Like most holidays, Christmas is a double-edged sword. It’s cool because you don’t have to go into work and your Nana sends out your annual $50 gift card to the Olive Garden — that can buy like seven Never Ending Pasta Bowls — but it also sucks because you’re forced to eat the same bullshit watered-down food that you ate at Thanksgiving, except, if you’re lucky, there’s ham involved.
(Side note: Shout out to all the people who make crown lamb roasts, prime rib, and whole barbecued pigs during Christmas. You’re the real heroes here).
For how to really do it right you need to get inspiration from an unlikely source: no one has a better Christmas food gameplan than the Jews. Even though I grew up celebrating both Christmas and Hanukkah — double presents weren’t a real thing though — the power move was to skip the canned sweet potatoes and save room for that ancient Hebrew tradition of Christmas Day Chinese food.
Since literally zero places near my childhood home had General Tso’s chicken, which I’m still pretty resentful about, we’re going to be rocking orange chicken. It’s similar to the style that belongs to our favorite kinda-made-up general, but a shade or two more orange, and that makes all the difference.
Here’s what you need:
- Boneless skinless chicken thighs
- Corn starch
- Canola oil
- An orange
- White vinegar
- Soy sauce
- Thai chilies
Cut up your chicken thighs into relatively nugget-sized bites. I like to vary them up a little bit — it’s nice to have some mouthfuls of chicken and others that are almost purely crunchy fried bits covered in candy sauce. Variety is the spice of life, and also of orange chicken. Season the chicken lightly with salt.
Set out two mixing bowls and fill one with corn starch and the other with buttermilk. Dredge the chicken bits in cornstarch, then buttermilk, then back in the cornstarch, and drop into 350 degree oil for 5-7 minutes, or until golden brown (and, you know, cooked enough so that you won’t get salmonella and die). When the chicken is cooked and looking all nugget-y, set aside and reserve.
Now, start building your sauce. A quick look at the ingredients label of a bottled sauce from a popular Chinese fast food chain that rhymes with Shmanda Dexpress would indicate that there’s no real orange in it. But for peace of mind, you might as well add some additional fruit in your diet while it’s already in the name of the dish. Start by sautéing up some a clove of minced garlic and about a tablespoon of grated ginger with canola oil in a sauté pan, then deglaze with the juice of an orange.
Add in a cup of water, ¾ cup of sugar — like I previously mentioned, this shit is basically liquid candy — 3 tablespoons of soy sauce, ½ cup of vinegar, and a few red Thai chilies and reduce the sauce down on high heat until it’s all nice and syrupy. It’s not going to look super orange, so if you have turmeric on hand to beef up the color, might as well add in a few pinches.
When the sauce is nice and sticky and reduced, add in your chicken nuggets and sautee until they’re all coated and looking like the shits striaght off the steam table at your local Chinese joint. Because authenticity is key here. Throw it on top of rice and garnish with some sesame seeds and green stuff, or just eat with your hands. It’s Christmas, you just do you.
Still hungry? Check out the other installments of Bite Club here.
Photos by Josh Scherer