Not long ago I got a desperate message from C. J. Coffman who lives in Michigan. It seems that he and his family are crazy about a certain item that mysteriously disappeared from the Applebee’s® menu a couple of years ago—Crispy Orange Skillet.
Coffman is not the first reader I’ve heard from about this turn of events. Early on, readers wanted to know how to make this entree themselves, as it could become pricey to eat out as often as their cravings dictated. But then a couple of years ago, this hugely popular dish just up and disappeared from the menu! Applebee’s response continues to be that they appreciate customers’ feedback, but that they make changes to their menus from time to time and we never know when favorites will make a come back.
Coffman closed his letter by telling me what a big fan he is of this column, which was a good move on his part. I’m not above a little flattery from time to time.
So, for the C.J. Coffman family and all other Applebee’s fans too, here’s my reasonable facsimile of their favorite dish. Enjoy!
Clone of Crispy Orange Skillet
- 2 pounds boneless chicken pieces, skinned
- 1 egg
- 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper (or to taste)
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- Oil (for frying)
- Cut chicken pieces into 2-inch pieces and place in a large bowl. Stir in egg, salt, pepper and oil. Mix well and set aside. Stir cornstarch and flour together in another large bowl and mix well. Add chicken pieces to the flour mixture, stirring to coat each piece well. Pour enough oil to be 1/2-inch deep in a wok or heavy skillet and heat over high heat to 375 F (hot!).
- Carefully add chicken pieces in small batches and fry 3 to 4 minutes turning until golden and crisp. Do not overcook or chicken will be tough. Remove chicken from oil with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Continue frying the chicken in small batches until all pieces are nicely browned and crisp. Set aside.
Sweet ‘n Spicy Orange Glaze
- Oil from skillet
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange rind (no white part or “pith”)
- 1 cup orange juice
- 1/2 cup hoisin sauce*
- dash cayenne pepper
- 1/4 cup white sugar
- salt and pepper to taste
- Cool the oil in the skillet slightly, then remove all but 2 tablespoons of oil and set over medium heat. Sauté garlic in oil for 1 minute (if the oil is too hot the garlic will burn and become bitter). Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to boil. Allow to boil for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Reduce heat and simmer until sauce thickens to your liking, stirring frequently.
- Pour glaze over chicken. Place chicken on a bed of cooked white rice. Garnish with slivered almonds, crispy noodles and stir-fry vegetables like broccoli, snow peas and red peppers (optional). Serves 4 to 6.
*Hoison sauce is available in a can or jar in the Asian aisle of most supermarkets, close to the soy sauce. Also called Peking sauce, this thick, reddish-brown sauce is sweet and spicy, and widely used in Chinese cooking. It’s a mixture of soybeans, garlic, chili peppers and various spices. Hoisin sauce is mainly used as a table condiment and as a flavoring agent for many meat, poultry and shellfish dishes. Once opened, refrigerate bottled hoisin and it will keep indefinitely.