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Homemade Panda Express orange chicken

Time 55 minutes
Yields Makes 4 to 8 servings
Homemade Panda Express orange chicken
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times )
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In a small apartment in East Hollywood, the sound of rush-hour traffic filters through the warm evening air. A group of tired, hungry friends voices a serious craving — not for some seasonal restaurant cuisine or even tacos, but for fast food. Crunchy, melty, salty, addictive fast food.

No one is willing to make a junk food run and risk losing a coveted parking spot. But the grocery store is just down the street.

Fast forward 30 minutes. The coffee table is covered in dirty paper plates and crumpled paper napkins. A group of tired friends is now on the couch, happily satiated.

This was the scene after a recent fast-food craving for a Taco Bell Crunchwrap Supreme hit. It may sound counterintuitive, but for us, at the time, making the stuff from scratch ourselves was oddly easier than the alternative.

If you’re not familiar with the Crunchwrap Supreme (really?), it involves a large flour tortilla wrapped around taco meat, nacho cheese sauce, lettuce, sour cream and a crunchy tostada.

Sometimes you need it. It creeps up on you in the same way you yearn for the special sauce from an In-N-Out Double Double burger to drip down your chin. And it’s that same feeling you get when you think about the takeout box of Panda Express orange chicken you can attack with some wooden chopsticks.

No one is judging you. And if they are, they shouldn’t be. Not all meals can be eaten at the city’s most lauded restaurants.

But a craving for fast food doesn’t mean you actually have to eat dinner at a fast-food restaurant. Bad playlists, scratchy paper napkins and fluorescent lighting aren’t good for anyone. As for drive-through, in this town we spend enough time in our cars already, thank you.

The solution? Make your fast-food favorites at home, and eat them in the comfort of your dimly lighted dining room, listening to NPR with your Labrador curled up under your feet.

As an act of public service, we are providing our own recipes for copycat In-N-Out Double Doubles, Taco Bell Crunchwrap Supremes and Panda Express orange chicken. We think there’s a high probability these “unofficial” recipes will taste better than the real thing.

Orange chicken sauce

1

In a small bowl, stir together the water and corn starch to make a slurry. Set aside.

2

In a small saucepan, combine the orange juice, zest and marmalade along with the soy sauce, garlic, ginger, chile sauce, mirin, rice wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, honey, pepper and salt. Heat over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until the mixture comes to a simmer, 2 to 3 minutes.

3

Whisk in the corn starch slurry and continue to cook until the sauce comes back to a simmer, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside. This makes about 1 cup sauce.

Fried chicken

1

Pour the corn starch into a shallow baking dish or bowl. Toss the chicken pieces in with the corn starch to coat, then set aside for a few minutes. Toss the chicken with the corn starch a second time to coat again. Set aside.

2

Add enough oil to a large heavy pot so the oil comes about halfway up the sides. Heat the oil until a thermometer inserted reaches 350 degrees.

3

Fry the chicken pieces, a handful at a time, until the chicken is firm and the fried coating is a pale golden color. Drain on a cooling rack lined with paper towels.

Orange chicken

1

Heat a wok over high heat until hot. Add the orange chicken sauce and cook until the sauce starts to bubble, about 1 minute.

2

Add the chicken to the pan and stir until each piece is well coated with the sauce, about 1 to 2 minutes. Serve immediately.