We prefer the flavor and texture of thigh meat for this recipe, though an equal amount of boneless skinless chicken breasts can be used. It is easiest to grate the orange zest and remove the strips of orange peel before juicing the oranges; use a sharp vegetable peeler to remove the strips. For extra spiciness, increase the cayenne added to the sauce to ½ teaspoon. The whole dried chiles are added for appearance, not for flavor, and can be omitted. To fry the chicken, use a Dutch oven or a straight-sided sauté pan (with at least a 3-quart capacity); do not use a 12-inch skillet with sloped sides, as it will be too small to contain the oil once the chicken is added. White rice and steamed broccoli are good accompaniments.
marinade and sauce
1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into 1½-inch pieces
¾ cup low-sodium chicken broth
¾ cup juice, 1½ teaspoons grated zest, and 8 strips orange peel (each about 2 inches long by ½ inch wide) from 2 oranges (see note)
6 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
¼ cup soy sauce
½ cup packed dark brown sugar
3 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 tablespoon)
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
¼ teaspoon cayenne
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons cold water
8 small whole dried red chiles (optional)
coating and frying oil
3 large egg whites
1 cup cornstarch
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon cayenne
3 cups peanut oil
1. For the marinade and sauce: Place the chicken in a 1-gallon zipper-lock bag; set aside. Combine the chicken broth, orange juice, grated zest, vinegar, soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, ginger, and cayenne in a large saucepan (with at least a 3-quart capacity); whisk until the sugar is fully dissolved. Measure out ¾ cup of the mixture and pour into the bag with the chicken; press out as much air as possible and seal the bag, making sure that all the pieces are coated with the marinade. Refrigerate 30 to 60 minutes, but no longer.
2. Bring the remaining mixture in the saucepan to a boil over high heat. In a small bowl, stir together the cornstarch and cold water; whisk the cornstarch mixture into the sauce. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until thick and translucent, about 1 minute. Off the heat, stir in the orange peel and chiles, if using (the sauce should measure 1½ cups); set the sauce aside.
3. For the coating: Place the egg whites in a pie plate; using a fork, beat until frothy. In a second pie plate, whisk the cornstarch, baking soda, and cayenne until combined. Drain the chicken in a colander or large mesh strainer; thoroughly pat the chicken dry with paper towels. Place half of the chicken pieces in the egg whites and turn to coat; transfer the pieces to the cornstarch mixture and coat thoroughly. Place the dredged chicken pieces on a wire rack set over a baking sheet; repeat with the remaining chicken.
4. To fry the chicken: Heat the oil in an 11- to 12-inch Dutch oven or straight-sided sauté pan with at least a 3-quart capacity over high heat until the oil registers 350 degrees on an instant-read or deep-fry thermometer. Carefully place half of the chicken in the oil; fry until golden brown, about 5 minutes, turning each piece with tongs halfway through cooking. Transfer to a paper towel–lined plate. Return the oil to 350 degrees and repeat with the remaining chicken.
5. To serve: Reheat the sauce over medium heat until simmering, about 2 minutes. Add the chicken and gently toss until evenly coated and heated through. Serve immediately.