healthy orange chicken
This Healthy Orange Chicken couldn’t be easier to make and there’s absolutely no added sugar of any kind! It’s naturally sweet because of the easy homemade orange chicken sauce that comes together in just minutes in the pan. It’s also gluten free, Whole30, paleo, and dairy free as well. So the next time you’re craving takeout, this Healthy Orange Chicken is your easy answer!
Does anyone else just love those breaded, deep fried chicken cubes all coated in a sweet sauce? Well… I can definitely say I always have! But as time has gone on, I find myself craving more flavor and less of the stomachache I always get with those types of foods. And so my obsession with healthier, (and easier) take-out style recipes continues with this orange chicken.
Orange chicken is yet another tasty dish that is deep fried and coated in a sauce that has more sugar than your average dessert! But the good news is, it tastes incredible when you make it with no added sugar at all. It’s all about the deep flavor in the sauce which is easy make, but has a few key tips to make it super tasty.
So if you’re like me and crave those take-out flavors, this one’s for you! And because we make super easy recipes around here, there’s no deep frying involved either. This is a lighter orange chicken not because we’re counting calories, but because who has the time or desire to deep fry chicken at home? (Ok… I’ll admit I do deep fry once or twice a year, but that’s it. It’s just too much work!)
So first up let’s talk about the ingredients in this Healthy Orange Chicken!
- Chicken – You can use either boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs. I lean toward using chicken thighs because they’re much more forgiving in a stir fry. Chicken breasts can go from barely done to ‘sawdust’ pretty fast, but chicken thighs aren’t as touchy. But if you’re careful with your cooking time on the chicken, you’ll be fine. I’ve made this recipe both ways, and they’re both good!
- Garlic & Ginger – Freshly minced garlic and ginger are key for the best tasting stir fry of any kind. But any shortcut you like to use like the squeezeable ginger etc can be substituted, although I can’t vouch for the outcome. Once I got used to mincing up ginger and garlic, I got faster at it, and it only takes me a couple of minutes now! And please don’t substitute dried ground ginger, people will tell you it’s fine, but it’s really not very tasty! This recipe only has a few ingredients, so it’s important they’re fresh. And I don’t want you to be disappointed in the results you’ll get from dried ginger.
- Orange Juice & Zest – Again fresh is best here, but you can substitute orange juice (unsweetened) from the carton. But since you’re zesting an orange here, it only takes a couple minutes to squeeze the orange juice fresh.
- Coconut Aminos – you can sub in Tamari or gluten free soy sauce, but start with less because they’re both saltier. I think coconut aminos (which is a soy free substitute) is the perfect balance here because of it’s natural sweetness that really makes the sauce extra tasty without added sugar.
- Tapioca – this is optional to slightly thicken the sauce, but I prefer to let the sauce get thick on it’s own because the flavor is more concentrated.
- Green Onions & Sesame Seeds – these are mostly for garnish, but the green onions provide a welcome savory flavor that’s nice with the sweetness.
Ok, now let’s jump in and make this recipe step by step!
First up you want to prep everything before you get started because this stir fry comes together pretty fast. Also it helps to get your side dishes started too.
This stir fry takes between 10-15 minutes to cook, so anything else that takes longer like rice needs to be started before you start prepping your ingredients.
Tip: To make chicken easier to cut up, try cutting it up when it’s still partially frozen. I get my packages of chicken out of the freezer the night before and place them in a bowl in the refrigerator. Then when it comes time for dinner, the chicken is still partially frozen, and so much easier to cut up!
Now that everything is prepped, we’re going to sauté the chicken first. Then remove it from the pan and sauté the ginger and garlic.
Finally add the orange juice and zest along with the coconut aminos and briskly simmer until it begins to thicken, 8-10 minutes.
The last step is to add the chicken back to the pan and cook for about 1 minute to heat through and coat with the sauce.
Then just sprinkle the green onions and sesame seeds over the top and serve immediately!
What to serve with this Healthy Orange Chicken:
Healthy Orange Chicken
Clean + cut chicken into 1 inch cubes.
In a large frying pan, heat sesame oil. Cook the chicken until the edges are brown and slightly crispy (Approx 12-15 minutes)
As the chicken is cooking, stir together the sauce mixture in a separate bowl
Once the chicken is thoroughly cooked remove it from the pan and place it off to the side in a separate bowl.
Pour the sauce mixture into the same pan you cooked the chicken in.
Bring the sauce mixture to a boil for 15-20 minutes, stirring every minute or so until it starts to thicken. (You will know it has thickened when you scrape the pan and it pulls away from the pan) The sauce should be bubbling the entire time.
When the sauce thickens, add the cooked chicken back in + stir to coat the chicken
Serve over steamed broccoli or green beans for a paleo option, or rice/quinoa.
Sprinkle with sesame seeds + enjoy!
*** If substituting ground ginger for fresh ginger, cut the amount to 1/2 teaspoon
Instant Pot Instructions
IMPORTANT: If making this recipe in the instant pot you will need 3 teaspoons of cornstarch or arrowroot powder. You also must use 1/2 the amount of ingredients in the sauce recipe, except for chicken stock. Ex: Orange Juice: 2 cups = 1 cup
Mix together 1/2 the amount called for in the recipe for the orange juice, coconut aminos, honey, garlic powder, ginger, orange zest and pepper. Set aside.
Turn the Instant Pot to sauté on the highest heat setting. Drizzle in 2 tablespoons of sesame oil and allow it to heat up. The Instant Pot will display the word “hot” when it’s ready.
Trim the chicken breasts and dry them off with paper towels. When the Instant Pot is hot place the chicken breasts in the oil. You’ll need to do 2 at a time so you do not crowd the pot. Sear them on each side for 2 minutes then flip just to get a golden color. You’re not trying to cook them through.
Pull them out and set them on a cutting board. Dice them into 1 inch pieces.
Put the diced chicken back into the Instant Pot and pour the sauce mixture over. Close the lid and put the vent to sealing. Set it to Manual High Pressure for 3 minutes. Note that pot will take 3-5 minutes to come to pressure before the display starts counting down the 3 minutes you’ve set.
When it’s finished quick release the steam by setting the valve to venting. Be sure to use a towel or pot holder to do this so you don’t get burned.
When the Instant Pot releases all the steam the button will lower down and you’ll be able to safely open the lid.
Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon and place on a plate. Mix together the chicken broth and corn starch.
Turn the Instant Pot back to sauté choosing the highest heat setting again. Your sauce should begin to bubble. Stream in the corn starch slurry and whisk. Allow the mixture to boil for 7-9 minutes until it’s nice and thick.
Return the chicken to the sauce and select the “Keep Warm” setting on the Instant Pot. Serve over steamed broccoli or green beans for a paleo option, or rice/quinoa.
- To get your sauté on highest setting, Press sauté then hit the adjust button and choose “more” to set it to the highest setting.
- It’s very important that they are dried off before you put them in the hot oil so they will brown.
- It’s very important to brown the chicken breasts whole prior to dicing them. This ensures that maximum surface area makes contact with the pan and the chicken actually browns. Browning the chicken is an important step. This seals the juices in and ensures the chicken doesn’t release too much liquid while being pressure cooked. This additional liquid effects the consistency of the sauce.
- The sauce will seem thin until you add the corn starch slurry and reduce it down. This is normal.
Ways to Serve this Healthy Orange Chicken:
- Feeding a crowd of hungry people? Serve it over a giant bowl of brown rice/quinoa + broccoli.
- Trying to keep paleo? Skip the rice entirely or do cauliflower rice.
- Not a huge fan of cauliflower rice? Serve it over zoodles!
- Broccoli, green beans, or steamed cauliflower are great for veggie side dishes
What to do if the sauce doesn’t thicken with this Healthy Orange Chicken:
Give it time, I promise. Re-read the directions listed in the recipe. The chicken needs to be completely removed from the pan, and the sauce needs to boil for 15-20 minutes. Stir the sauce every few minutes, and once the sauce starts to pull away from the pan as you scrape it back, you’ll know it’s ready!
My sauce is more brown than orange, is this ok?
Yes! This is totally fine! Your sauce might look a little dark than these photos simply due to the ingredients you use. The color won’t impact the flavor!
- Fat 14g 22%
- Saturated Fat 2g 13%
- Cholesterol 145mg 48%
- Sodium 596mg 26%
- Potassium 1395mg 40%
- Carbohydrates 36g 12%
- Fiber 3g 13%
- Sugar 25g 28%
- Protein 52g 104%
- Vitamin A 883IU 18%
- Vitamin C 148mg 179%
- Calcium 68mg 7%
- Iron 2mg 11%