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Mandarin Chicken

Mandarin chicken is fried chicken with a brown sauce–one made essentially with a roux and soy sauce as the main ingredients. How it became as popular as it is in New Orleans Chinese restaurants is hard to fathom. In the dark days when people were afraid of Chinese food, the Chinese restaurants came up with a dish that the round-eyes found unchallenging. People can get used to anything, and many of them developed a taste for this. So many people ask me for this that, in a weak moment, I got tips from a few chefs and concocted this.

  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 Tbs. dry sherry
  • 1/2 cup flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. white pepper
  • 8 chicken tenders, lightly pounded
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • Sauce:
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1/3 cup chopped celery
  • 5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 cups chicken or turkey stock
  • 2 Tbs. soy sauce
  • 5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 Tbs. cornstarch

1. Mix the eggs and the sherry in a wide bowl. Combine the flour, cornstarch, salt and pepper. Dip the chicken in the egg wash and shake off the excess. Dust the chicken with the flour-cornstarch mixture on both sides.

2. Heat a little less than half of the vegetable oil in a skillet or wok until it’s close to smoking. Fry the chicken until golden brown. Remove and hold in a 200 oven.

Sauce:

1. To make the sauce, add the remaining oil to the pan or wok and heat over medium-high heat until it ripples. Add the onions and celery, and cook until browned a little.

2. Add the remaining flour-cornstarch mixture. Cook while stirring until a light-brown roux forms.

3. Add the stock, soy sauce, and the garlic. Cook until the garlic is aromatic. Turn the heat off.

4. Mix the cornstarch with a tablespoon of water till well blended, and stir into the sauce.

5. Add salt and Tabasco to taste. If you like, toss the chicken with the sauce, or serve on the side. It’s equally bad either way.

Serves four.

8 Readers Commented

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  1. Garry B on September 18, 2014

    My favorite version of this dish was the one at China Rose. The long time there but gone since Katrina Chinese restaurant in the Robt. E. Lee shopping center at the intersection of Robt. E. Lee Blvd. and Pontchatrain Blvd. at West End. They also had a very good version of it at a popular Chinese restaurant (who’s name escapes me) that was in a shopping center just off of Morrison Rd. at I-10 where one of the now defunct National/Canal Villere grocery stores used to be. I think there was also a Shoney’s right there if memory serves me correctly. What I do remember about the dish, but that I didn’t see in this recipe, was the addition of peanut butter or finely ground almost to a paste peanuts in the brown sauce. The flavor was subtle but distinctive enough that you could recognize it. The freshly fried chicken with the brown sauce napped over the top also had freshly sliced slivers of green onion sprinkled on top. I think I’m going to try this recipe with the peanut addition to see if it approximates the flavors I remember.

    • Tom Fitzmorris on September 20, 2014

      The restaurant was the Peking, in the Kenilworth Mall. It was a great place. . . unless you passed all its specialties for Mandarin chicken, one of the two or three worst Chinese-American dishes ever. (It’s smothered chicken in brown gravy, for heaven’s sake.)

      That said, if you like it, try the Royal China on Veterans, and tell Shirley Lee (owner, all over the place all the time) exactly how you’d like it, peanuts and all. She’ll amaze you.

      Tastefully yours,
      Tom Fitzmorris

    • Jennifer Hayes on April 21, 2017

      I’m in Illinois & have tried every Chinese restaurant around trying to find these dishes. They only exist in Southern Louisiana​. The Chinese Kitchen in Carrollton had they Best. & The best eggrolls too. Not a place in Chicago that can​ beat’em. Boneless Chicken is another dish that I can’t get here.

  2. Steven Marco on June 25, 2015

    The Time Picayune once published a recipe for Mandarin Chicken that was supposed to originated from Fong’s off of Williams Blvd. If you Google Mandarin Chicken you will find the same recipe. The major difference in it and yours is you basically make a tempura batter for the chicken. Their sauce is similar but different and dish is completed and serve on a bed of shredded lettuce. This is the way I remember first tasting this dish as a kid from Chan’s far East restaurant on 4th street in Marrero which I believe is also long gone. I now live in Franklinton so we only get Chinese food in the local Chinese buffet restaurant in town. I miss China Doll and China Blossom on the west bank.

    • Tom Fitzmorris on June 27, 2015

      It’s just my opinion, but mandarin chicken–created in an American Chinese restaurant–is the most uninteresting dish in all of Chinese cookery. It’s just fried chicken fingers in a dark-roux sauce with a few more ingredients for texture. People would eat at Chinese restaurants a lot more often if they stopped ordering this.

      By the way, the China Doll is still in business, as mediocre as ever.

      Tastefully yours,
      Tom Fitzmorris

  3. JV on March 1, 2016

    Young’s Garden in Kenner made the best version of the dish I remember. Sadly, this interpretation of Mandarin Chicken is not the same elsewhere around the country. You simply cannot find it outside of New Orleans.

    BTW Tom, “Americanized” and “Original” Chinese might as well be two different food groups. And both are delicious in their own right. If you don’t like the Americanized interpretations, just focus on Original…

  4. Stephanie on February 12, 2017

    Hi Tom: Love your show . Yes , I do have HD radio in the car so we’re saved !
    Hope others do as well .
    Here’s my request : When discussing a restaurant report plz mention the name of the restaurant at the end of your caller discussion . I am usually catching the very end and have no clue which restaurant you are discussing .
    Just a thought from a faithful Northshore
    Fan .. Thanks for entertaining us on an almost daily commute from the Big Uneasy!
    Best wishes for the new format .
    New Orleans Girl …

    TOMMENT:
    Thanks for the nice words, and hapy to hear that you have HD Radio. Don’t forgetto set a preset button on your radio so you canget back to The Food Show right away.

    About repeating the name of the restaurant. . .people tell me that all the time. It’s a radio thing. How many times have you heard a song, then wondered what it was or who was the artist? Same effect. What happens is that we’re always in a rush to get to the next commercial, news, etc., and I can’t stop to repeat what I just said. Just call us back and I’ll relay the info to you. Thanks!
    Tastefully yours,
    Tom Fitzmorris

  5. joe on October 24, 2017

    Manderan chicken is about a flavor that can not be had outside the New Orleans Louisiana area. yes Tom it is boring. like a well worn pair of shoes fit just perfect. We who are hoping for a taste of home are not looking to strut down Bourbon Street in pink and white striped 8″ high heels with neon stars TOM!. There is a secrete to the sauce that is well kept. Peanutbutter? who knows. I sure wish I could get some of that old boring taste again.

    TOMMENT:
    Nobody’s stopping you from eating whatever you like. I tell you what I like and what I dislike, but that doesn’t limit what you eat in any way. Lucky for you, there’s not a Chinese restaurant in town that doesn’t have Mandarin chicken. To make it yourself, make a dark, medium thick roux and throw in some previously-fried chicken chunks. Let them soak up the roux. Finished! That won’t be any more or less different from other versions.

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