Orange juice is a major component of Orange Pecan Chicken, and although I champion the quick and easy, I want you to squeeze your own rather than pour it from a brand-name container.
The reasons are about flavor and practicality. Fresh tastes better, is just plain better, than any 100 percent pasteurized stuff off the refrigerated shelf. You’ll be needing orange zest for the recipe, too, so it makes sense to start with whole fruit.
Testing the recipe triggered the memory of a kitchen gadget that didn’t make the cut when I downsized - the kind of mechanical, cast-iron juicer that uses bicep-powered leverage to extract every last drop from orange halves, one at a time.
The contraption came courtesy of my father-in-law, who seldom let a Sunday breakfast go by without producing a short glass’s worth for anyone who might be loitering near the toaster. He preferred Valencia oranges, buying ‘em by the bag. I have juiced navel oranges here and just to be on the safe side, I recommend sacrificing the first one in a preliminary juice taste test; it’s worth it. If you like pulp, cut some out of your squeezed halves and add it to the sauce.
Because an enameled, handheld juicer fit for lemons and limes is what I now employ, I cut my bigger citrus into thirds, and that made for fine squeezing. The juice will concentrate in flavor a bit further as it cooks down in the pan, and unlike the original recipe, it is thickened here with some of the flour mixture used to coat the chicken. Pecans fit right in with the slight sweetness.
Your own main squeeze(s) will like the results, I bet.
ORANGE PECAN CHICKEN REcipe
Total: 30 minutes
Sweet spices and tangy citrus hit high flavor notes here. If really large chicken breast halves are all you have on hand, cut them in half horizontally. Serve with green beans or green peas.
5 to 6 oranges
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon sweet or hot paprika
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (6 to 8 ounces each; see headnote)
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon light or dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon your favorite hot sauce, or more as needed
2 ounces pecan halves (about 1/2 cup), coarsely chopped
Kosher or flaky sea salt
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Use a Microplane grater to zest 2 teaspoons’ worth from the oranges, letting it fall into a wide, shallow bowl. Cut each piece of fruit in half; you’ll be squeezing the halves later for the sauce.
Add the flour, paprika and pepper to the zest in the bowl, stirring to incorporate.
Trim/discard any excess fat from the chicken breast halves. Cut 3 or 4 shallow, diagonal slits in the top of each breast half (for even cooking). Pat each one evenly in the flour mixture, shaking off any excess, and place the coated pieces on a plate as you work.
Reserve 2 tablespoons of the leftover flour mixture in a small bowl and discard the rest. (This is an optional step, for a slightly thicker sauce.)
Heat the oil until shimmering in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook for 2 minutes on each side, just until lightly browned; they will not be cooked through. Rinse and dry the plate they were on so you can return them there.
Meanwhile, squeeze the orange halves to yield 1 1/2 cups of juice into a large liquid measuring cup.
Once the skillet is empty, add the orange juice, water, brown sugar, ginger and cinnamon. Increase the heat to medium-high, stirring to dislodge any browned bits from the pan. Once the mixture begins to boil vigorously, cook for about 4 minutes, so the liquid reduces a bit.
Stir in the hot sauce, then return all the chicken and any accumulated juices to the pan. Turn the pieces to coat, then reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for about 6 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. For the optional thicker sauce, stir about 3 tablespoons of the pan liquid into the reserved flour mixture, to form a paste. Toast the chopped pecans in a small, dry skillet for a few minutes, if desired.
Transfer the chicken to a platter or individual plates and season lightly with salt.
Stir the optional paste into the pan and increase the heat to medium-high. Return this paste to the pan, whisking to form a slightly thickened sauce, about 30 seconds. Taste, and add a dash of extra hot sauce, as needed.
Spoon the sauce over the chicken, then top with the chopped pecans. Serve warm.
Nutrition | Calories: 450; Total Fat: 16 g; Saturated Fat: 2 g; Cholesterol: 95 mg; Sodium: 150 mg; Carbohydrates: 32 g; Dietary Fiber: 6 g; Sugars: 19 g; Protein: 42 g.
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Source: Adapted from “The New American Heart Association Cookbook.” 9th Edition; Harmony Books, 2019