essential oils are a different story though. Essential oils ARE “natural flavors” and contain very concentrated properties of the herb or plant they are derived from. Although you certainly do not want to overdose on essential oils, certain ones are very good for cooking purposes. And a little goes a long, long way.
Benefits of Orange Essential Oil
Orange essential oil has a number of health benefits, the top three including:
Look for High Quality Therapeutic-Grade Essential Oil Brands
Ok, on with the recipe…
Let’s make some orange chicken!Print
- 1 1/4 pounds boneless, skinless pasture-raised chicken thighs, trimmed of all fat and cut into strips
- Himalayan salt, to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1/2 cup cassava flour (if gluten free) OR sprouted spelt flour (if not gluten free)
- 1 cup vodka
- 15 Deglet Noor dates (see notes below)
- 3 to 4 drops orange essential oil, plus more to taste
- 1 tablespoon raw honey
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cups chopped oranges
- 2 cups chopped fresh basil
- Season chicken with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Dredge the chicken in the flour and evenly coat all sides.
- In a high speed blender (such as a Vitamix), add the vodka, dates, orange essential oil and honey. Process on high speed until the mixture is smooth. Taste and add more essential oil if necessary. Set orange sauce aside.
- In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the chicken and cook until lightly brown on both sides, about 2 minutes per side.
- Pour 1/4 cup of the orange sauce over the chicken and stir in 1/2 cup of the basil; cook for 2 minutes, or until liquid cooks down. Pour another 1/4 cup of the orange sauce over the chicken and stir in 1/2 cup more of the basil; cook for 2 additional minutes, or until liquid cooks down. Add another 2 or 3 tablespoons of the orange sauce along with all of the oranges; cook for another minute.
- Stir in the remaining 1 cup of basil and season with more salt and pepper to taste. Note: If you want a stronger orange flavor, add one drop of essential oil at a time until desired flavor.
- Serve orange chicken warm over spaghetti of your choice or zucchini noodles. Leftover sauce can be saved and stored in the refrigerator in a mason jar for up to a week.
Deglet Noor dates are the most widely available dates. In comparison to Medjool dates, they are smaller and firmer. Deglet Noor dates are sold at supermarkets nationwide.