This made from scratch air fryer orange chicken will easily compete with your favorite takeout or store bought version. A crunchy breaded coating and tangy sweet orange sauce work together to bring you a healthy twist on our family’s favorite Trader Joe’s orange chicken made in the air fryer.
One of our favorite quick weeknight dinners is Trader Joe’s frozen orange chicken. Believe me, as a mom I love the ease and convenience! But it is a little heavy on the sauce and the breading is quite thick. So I set out to make a copycat Trader Joe’s orange chicken in the air fryer. I am quite pleased with the results and I think you will be too!
Why this recipe works
Healthier – you know I love my air fryer because it produces similar tasting results as pan or deep frying, but with about 60% less calories on average. Air frying is also lower in saturated fats. But even if you decide to pan fry this, homemade is still healthier than store bought.
Crunchy breading – many homemade orange chicken recipes leave out the crispy crunchy breading! Where’s the fun in that? My version still has the breading, and the air fryer ensures a crispy finish.
Quick and flavorful sauce – The sauce comes together while the chicken are cooking, and taste just as good as takeout. It has the perfect blend of tart and sweet.
For the chicken:
- Cornstarch and all purpose flour to bread the chicken – According to the Kitchn, when paired with all-purpose flour, cornstarch helps prevent gluten development, which makes the flour coating crispier, and absorb moisture (from the frying and the chicken), which also means a crispier coating.
- Egg wash – 2 whisked eggs with a splash of water to coat chicken in between dredges of the flour/cornstarch mix.
For the orange sauce:
- Grated ginger and orange zest – this gives the sauce the heightened orange flavor and a bit of spice to offset the sweetness.
- Honey and orange juice – this will add the flavor and sweetness you need. Feel free to sub granulated sugar or maple syrup, but I definitely prefer honey.
- Rice vinegar and soy sauce – classic Asian inspired flavors that offer the sauce the perfect bit of umami that Asian dishes are best known for.
Step 1 – Combine the corn starch and all purpose flour in a shallow bowl and add 2 tsp each of salt and pepper. Whisk 2 eggs with a splash of water in another shallow bowl.
Step 2 – Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour mixture, then gently dip in the egg wash, shaking off on excess egg.
Step 3 – Dredge in flour mixture one more time to thoroughly coat, and set aside on a baking sheet.
Air frying the chicken
Working in batches if necessary, place your chicken pieces on your air fryer tray, and air fry at 400 degrees for 13-15 minutes. I personally like chicken thighs cooked a bit longer than usual, as I find it takes away any “chewiness.” Regardless of your preference, just make sure to cook till internal temp of 160 is reached.
Make sure about half way through cooking, you either rotate each piece of chicken if on a tray like mine. Or, if using a basket style fryer, give the basket a hearty shake to move pieces around.
Don’t worry if you see some corn starch dust left over after air frying; it will either shake off or disappear when you add the sauce.
Making the orange sauce
Over medium low heat, add the orange juice, soy sauce and rice vinegar to a small saucepan and heat till simmering.
Whisk in the orange zest and grated ginger and stir until sauce bubbles and starts to thicken up ever so slightly, about 2 minutes.
Combine the corn starch and water in a separate bowl, and quickly whisk the slurry into the sauce, till well combined. Keep whisking for about a minute until sauce thickens to a thick paste. Remove from the stove and set aside.
Drizzle the sauce over the chicken pieces and stir to combine. I usually put a baking tray under my fryer basket to catch the drips. Feel free to toss right on the basket or in a bowl.
Yes, you can, but as with all things air fried, fresh out of the fryer does taste best. If you must make ahead of time, definitely reheat in your air fryer at a lower temp of 325 for about 6 minutes.
The sauce may get a bit lumpy if made ahead of time and refrigerated. No big deal, as it will still taste the same. Reheat over low heat in a small saucepan. Add a tablespoon or two of water if the sauce has gotten quite thick. Whisk until well combined and heated through.
Of course! Even if you just have time to air fry the chicken but use jarred sauce, it will still be a healthier dish overall compared to store bought.
More Cooking Tips
To actually make the Trader Joe’s orange chicken in the air fryer, preheat the air fryer to 400°F. Add the whole bag of chicken pieces (without the sauce) to the air fryer. Cook for 10 minutes. Rotate the tray and cook for about 5 minutes more.
While the chicken is cooking, heat the sauce for about 45 seconds in the microwave, or over low heat in a small sauce pan. Toss the sauce with the chicken and serve.
You may also use boneless skinless chicken breasts in this recipe. I just prefer the flavor and juiciness that comes from thighs. They also resist drying out as chicken breasts can do.
Don’t have an air fryer? No problem, you can pan fry instead. In a large skillet, heat 3-4 tbsp of oil over medium heat, and cook chicken in batches. Cook for 5-7 minutes, then toss and cook for another 5-7 minutes till cooked through. Stir in sauce and serve.
Air Fryer Orange Chicken
- Air Fryer
For the chicken
- 1.5 lbs Chicken thighs cut up into apx 1" pieces
- ½ cup Corn starch
- ½ cup All purpose flour
- 2 Eggs whisked with a splash of water
- 2 tsp each Salt & pepper
- Cooking oil spray
For the sauce
- 4 tbsp Soy sauce
- 5 tbsp honey
- 4 tbsp Rice vinegar
- Zest of one large orange
- 3 tsp Finely grated ginger apx the size of a small thumb knob of ginger
- ½ cup Orange juice
- 3 tsp Corn starch
- 3 tsp Water
To make the air fried chicken
- Mix the flour and corn starch, salt and pepper in a shallow bowl, and whisk the eggs with a splash of water in a separate shallow bowl.
- Working in batches, toss some chicken in the flour/corn starch mix, then gently toss in the egg wash.
- Spray your air fryer tray or basket. Dredge the chicken in the flour/corn starch mix one more time, lightly coat with cooking spray, and then place on the tray.
- Set air fryer to 400 degrees and cook chicken in batches, for apx 13-15 minutes, until chicken reaches 160 degrees internal temperature. Make sure to toss or flip each piece halfway through cooking to get evenly crispy chicken.
To make the sauce
- Over medium low heat, add the orange juice, soy sauce and rice vinegar to a small saucepan and heat till simmering.
- Whisk in the orange zest and grated ginger and stir until sauce bubbles and starts to thicken up ever so slightly, about 2 minutes.
- Combine the corn starch and water in a separate bowl, and quickly whisk the slurry into the sauce, till well combined. Keep whisking for about a minute until sauce thickens to a thick paste. Remove from the stove and set aside.
- Toss the cooked chicken in the sauce and serve immediately, garnished with green onions and sesame seeds.