Sunday, November 09, 2014


A friend mentions that eating orange chicken at Panda Express caused a nearby infant to wail. The little tyke was utterly terrified. Howled fit to lift the roof. Which is a strange reaction to someone else enjoying a succulent Chinese meal, but as I have never been to Panda Express and seldom eat suburban gloop, I'll just assume that that is normal.

Neither Panda Express nor its soulmate P. F. Chang's are anywhere near Chinatown. Not geographically, not philosophically. Yet typical American Chinese food is probably the greatest Californian contribution to the national palate of all time. Who doesn't like infinite variations on sweet and sour sauce over crispy chewy mouthfuls? It's universal.

"Then, without breaking her gaze, her face screws up into a little mask of terror and she bursts into screaming, sobbing, inconsolable tears."


American Chinese food is the kind of hearty fare that kept generations of goldminers alive, and sustains everyone in the fly-overs who gets sick and tired of chain restaurant burgers. Or just sick.

It goes without saying that orange chicken bears almost no resemblance to its nearest Chinese relative, 陳皮雞 ('chan pei kai'), which is usually made with chicken wings gilded in a little oil, then sauced with good Chekiang vinegar, sugar, water, and rehumidified dried orange peel.
The principle behind the original is layered flavours intensified for a fragrant - tangy - savoury effect, rather than boneless protein drenched in a sauce that goes well with rice for white people.

White people like sauce. Grits and gravy, rosbif au jus, patat frites with mayonnaise, herring in sour cream, zesty remoulade, dips, stews, thick soups, and that strange big bucket muck that goes on hamburgers.
It's instinctive; they're storing up fat for the zombie apocalypse.

White folks know all about zombies.

I also make orange chicken.
The all-American version.
Yum babies, over rice.


One Lbs boneless skinless chicken cut into strips.
Two egg whites.
Two Tbs. corn starch.
Two Tbs. sherry.
Half cup orange juice.
Quarter cup chicken stock.
One Tbs. soy sauce.
One Tbs. vinegar.
One Tbs. sugar.
Squirt of Sriracha.
One Tsp orange zest.
One Tsp. dried chili flakes.
Garlic and ginger, minced.
One scallion, minced.

Whip the egg white, cornstarch, and sherry till frothy. Dump the chicken bits into this and make sure every piece is well covered. Stick it in the refrigerator for twenty minutes. Then take it out, re-stir briefly, drain the liquid. Dredge the chicken bits well in cornstarch, shake off the excess, and fry in the wok with plenty oil till golden. Remove and drain.

Pour most of the oil out of the wok. Heat the wok and add the minced garlic, ginger, and dried chili flakes. Pour in all the liquids to seethe, add the sugar and zest and a squirt of Sriracha, reduce till near-syrupy. Dump in the chicken, toss to coat, and turn out onto a plate.
Garnish with the minced scallion.
Serve with rice.

If you need more sauce, add a squirt of Sriracha to your food.

Sriracha is one of the very best sambals ever invented.
It also is a California thing: created in 1980 by a Chinese refugee from Vietnam, named after a city with which it has no relation or connection whatsoever, sold up and down the West Coast and now increasingly available for your pleasure in lunch counters, hamburger joints, taco restaurants, soup kitchens, oyster bars, and fine grill rooms galore.
Equally great on pizza, fish, eggs, or beefsteak.

Dare I suggest that the only additional thing that could improve orange chicken would be two or three crispy rashers of bacon?

And, maybe, more hot sauce.

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All correspondence will be kept in confidence.

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