In this Paleo Orange Chicken, crispy fried pieces of dark meat get tossed in a sweet and sticky orange sauce. It’s super easy to make, absolutely addictive, and only requires a handful of ingredients.
What You Need for Paleo Orange Chicken
Personally, I like using boneless, skinless chicken thighs here. However, you can substitute boneless, skinless chicken breast if that’s what you have or prefer. Either way, the measurements, ingredients and technique work the same and your Paleo Orange Chicken will come out delicious.
This naturally grain-free alternative flour is a great replacement for the cornstarch that is more commonly used in many Asian-inspired recipes. Here, the arrowroot starch plays double duty. It’s first used to dredge the chicken, helping it develop a crispy crust. Once the fried chicken pieces are added to the sauce, the arrowroot starch will actually help to thicken it.
Many recipes will call for making an arrowroot starch slurry to thicken the sauce. To do this, you can combine 1 teaspoon arrowroot starch with one teaspoon cold water and stir until dissolved. Adding the slurry to the sauce will thicken it like a cornstarch slurry.
However, if you’re not careful or add too much starch, the sauce can get gummy and clumpy. In this recipe, I recommend taking the time to reduce the sauce on the stovetop and avoid using a slurry altogether here. Once you return the fried chicken pieces back to the sauce, you’ll notice that there’s enough residual starch to thicken it enough that it becomes syrupy.
If you don’t have arrowroot starch, you can use tapioca starch. However, be sure to only dredge the chicken IMMEDIATELY before frying. Otherwise, the tapioca will turn gummy once it comes into contact with the moisture on the chicken.
Orange Zest and Juice
The orange juice adds a bit of flavour to the sauce, but it’s the zest that really brings this dish full circle and gives it a pop of orange flavour. Rather than zesting the orange with a microplane (or rasp grater), I like to peel the orange with a vegetable peeler and than thinly slice the skin into ribbons. I think it looks pretty.
Coconut aminos are naturally soy-free and a great soy sauce replacement. You can use it 1:1 anywhere soy sauce is called for. Keep in mind, it’s a bit sweet and not nearly as salty as soy sauce so you may need to adjust the salt after tasting the finished dish for seasoning. As the coconut aminos reduce, they’ll intensify in flavour, which is a good thing here.
Toasted Sesame Oil
Toasted sesame oil packs a serious punch of flavour and you can easily overpower a dish if you add too much. On the other hand, cooking it for too long will mellow its flavour. So, what I like to do is add the sesame oil at the very end. This way, I don’t have to use too much to get a pop of toasted sesame flavour and I don’t run the risk of subduing it.
Onion, garlic and ginger add aromas, textures and depths of flavour that make this dish really stand out.
I find that the honey helps to not only sweeten the dish, giving it that take-out food flavour I love so much, but it also reduces down to a syrupy consistency that helps the sauce to stick to the chicken. For a Whole30 version of this Paleo Orange Chicken, omit the honey and increase the coconut aminos by 1/2 . Then take the extra bit of time to reduce the sauce so it thickens naturally.
Using a neutral flavoured, high-smoking point oil is ideal here. It will allow you to fry the chicken without the risk of burning the oil and will let you make the sauce without overpowering any of the other flavours.
Because a little garnish goes a long way.
Paleo Orange Chicken (Gluten-free & Grain-Free)
- ¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon, avocado oil
- 1.5 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breast – cubed
- Kosher salt
- ¼ cup arrowroot starch
- 1 medium yellow onion – diced
- 2 cloves garlic – finely chopped
- 1 thumbnail-sized piece fresh ginger – peeled and thinly sliced into matchsticks
- 1/3 cup coconut aminos
- 1 medium orange – zested and juiced, around 1/3 cup
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon sesame seeds – for garnish
- Preheat ¼ cup avocado oil in a cast-iron or non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until oil registers 375F on an instant read thermometer.
- Pat chicken dry with paper towel, lightly season both sides of the chicken pieces with salt and add to a large bowl along with the arrowroot starch. Toss until completely coated. Working in batches so as not to overcrowd the pan, shake off excess starch and carefully add the chicken pieces to the hot oil. Fry until golden brown, around 3 minutes, then flip and fry until the second side is golden brown and the chicken is cooked through, another 3 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate and set aside while you fry the remaining pieces.
- Preheat a separate pan over medium-high heat. Add the avocado oil and heat until shimmering. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, until onions are slightly translucent. Add the coconut aminos, orange juice, orange zest and honey. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid has reduced in volume by half. Add the sesame oil and cooked chicken pieces the pan. Carefully toss everything to coat.
- Transfer the chicken to a serving platter, season with sesame seeds and serve immediately.