Recipe: Low-Calorie Bourbon Orange Chicken


Delicately sautéd chicken breasts in a sweet and salty orange bourbon sauce, with less than half the calories of regular orange chicken.

Orange chicken is delicious. If it wasn’t so high in calories, I’d probably eat it every day.

This recipe lets you enjoy the wonderful sweet and tangy taste of orange chicken without blowing your calorie budget. It’s not exactly the same as the original, but it’s a much tastier way to get your protein than plain chicken breasts or tuna.

If you’re looking for a delicious, almost 100% protein food that you can make ahead and heat up whenever you like, this is for you.


Almost as Good as Regular Orange Chicken — with 66% Fewer Calories

You know that eating enough protein is extremely important for losing fat, performing better as an athlete, and staying healthy.

If you’re like many fitness nuts, skinless boneless chicken breasts are one of your go-to foods for protein. You come home after a long day, cook some plain chicken breasts in the oven, top them with some salt, pepper, salsa, hot sauce, or some other condiment, and you’re good to go.

The problem is that chicken breasts are about as exciting as a Maroon 5 concert.

This recipe changes that. It gives you most of the delicious flavor and texture of real orange chicken, with 66% fewer calories.


Here’s how this recipe compares to the orange chicken from Panda Express:

Serving Size: 5.5 ounces (154 grams)

Panda Express Orange Chicken

Calories: 500

Protein: 23

Fat: 27 

Carbohydrate: 42 

EvidenceMag Low-Calorie Bourbon Orange Chicken

Calories: 172 (66% less)

Protein: 33.1 (44% more)

Fat: 1.3 (95% less)

Carbohydrate: 1.7 (96% less)

This recipe doesn’t taste quite as good as regular orange chicken that you might buy from a Chinese fast food restaurant. Whenever you massively reduce the sugar and fat in a food, it usually doesn’t taste as good. 

But, this orange chicken is 100 times better than eating the typical bodybuilding fare of plain chicken breasts and low-calorie seasoning.

Despite being low in calories, sugar, and fat, this recipe is still pretty ‘Merican thanks to the splashof bourbon whiskey.

This recipe is not meant to precisely mimic traditional high-calorie/outrageously tasty orange chicken — you’ll learn how to do that later. This recipe keeps the calorie and macronutrient profile of regular chicken breasts, while stealing some of the wonderful flavors and textures from fast-food style orange chicken.

Here’s how to make it.


Why Orange Chicken is So High In Calories

Most orange chicken recipes are high in calories because they use…

  • Chicken thighs, which are much higher in fat calories than chicken breasts.
  • Frying oil, which adds even more calories from fat.
  • A thick breading, which adds calories and helps the chicken soak up more frying oil.
  • Orange marmalade and/or lots of added sugar.

There’s no way you can get the same flavor of traditional orange chicken while significantly cutting the sugar, fat, and total calories. But you can retain most of these qualities while keeping the calories low.

How to Reduce the Calories in Orange Chicken by 66%

Skinless boneless chicken breasts are much lower in fat than chicken thighs. While this means they’re much lower in calories, they can easily become tough and dry because the fat isn’t there to keep them moist. This is especially true when they’re cooked over high heat like in most orange chicken recipes. 

This recipe solves that problem by cooking the chicken separately, before the sauce, to precisely control the temperature and toughness of the meat. In this recipe, you cook the chicken over very low heat for a long time — you should only see a little steam and a few bubbles on the top. If it’s simmering, it’s too hot.

Err on the side of undercooking rather than overcooking. It’s actually best to leave the chicken slightly underdone — with the insides a little pink. It will finish cooking later in the process when you add it to the sauce.

Saving the Protein Goop from the Chicken Improves the Flavor

Saving the Protein Goop from the Chicken Improves the Flavor

Using the chicken juice in the sauce enhances the flavor. The proteins in the chicken juice also coagulate and form little blobs of protein goo. These little blobs help thicken the sauce and mimic the mouth feel of fat. Chicken broth is also extremely low in calories, so you’re getting a significant boost in flavor and texture for free.

Xanthum gum thickens the sauce, helps the sauce adhere to the chicken, and largely replaces the mouth feel of fat. It’s also essentially calorie-free. If you don’t have xanthum gum, use an equal small amount of cornstarch, which only adds a few calories.

Leaving a small amount of orange zest and peel in the sauce gives you more orange flavor, which means you can use less orange juice. OJ is pretty much the only other source of calories in this recipe besides the chicken itself, so this is a nice way to further reduce the calories without compromising flavor.

Bourbon gives the chicken a completely unique, rich, smokey flavor. Almost all of the alcohol evaporates from the bourbon while the sauce cooks, leaving behind very few calories and a ton of flavor. I planned on using sake or red wine at first, but I didn’t have either. Evan Williams came to the rescue, and now it’s my number one choice of liquor for this recipe. If you don’t have bourbon, red wine is the next best choice.

Splenda gives you the sweetness of sugar and lets you use even less orange juice, with zero calories.

Adding a dash of cayenne pepper improves the flavor and gives the chicken more “kick,” without adding calories. Low-fat foods tend to be bland, so it’s important to add extra spices.

Soy sauce gives the recipe an authentic orange chicken taste, without adding many calories.

Rice wine vinegar makes the sauce more acidic which helps helps the chicken absorb the other flavors. It also adds a pleasant sharp flavor of its own.

I also added four drops of yellow food coloring to give the chicken a more realistic appearance. I don’t do that anymore, but it made the pictures prettier.

Here’s how to make it.



2 pounds (900 grams) skinless boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch strips.

1 tablespoon (10 grams) minced garlic.

1 teaspoon (3 grams) xanthum gum (or cornstarch).

1 teaspoon (6 grams) salt.

1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) pepper.

2 tablespoons (30 grams) bourbon whiskey (or red wine or sake).

1/4 cup orange juice (60 grams).

Zest from 1/2 orange.

Peel from half an orange, cut into 1-inch strips (the half that’s still orange).

1/4 cup (7 grams) Splenda.

1 teaspoon (2 grams) ground ginger.

Two-finger pinch of red cayenne pepper (optional).

1 teaspoon (2 grams) onion powder.

2 tablespoons (30 grams) white vinegar.

2 tablespoons (30 grams) soy sauce.

4 drops yellow food coloring (optional).


  1. Let the chicken thaw and slice into 1-inch strips. Save the juice.
  2. Heat a skillet on medium-high, until a drop of water sizzles across the top. Sauté the garlic until lightly browned.
  3. Reduce the heat to low, and place the chicken and the chicken juice in the skillet. Cook, covered, for about 10-20 minutes on low heat — there should be no bubbles. Stir occasionally, about every 4-5 minutes.
  4. When the chicken is cooked through, remove it from the skillet with a slotted spoon or fork and place it in a bowl. Leave the juice in the pan.
  5. Stir in the xanthum gum, salt, pepper, bourbon, orange juice, orange zest, and orange peel. Stirring constantly, cook on medium-high heat until thick. Let simmer until the volume is reduced by about half, or around 4-5 minutes.
  6. Reduce the heat to low, and stir in the Splenda, ginger, cayenne pepper, onion powder, vinegar, and soy sauce, and (if using) yellow food coloring until smooth.
  7. Remove from heat, and dump the chicken into the sauce. Stir the chicken to coat. Let cool slightly and then serve.

Makes ten, 100-gram servings.

Keeps fresh in an airtight container in the refrigerator for seven days.

Nutrition Facts

Serving Size: 100 grams.

Calories: 112

Protein: 21.5

Fat: 0.9

Carbohydrate: 1.1

Stay tuned for higher-calorie, more traditional versions of orange chicken, orange beef, and sweet and sour chicken in the coming weeks. Sign up here to be notified when they’re published.

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