It was at my wedding shower more than 40 years ago that I received a copy of Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook. It was the 1968 spiral bound edition, and it was the first cookbook I owned.
I loved it. It was filled with colorful photos and recipes that were easy for a newlywed with little cooking experience to make. That's the cookbook I used when I made my first loaf of bread, baked my first cake from scratch and where I found the original recipe for orange chicken.
I don't know what happened to my edition of the cookbook. I may have given it away or I may have loaned it to someone and it simply wasn't returned, but all those years and many shelves of cookbooks later, I still make orange chicken.
Tribune Chronicle photos / Kathleen Evanoff
As a new cook, I wasn’t familiar with pairing fruit with meat, but over the years have become quite comfortable combining the flavors such as chicken and citrus or pork and apples. Orange chicken was the first recipe I tried with this combination and it as remained a family favorite for more than 40 years.
I don't have the recipe written out anywhere, so I usually make it from memory. It is a recipe I often save for the winter months when oranges are at their peak in our grocery stores, but I had an orange windfall recently and thought this was the perfect time to make orange chicken again.
A friend from southern California was boasting over the Internet recently about her orange trees. While she talked about their sweetness and how prolific her trees were producing, I began to whine about the sorry state of the tasteless oranges shipped to our grocery stores. Within the week, a large box arrived at my door that was filled with Valencia oranges.
Valencia is the variety of orange most commonly used for juicing, and it was evident in my friend's oranges. She warned me in an enclosed note that I would have to eat these oranges while standing over the sink as the juice would drip down my arms.
2 large chicken breasts
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups seasoned croutons, finely crushed
Zest of two oranges
Juice from one fresh orange
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup healthy oil, such as canola or olive oil
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Crush croutons in a plastic bag or food processor. Using a hand grater or microplane, grate the outer peel of two oranges, being careful to use only the orange part and not the white underneath. Add the orange zest to the breadcrumbs. In a separate bowl, mix the juice from one orange with the two beaten eggs. Using three adequate size containers, line them in the order they will be used, first the flour, then the egg and juice mixture and finally the crumb and zest topping. Sprinkle the flour with salt and pepper.
First dip the chicken breasts into the flour, leaving only a very light coating on the chicken. Coat the chicken evenly with the egg mixture and finally the bread crumbs. Place the breaded chicken in a single layer on a plate, cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
In a non-stick frying pan, heat the oil until a few drops of water dropped into the pan sizzles. Carefully add the chicken to the pan and cook until the breading is golden brown. Turn the chicken over and do the same with the other side. Place the chicken on a baking pan and bake in the oven until done. Cooking time will depend on the size of the chicken. Smaller breasts can take about 20 to 25 minutes. Large, thick breasts can take up to 40 minutes. If using a meat thermometer, bake to an internal temperature of 160 degrees.
She was correct. Before I had the oranges out of the box, my daughter, who was visiting that week, had one of them cut into quarters and was immersed in its sweetness.
I've breaded the chicken several different ways. Usually I use whatever breadcrumbs I have on hand, whether they are seasoned or plain. I've also used Panko breadcrumbs, which are coarser and make a crispier coating.
Another favorite coating is instant mashed potato flakes. I'm not a fan of instant mashed potatoes made as mashed potatoes, but I like them as a breading for meat and fish. When lightly fried, they turn golden brown and crunchy.
In this case, I used seasoned croutons and finely crushed them in a mini-food chopper.
The chicken can be a variable as well. I remember that the original recipe called for baking the chicken completely in the oven, but I've always had a problem with the breading not being crispy enough. I found that starting it on the stove top in a bit of oil and then finishing it in the oven helps it cook more evenly and the end result is the crispy coating we prefer.
One large breast can feed both my husband and myself, but I usually make two and slice the remainder for lunches the next day.
Smaller breasts don't bake as long and by finishing the cooking in the oven, it solves the problem of having the breading too dark before the chicken is fully cooked. I usually serve orange chicken with mashed potatoes and a vegetable side dish.