Air fryer orange chicken is lighter on the calories and SO much better than Panda Express. – Learn how to make the best orange sauce featuring real oranges and secret ingredient!
We’re no strangers to orange chicken around here, y’all. We’ve made it in the instant pot and on the stove before, but today we’re knocking off a major orange chicken bucket list item: air fryer!!
While Jason and I certainly aren’t picky about how we get our orange chicken fix, we’re both in agreement that this air fryer version beats ALL other kinds we’ve tried!
I’m talking ZERO competition. This beautifully sticky orange chicken just wins it all AND it’s better for ya to boot!
From the sauce made with REAL oranges to the perfectly juicy-inside-crispy-outside chicken pieces, there’s really just no beating a mess of this orange chicken.
See ya never, Panda Express.
This Air Fryer Orange Chicken features…
- Less calories than your typical orange chicken thanks to air frying
- A massively flavorful orange sauce made using a special ingredient
- Perfectly crispy + tender chicken pieces
- LOTS of sliced green onions + fluffy steamed rice for serving alongside
Making the Air Fryer Orange Chicken
(scroll to the bottom of the post for the full recipe!)
Ingredients You’ll Need
- Oranges – you will need three whole naval oranges for this recipe. You’ll be using the peel AND the juice.
- Sugar – this helps make our secret ingredient – an orange sugar syrup!
- Rice vinegar – this helps flavor both the sauce and the chicken.
- Soy sauce – if you’re worried about salt content, feel free to use low-sodium soy sauce.
- Aromatics – fresh ginger and garlic sautéed in a bit of sesame oil.
- Jalapeno – a little minced jalapeno pepper adds just a touch of heat to the sauce.
- Cornstarch – for thickening the sauce and additionally for coating the chicken.
- Eggs – beaten eggs help the breading stick to the chicken.
- Chicken – we recommend boneless skinless chicken thighs for this recipe. Breasts will also work, but your chicken may be slightly less tender.
- Flour – this makes up the bulk of the chicken breading.
- Cooking spray – a must-have ingredient for air frying!
- Green onions – adds a little pop of color and extra flavor for garnishing orange chicken!
How to Make the Orange Sauce
First and foremost, plan ahead. The secret weapon to this orange sauce that makes it SO incredibly packed with orange flavor is the homemade oleo saccharum. (a method I learned from Binging with Babish!)
To define oleo saccharum, it means “oil + sucrose.” It’s basically just a sugar syrup (commonly used by bartenders for cocktails) that’s made by combining citrus peel and sugar then letting it sit for 8 hours or up to 2 days to extract the citrus flavor and infuse it into the sugar.
The result? An intensely orange-flavored sugar syrup that you can use in drinks or in our case, orange chicken.
Additional sauce ingredients are very basic: soy sauce, fresh ginger + garlic, a little jalapeno, rice vinegar, cornstarch, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and a little sesame oil.
Quick note about the sugar: you can use granulated sugar, light brown sugar, or coconut sugar to make the oleo saccharum. I HIGHLY recommend you follow the recipe exactly other than that though.
The oleo saccharum is really what makes all the flavors in this orange chicken. We’ve tried other versions without the oleo that are nowhere near as good.
Tips for Air Frying
- Preheat air fryer – you want your air fryer nice and hot when you go to fry. We typically preheat it for 3 minutes prior to adding the chicken.
- Use cooking spray – because we’re not deep-frying in oil, we need just a bit of fat to brown the chicken. Spray the air fryer basket and the chicken well with cooking spray.
- Do not overcrowd the basket – we typically air fry the chicken in two batches in our 4-qt air fryer. The chicken should be in a single layer and not overly crowded, otherwise it will not brown or crisp up as nicely.
- Shake the basket halfway through cooking – this helps the chicken evenly crisp up on all sides.
Air Fryer Alternatives
If you don’t have an air fryer, you can still make this recipe! Instead of air frying, you will be pan frying.
- Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil over medium-high heat in a large nonstick skillet or wok.
- Working in batches of two, pan fry breaded chicken in hot oil, turning occasionally until chicken is golden brown and registers 165F. Add additional oil in between batches if needed.
- Toss hot chicken with sauce as recipe directs.
There is literally nothing else in the WORLD like this orange chicken, you guys! Jason and I 100% agree that we’ve never tried a better orange chicken.
It’s sweet, sticky, just a bit savory, the chicken is crisp + juicy, and the sauce is soooo incredibly packed with REAL orange flavor.
Pile this beautifully saucy orange chicken over mounds of rice and hit it with a handful of green onions for the ULTIMATE takeout-at-home experience!
Leftovers store wonderfully but don’t count on ’em!
Looking for more air fryer recipes? Try these ones next!
Air Fryer Orange Chicken
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- 3 large oranges
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar (light brown sugar or coconut sugar also works!)
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/4 cup rice vinegar
- 1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch, mixed with 2 tablespoons water
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil (or vegetable oil)
- 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
- 3 medium garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh jalapeno pepper
- 2 large eggs
- 1-1/2 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-in cubes
- 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- Canola or vegetable pan spray
- Sliced green onions and hot cooked rice for serving
- Use a paring knife to carefully remove peel from oranges (try to avoid cutting the white pith, you only want the orange zest) and place in a medium container. Juice oranges and reserve juice in fridge.
- Sprinkle sugar over orange peel, seal container, and shake several times to infuse peel with sugar. Let sugar mixture sit at room temperature overnight or at least 8 hours (up to 24)
- The next day, stir 1/4 cup water into sugar mixture until sugar is dissolved. Strain sugar mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a medium bowl. Remove a few peels from sieve and finely mince into 1 tablespoons worth of peel. Add to orange sugar syrup and discard remaining peels.
- Whisk 1/4 cup reserved orange juice, rice vinegar, soy sauce, and cornstarch-water mixture into orange sugar syrup until smooth. Set aside for a moment.
- In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, heat oil until shimmery. Add ginger, garlic, and jalapeno and saute 1-2 minutes until just fragrant. Reduce heat to medium and pour sauce mixture into pan. Cook stirring occasionally until sauce is bubbly and thickened. Cover sauce and keep warm on low.
- In a large bowl, whisk eggs until smooth. Add chicken and rice vinegar and submerge in egg mixture. Allow chicken to marinate 20 minutes.
- In a separate large bowl, combine flour, cornstarch, salt, and pepper. Dredge chicken in flour mixture tossing several times until chicken is fully coated.
- **Spray the grate of a 4-qt air fryer with pan spray and preheat 3 minutes to 400F. Lay chicken in a single layer on fryer grate (work in batches as necessary – we typically do 2 batches) Spray chicken well with pan spray and air fry at 400F 8 minutes, shaking basket once halfway through cooking. Repeat frying process with remaining chicken.
- Toss hot chicken into warm orange sauce until evenly coated in sauce. Serve orange chicken over hot rice with green onions sprinkled on top. Enjoy!