Orange chicken stir-fry is a dish comprised of bits of chicken breast shallow fried along with noodles and bean sprouts in a zesty orange sauce. The sauce is usually made up of the zest and juice of one orange, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, and brown sugar. This mixture is made up separately and added to the chicken after it has been cooked in a frying pan or wok. Noodles, spinach, or other ingredients are added to the chicken along with the orange sauce, and the entire mixture is tossed together so the sauce coats all of the ingredients. The dish is based on Hunan Chinese cuisine, but was specifically made for American diners.
A stir-fry is a dish in which a mixture of ingredients have been shallow-fried together and mixed thoroughly, often in a wok. Orange chicken stir-fry is therefore a mixture of ingredients shallow-fried together which includes chicken and orange juice or zest. It is an Asian-style dish, and has a mixture of sweet and sour flavors. Dishes like this are called stir-fries because the heat applied to the wok means that the ingredients must be frequently stirred during the cooking process to avoid burning.
Most recipes for orange chicken stir-fry suggest that the chef cooks the chicken separately before adding any other ingredients to the wok. Chefs make the orange sauce in an orange chicken stir-fry separately while the chicken is cooking. The juice and zest of one orange are added to a bowl along with ginger, garlic, salt, and soy sauce. The orange mixture is poured over the cooked chicken, in the wok or frying pan, and then the noodles are added. The mixture is then left to cook until the sauce has thickened.
The dish is believed to have been inspired by cuisine from the Hunan area in southeastern China. It was specifically made for Chinese restaurants in America, however, and is therefore not authentically a Chinese dish. Hunan dishes are typically spicy and sour, not sweet like orange chicken stir-fry. Stories suggest that the dish was created to show American diners what Hunan cuisine was like, and is based on General Tao's chicken. It is true to Hunan cuisine because the main flavor dominates the dish and it is very fragrant.
Nutritionally, this dish is suited to health-conscious diners. Chicken doesn't contain as much fat as most other meats, and is a good source of protein. Chefs can add more vegetables to the stir-fry to add to the nutritional content of orange chicken stir-fry. Spinach can be added to the noodle mixture, as well as common Chinese vegetables such as bean sprouts. The main negative nutritional point is that chicken is high in cholesterol.