Air Fryer Orange Chicken is crunchy on the outside, tender on the inside, and drenched in an irresistible sweet-savory sauce made with orange juice and zest.
Orange Chicken is one of the most popular dishes on (American) Chinese restaurant menus. There’s even a frozen Trader Joe’s Mandarin Orange Chicken that people go nuts for.
This air fried orange chicken recipe is every bit as good as your favorite Chinese restaurant’s. And it’s healthier, too, thanks to air frying with very little oil.
These crispy air fried chicken nuggets have a savory-sweet sauce made with orange juice and orange zest, along with soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and other seasonings.
I love to get orange chicken at my neighborhood Chinese restaurant, but sometimes I want a healthier version that I can cook at home. Air Fryer Orange Chicken is easy to make, with very little mess (unlike deep frying), and it’s light, too.
What is air fryer orange chicken?
This recipe starts with my basic recipe for Air Fryer Fried Chicken (be sure to read my post on How to Air Fry Chicken for some tips for success) and adds a simple soy sauce-based marinade and a quick sauce made with orange juice, orange zest, soy sauce, and other ingredients.
Bite size pieces of chicken marinate for anywhere from 20 minutes to overnight. Then they’re dredged in egg and a flour-and-cornstarch mixture and air fried to crispy perfection.
Once the chicken pieces are air fried, toss them with the addictive savory-sweet orange sauce to coat.
I love to eat the sticky, crunchy chicken nuggets with my fingers (and lick the sauce off. Yeah! It’s seriously finger-licking good.)
What ingredients do you need?
There are 3 parts to this recipe: The marinade, the coating mixture, and the sauce. It may look like a lot of ingredients, but most are pantry staples and several are repeated in both between the marinade and sauce. Here’s what you need:
- For the chicken and marinade:
- Chicken thigh meat (or use breast meat)
- Soy Sauce
- Shiaoxing wine (or sake, dry white wine, or dry sherry)
- For the coating:
- All-purpose flour
- Cornstarch (or potato starch)
- For the sauce:
- Orange juice
- Soy sauce
- Brown sugar
- Rice vinegar
- Orange zest
- Chile paste
- Scallions or chives (optional)
- Sesame seeds (optional)
How do you make it?
As with my other air fryer fried chicken recipes, you first marinate the chicken. You can marinate it for just 20 minutes if that’s all you have time for.
Or you can marinate it as long as overnight. The longer you marinate it, the more the flavor will penetrate the chicken pieces.
Next the chicken pieces are dredged in a mixture of flour and cornstarch (or you can use all flour or all cornstarch if you prefer). Then it gets dunked in egg. Then again in the flour and cornstarch mixture.
Arrange the coated pieces of chicken in the air fryer basket and either brush or spritz with oil. Cook until browned and crisp on top, flip the pieces over and continue to air fry until crisp and golden brown on the second side.
While the chicken is in the air fryer, make the sauce. Combine all of the sauce ingredients, except for the cornstarch slurry, in a saucepan and cook, stirring, over medium heat until the sugar dissolves and the mixture comes to a boil.
While the sauce mixture is boiling, add the corn starch slurry and stir until the sauce thickens. Remove from the heat.
When the chicken is done air frying, immediately toss it with the sauce to coat.
Serve hot, garnished with scallions or chives and sesame seeds, if desired.
Tips for success
- First, check out my post on How to Make Air fryer Fried Chicken to learn how to make perfectly crunchy, golden brown air fried chicken.
- I like to use a combination of all-purpose flour and cornstarch (or potato starch) to dredge the chicken. The reason I do this is that the flour works really well to give the coating a nice golden brown color and the cornstarch makes it nice and crispy. I have tried doing all flour, but found the coating just doesn’t get as crisp as I like. And I’ve tried doing all cornstarch and it is nice and crisp (and light!) but the color isn’t as nice. If I had to choose one, I’d go with all cornstarch, but I think the combo is ideal.
- I use freshly squeezed orange juice. This may be a no-brainer since you need an orange for the zest. I find it usually takes 2 good-size oranges to get enough juice. Also, don’t skip the zest! It adds an extra boost of orange flavor that you don’t get from the juice alone.
Air Fryer Orange Chicken Frequently Asked Questions
I usually serve orange chicken with steamed rice and some sort of green vegetable, like broccoli or Dry Fried Green Beans. Any stir-fried or steamed vegetables would be great.
Yes! If you want to make it ahead of time, air fry the chicken and make the sauce. Store the air fried chicken pieces and sauce separately in the refrigerator. Reheat the chicken in the air fryer (370 for 5 minutes should do it) and reheat the sauce briefly in the microwave. If the sauce is too thick, add a bit of water or orange juice to thin it out.
It can be, but it’s up to you. I like my food really spicy, so I use a lot of chile paste in my orange chicken. In this recipe, I’ve indicated 1 teaspoon of chile paste which will give you just a little hint of spice since the sugar really balances it out. If you want it more spicy, add more chile paste. I use at least a tablespoon.
In all three of these dishes, chicken pieces are marinated in a soy-based marinade and then dredged and air fried. The difference is in the sauce that is added afterwards.
Orange chicken sauce includes soy sauce, rice vinegar, ginger, garlic, brown sugar, a little bit of chile paste and, of course, orange juice and orange zest.
Air fryer Sesame Chicken sauce includes many of the same ingredients, but with more sesame oil and no orange juice or zest.
General Tso’s chicken (I’m working on an Air Fryer General Tso’s Chicken recipe!) has more chile in it, so it is spicier. It also doesn’t have orange juice or orange zest and has only a hint of sesame oil. While orange chicken and sesame chicken are usually just the fried chicken pieces in sauce, general Tso’s chicken usually has stir fried vegetables, like bell peppers and carrots, mixed in with the chicken and sauce.
The version of orange chicken I’m referring to here is really an American Chinese dish. There are Chinese dishes that use orange peel or zest, but they are less sweet than what you find at Chinese restaurants in the US, like Panda Express, which have really popularized the dish in this country. Here’s a great recipe for Copycat Panda Express Orange Chicken.
Yes! The only gluten-containing ingredients in this recipe are all-purpose flour and soy sauce. You can use all cornstarch for dredging, leaving out the flour altogether. And you can use gluten-free soy sauce in place of regular soy sauce.
Air Fryer Orange Chicken
- 1 ½ pounds boneless skinless chicken thigh meat, cut into bite-size chunks
For the marinade
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon Shiaoxing wine
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup cornstarch
- 2 large eggs lightly beaten
- Cooking oil for brushing or spritzing
For the sauce
- ½ cup orange juice
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon orange zest
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon chile paste optional, or add more to taste
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons cold water
- 4 scallions thinly sliced, for garnish (optional)
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds for garnish (optional)
- In a medium bowl, combine the marinade ingredients (2 tablespoons rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 2 teaspoons ginger, 3/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper). Add the chicken and stir to coat the chicken well. Cover and marinate for at least 20 minutes or as long as 24 hours (refrigerate if marinating for longer than 20 minutes).
- Remove the chicken pieces from the marinade, discarding the marinade.
- In a shallow bowl, combine the flour and cornstarch. Put the eggs in a second bowl. Line the air fryer basket with a parchment paper liner or a silicone liner if using.
- Dredge each chicken piece in the flour mixture first, then dunkit into the egg, then dredge again in the flour mixture so that it is completely coated. Repeat with the remaining chicken pieces. As the chicken pieces are coated, arrange them in a single layer in the air fryer with a little space in between. You may need to cook the chicken in 2 batches.
- Line the air fryer basket with a perforated parchment paperliner, if using.
- Spritz or brush the chicken pieces with oil so that all of the flour is wet.
- Air fry at 400ºF for 5 to 8 minutes.
- Flip the chicken pieces over, spritz or brush with more oil, and fry for 5 to 8 more minutes at 400ºF, until golden brown and crisp.
- While the chicken is air frying, make the sauce. In a saucepan, combine the orange juice, soy sauce, brown sugar, orange zest, rice vinegar, chile paste, garlic, and ginger. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar is fully dissolved. While the sauce is boiling, add the cornstarch and water slurry and continue to cook, stirring, until the mixture thickens, about 1 minute more.
- When the chicken is done, toss the chicken and sauce together in a bowl to coat the chicken pieces well.
- Serve hot, garnished with scallions and sesame seeds, if using.