There are two important things to understand about this recipe for Orange Chicken Crispy Rice Salad. The first is that it’s hilariously American, as is the case with all of my recipes that approach cuisines from other countries. The second is that it’s absolutely delicious regardless of authenticity. The inspiration for this concept came from my first experience with a crispy rice salad at Doi Moi in D.C. Their food is Southeast Asian, and so delicious – I definitely recommend a trip if you’re near 14th street. Their crispy rice salad involves fermented pork, which I have never worked with before, so I decided to combine the concept with something a little more familiar: orange chicken.
I have wild dreams of someday being one of those people who just throws all kinds of interesting ingredients into a dish without a second thought. I love trying new foods and flavors, and I make a conscious effort to order outside of my comfort zone at restaurants, but sometimes you just have to stick with some of what you know when you’re trying a new recipe concept. The point of that being that the sauce for my orange chicken started with a Panda Express copycat recipe, and I haven’t really done that much to it. I’m okay with that, however, as Panda Express orange chicken is a delicious gift from the heavens.
The crispy rice is, of course, the real standout of this salad, and the whole reason for its existence. I didn’t even know that crispy rice was a thing until a few months ago, but the version I made up for this recipe is one of my new favorite things. I started with a recipe from Ayesha Curry, which set me on the right path flavor- and texture-wise. I flavored mine with Greek yogurt, lemon, dill, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes. Her recipe calls for crisping the rice in a pan on the stove, but mostly I just kept burning things that way. I found it much easier to get the results I wanted by toasting the rice on a tray in the oven. The result is crisp, slightly chewy, very flavorful rice that clumps together into bites like croutons in the salad.
This salad could easily have gone in the direction of very-bad-for-you, but with summer coming, I figured I’d keep it light. I used grilled chicken instead of fried, loaded the base of the salad with spinach, broccoli and cucumber, and topped it with some cashews for added crunch and nutrition. I think a variety of textures is what separates a great salad from the merely decent – they can get a bit boring if every bite is the same. This salad has a combination of crunchy and chewy and soft components that combine with the bright flavor of the orange chicken and the lightly spicy crispy rice, to make a pretty perfect meal.
This salad is a perfect start to break away from a typical boring lunch time. You can only eat Caesar salad so many times in a row before you want to stab yourself with your fork. Not that there’s anything wrong with Caesar salad. Crispy Rice Orange Chicken Salad is, as always, open to interpretation. I invite you to try it with lemon chicken or switch out the cashews for pecans. Maybe add roasted Brussels sprouts in place of the broccoli. Just promise me that whatever you do, you’ll keep the crispy rice – it’s truly something different and wonderful, and I can’t wait to make it again.
Orange Chicken Crispy Rice Salad
Orange Chicken Sauce adapted from Food.com's Panda Express Copycat Orange Chicken
- 3 cups cooked rice (1 cup uncooked)
- 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt 61g
- 2 Tbsps lemon juice
- 1 1/4 tsps red pepper flakes
- 1 1/4 tsps dried dill
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 lb chicken breast
- 2 Tbsps olive oil - divided use
- 1 cup orange juice (fresh squeezed or bottled)
- 3 Tbsps soy sauce
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 2 Tbsps rice wine vinegar
- 1 Tbsp ground ginger
- 1/2 cup green onion, chopped
- 2 tsps garlic, minced
- 1 tsp red chili flakes
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 Tbsps cornstarch
- 2 cups baby spinach
- 1 cup diced cucumber, de-seeded
- 1 cup steamed broccoli florets
- 1/2 cup dry roasted cashews
Prepare the crispy rice. Stir together the cooked rice, yogurt, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, dill, pepper, and salt until well mixed. Spread into one even layer on a baking tray lined with foil. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, stir the rice around on the tray, and bake for another 30 minutes. It's done when the top of the rice has browned and the clumps are crispy on the edges and soft inside. Once the rice has cooled slightly, transfer to a cutting board and chop larger clumps into bite-sized pieces.
2. While the rice bakes, make the orange chicken. Slice the chicken breast into bite-sized pieces and sautee in a skillet over high heat, with a Tbsp of olive oil. Remove to the side. To make the sauce, combine orange juice, soy sauce, brown sugar, and rice wine in a small bowl and set aside. Using the same skillet from the chicken, heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil. Stir together the green onion, ginger, garlic, 1 Tbsp of olive oil, and chili flakes and add to the hot skillet. Cook for about a minute until fragrant, and then add the orange juice mixture.
3. Let the sauce come to a simmer, over medium-heat, about 9 minutes. Do not let it come to a full boil. Stir together the corn starch and water, and add to the sauce. Stir gently for an additional 3 minutes, until the sauce begins to thicken. Lower heat and cook for 3 more minutes. Remove from heat and add the chicken, stirring until well-coated.
4. To assemble the salad, fill a bowl with chopped spinach, diced cucumber, broccoli florets, and cashews. Top with a generous helping of orange chicken and crispy rice. Enjoy!
Note: Leftover orange sauce can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to a week.