Every year Trader Joe's asks customers to vote on their favorite products, and for the past two years the number-one fan favorite item in the whole store has been Trader Joe's Mandarin orange chicken. The first time it happened, I was honestly a bit surprised. I mean, we're talking about a store that stocks cookie butter, and everybody's favorite item is frozen chicken in orange sauce? I was perplexed. So last night I tried it, and now I get it. I totally get it.
What Is It?
Trader Joe's describes its Mandarin orange chicken as "tender chunks of juicy chicken in a crispy breading with a sweet and spicy orange sauce." A 22-ounce bag costs $4.99, and the package says it contains five servings. If it's being eaten as a dinner entrée, however, I'd say it's more like two.
Read more: Mandarin Orange Chicken from Trader Joe's
How Are You Supposed to Cook It?
Inside the bag, the chicken is all frozen in individual pieces, and there are two bags of sauce packaged separately. I followed the instructions on the bag and cooked the chicken on a baking sheet for 20 minutes at 400° until it was golden-brown and crispy. The bag didn't even say I had to flip the chicken, so I didn't. I warmed up the sauce in the microwave and tossed all the chicken together with one package of sauce, and it was completely easy. The most difficult part of the whole process was remembering to use oven mitts when I took the pan out of the oven.
The Final Verdict: Just as Good as Takeout
Now I understand why people love this stuff so much. It's $4.99 for enough food to feed two people, and it tastes just like good takeout. It's definitely very sweet, but if you were looking for the style of takeout meal that is composed of chunks of fried chicken in a very sweet orange sauce, this is a pretty classic example of the form. The sauce tastes like orange and ginger, and it even has a bit of a spicy ginger kick to it. If I ordered orange chicken from my favorite local takeout place and it tasted like this, I would not be disappointed. I would order it again.
The chicken is very moist and nicely crispy. It's basically like if you got an order of orange chicken from a restaurant, and every piece in the carton was a "good" piece. (The pieces you dig around for first, where none are too gristly, or too dry and overcooked, or too fatty, or just breading with no chicken inside.)
If you were having a party, you could serve this with toothpicks as hors d'oeuvres and people would dig it. If you were having Netflix night, you could make this in your house and save $30 on two orders of orange chicken from the takeout place.
What do you think of Trader Joe's Mandarin orange chicken?