So that takeout staple, orange sauce… who invented it?
This’s a question that’s… nagged me for a while.
See, for the most part, the takeout menu does have its roots in actual Chinese dishes, though there’s some exceptions here or there.
How To Make Chinese Food Cantonese Orange Ribs, Plus Orange Chicken?
Fortune cookies were invented in San Fran around the turn of the century, Crab Rangoon traces its lineage back to the tiki craze of the 1950s, and Panda express – yes, that Panda express, claims to have invented orange chicken in its Hawaii location in 1987.
But if you know where to look you can find fried stuff smothered in orange sauce here in the Pearl River Delta, so usually I’d be quick to claim, “case closed, Panda express is full of it, this stuff comes from Guangdong”.
But, not so fast.
See, if you found yourself eating around Cantonese restaurants in Guangdong, you might be a little surprised at how dynamic some of their menus are.
These aren’t some sort of static temples to a frozen tradition – in their menus you can find the new, the old, the weird,in other words, they’re restaurants.
And it’s in this kind of place that you can, at times, find a relatively rarer and what seems to be newer Cantonese dish-orange ribs.
See, the earliest reliable mention we could find in Chinese of orange sauce was in the 1990s, and in a conversation with Steph’s Dad he said first saw orange ribs here in the early 2000s.
So if you’ve been keeping score, Panda express’s 1987 claim… predates those, which means it’s possible that this sauce traveled from the USA to here, the only dish we know of that would’ve made that journey.
Now, know that the sources are super murky here… there’s some evidence that orange sauce might’ve also been an earlier Hong Kong Chachaanteng invention that made its way to Hawaii, and it’s also possible that this is an old Cantonese dish and we just couldn’t find it.
What is for certain though is that orange juice is a natural fit for a sweet and sour,and is perfect to toss on some deep fried meat.
So in light of all that, we wanted to show you two different dishes today.
First, we wanted to show you Cantonese orange ribs, like you can find here in Guangdong,using the modern Cantonese orange sauce.
But at the same time, we decided to whip up some orange chicken using that sauce together with the deep-frying method employed by sweet and sour pork because I dunno, why not.
So to get started with orange ribs, we’ll need… orange juice concentrate.
I know I know, you can also use fresh orange juice here and I’ll talk about how in the notes in the comments, but fresh juice just didn’t seem to have the right orange kick.
So to a bowl first toss in 30 grams of orange juice concentrate, 75 grams of water, 15 grams of white rice vinegar, 30 grams of granulated sugar, a half teaspoon salt, and a half tablespoon of instant custard.
Here we’re using a British brand of instant custard, it’s sometimes used in these sorts of fruity Cantonese sweet and sour sauces for balance, and if you can’t find it just sub with milk powder.
Give that all a mix, and set it aside.
Now for the ribs.
Here we’re using a half a kilo cut from the center of the rib, this cut’s beingcalled “St Louis style spareribs” if you’re America-based.
Now marinate those with a half teaspoon salt, a teaspoon of sugar, an optional sprinkle of white pepper powder, a teaspoon of liaojiu a.k.a. Shaoxing wine, and for this kind of deep-fried coating, we’ll also be tossing in a slurry of two tablespoons of cornstarch mixed with a tablespoon of water.
The sort of coating we’ll be doing for these ribs is the really light sort, which’s why this’s marinated with the cornstarch.
So mix well, and leave that to sit for about thirty minutes.
After that time, take your ribs and give them a coating with dry cornstarch.
You really don’t want to go too nuts here, just a thin layer to give the ribs a bit of texture, something like this’ll work great.
I like tossing those on an oven rack as I work, and these… are good to fry.
So in a wok with about three cups of oil, get that up to about 160 centigrade and drop in your ribs – we’re aiming to fry these at about 150.
Then after about four or five minutes of frying, you should be looking at an internal temperature of about 76, so take them out.
Now heat the oil up to a blistering 200 celcius, give the ribs a quick 15 second dip in the hot oil, and… take them out and toss on a paper towel lined plate.
Now back to the sauce.
In a different pot, whose seasoning you won’t annihilate with an acidic sauce, toss in about a tablespoon of peanut oil and about an inch of crushed ginger.
Then over medium heat, give the ginger a quick fry until fragrant, about thirty seconds, then swirl in a tablespoon of liaojiu a.k.a. Shaoxing wine.
Quick mix, remove the ginger, then go in with the orange sauce.
Bring to a light boil, then toss in a slurry of a half teaspoon cornstarch mixed with a half tablespoon water. quick mix, and you should be looking at a sauce with a pretty syrupy consistency.
So now shut off the heat, toss in the ribs give them a thorough coating, and out.
Be sure to get every last feasible drop, and your Cantonese deep fried ribs are done.
This was kind of an interesting exercise.
What we did for the chicken was the Cantonese method for gulurou, sweet and sour pork.
We’re using one chicken breast here, sliced into roughly half centimeter slices, then pressed with the knife to make sure everything’s even something like this should work fine.
Now obviously I’ve never seen this with chicken before here in China, but the gulurou coating could work with pretty much anything. like, I’m pretty sure you could use bear meat here and no one eating would bat an eye.
So now marinate your chicken with a quarter teaspoon salt, a half teaspoon sugar, an optional sprinkle of white pepper powder, and a half teaspoon of liaojiu a.k.a. Shaoxing wine. mix well, and leave that to marinate for about half an hour.
Now quick heads up that the coating here is going to feel like comically thick.
So just crack an egg, beat well until no stray strands of egg white remain, and add in six tablespoons of cornstarch.
It’s going to feel like a lot, and it’ll take a second to come together… what you’re looking for is a batter that’s obviously sticky.
So now once the chicken’s done marinating, for the final coating you don’t want too much time in between coating and deep-frying.
So add in your batter and mix well, and in and ideal world remember to mix in a tablespoon of cornstarch with your chicken before adding the batter, which I stupidly forgot to do.
Then once everything’s mixed well, transfer over to a plate of dry cornstarch.
Make sure the chicken’s in roughly one even layer, then using a twisting motion give those a thorough coat – it’ll all feel a bit craggly and uneven, which’s fine, that’s what we want.
So now get a wok of oil up to about 175 celcius, and drop in your chicken pieces.
Give those a fry for about three minutes or until they’re lightly golden brown and obviously floating… then take them out, get the oil up to a blistering 200 centigrade, give those a fifteen second dip in the hot oil. then transfer over to a paper towel-lined plate.
Now there’s a number of differences between the orange sauce we made here and the Panda express orange sauce. so we’ll leave a link in the description to the Panda express recipe.
Notably, they include soy sauce and a touch of chili flake and they also claim to use fresh orange juice which I’m not totally convinced of.
Regardless, just drop the chicken for a quick toss in the orange sauce, and your Frankenstein orange chicken with modern Cantonese orange sauce is done.
So after deep frying, you might be a little scared looking at a wok of brown oil like this.
What you can do is just let the oil sit, and let the cornstarch come to the bottom.
And then you strain the top part, and just toss the oily cornstarch.
The cornstarch actually helps clarify the oil a little bit, so that you can just keep re-using it.
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