I understand why this is the #1 item on the Trader Joe’s popularity list for a couple years in a row. I really do understand that! I love fried chicken like the next person and then smothering it in a nice sweet and sour sauce kicks in all the primal brain functions for eating fat and sweet. Let me be brutally honest here, this is essentially deep fried chicken with a sweet and sour dipping sauce melted all over it. Does that make it necessarily a bad thing? No I don’t think so, but is this anything near an authentic Mandarin Chicken recipe? Not based on my experience.
Let me refer you to a restaurant named Wild Ginger that is here in the Seattle area. They aren’t completely a Chinese restaurant, they kind of do a fusion of Chinese and Thai food (Having lived in Thailand, there is plenty of Chinese influence there!). People go nuts around here for it and both of their locations are usually packed. It just happened that I picked up the Mandarin Orange Chicken because of the Trader Joe’s top items of 2011 list. I made it for lunch a couple of days ago for this blog and then at the last minute the same day a bunch of us went out to celebrate a friend’s birthday at Wild Ginger. I like to get their satay and Thai styled dishes, but I noticed some breaded blobs on a plate in the middle of the table and lo and behold it was Mandarin Orange Chicken! I started rubbing my hands together and going, what kind of dumb luck is this?!?! The Wild Ginger version was a waaay more authentic rendition (I’m not saying it’s the best by any means). So I’ll discuss both of them and tell you what I think.
The Trader Joe’s Mandarin Orange Chicken comes in a bag, frozen. It’s basically frozen, deep fried pieces of chicken and inside the bag is two more bags of sauce that are frozen. You can make it two different ways, in the oven or on the stove top. Since it was more than I could eat in one sitting I made it both ways over a couple of days. I’ll say the oven method is better and probably better for you since you don’t need to add any more oil. So you bake the chicken pieces in the oven and then when they are hot and crispy, you toss them in a skillet with the sauce until they are coated with sauce. Then serve.
Here is the rub for me. These are basically KFC popcorn chicken with some hot and sour sauce poured over them! But stay with me, I’m not dissing them! Like I said before, I love fried chicken and the Trader Joe’s Mandarin Orange Chicken is pretty good for what it is. What it isn’t is authentic Chinese food. The difference between what I had at Wild Ginger and Trader Joe’s is night and day. The Wild Ginger rendition was very well executed. The breading was not crunchy, but soft and pillowy but in a good way. The sauce was more orangey and you could taste the spice and orange. I didn’t get much orange in the Trader Joe’s version. It had a good amount of heat though, which I appreciated. Also Mandarin Orange Chicken is a Dr. Atkins nightmare. Breaded chicken in a sweet sauce and then serve that with white rice. It’s enough to turn you into a diabetic!
I know this won’t be that popular since this is the most popular product at Trader Joe’s (by popular vote, not by sales), but I have to tell you that I’d rather run down to the local Chinese restaurant and order a batch of this than buy it and make it for dinner. It’s just OK for me.
So, having said all that, I am going to rate this 6 bells!