This sticky and delicious vegan orange chicken uses tofu and is incredibly easy to make. In under 25 minutes you can have a super delicious lunch or dinner when paired with some rice to soak up all that delicious sauce!
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Hey Internet, I LOVE certain “Chinese food” dishes I’ve grown up on. And by Chinese food, I mean western / American chinese food that may or may not bear any resemblance to real Chinese food.
We won’t get into that today because we’re about recipes on this site. However I will say that this dish was simply inspired by takeout I used to eat before going vegan, so keep that in mind.
This veganizing American Chinese food thing is actually a common practice for me. I’ve made vegan General Tso’s, vegan beef and broccoli, vegan chop suey, vegan pepper steak, vegan honey garlic tofu, vegan Chinese curry, sweet and sour tofu, vegan chicken teriyaki, vegan kung pao chicken, and sticky tofu.
Anyway, this recipe couldn’t be easier. All you have to do is bake or air fry (or pan fry if you prefer) some tofu, make a quick sauce, and toss them together.
Orange tofu goes great with broccoli, green beans, bok choy, a stir fry on the side, or anything else you like. I love serving it over jasmine rice with some green onions and red pepper flakes, yum.
This easy meal is done in less than a half hour--make sure to cook your rice at the same time! You can save time on this recipe by cooking the tofu in your air fryer.
And if you love tofu, check out my big list of tofu recipes.
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Why This Recipe Works
To make orange tofu, we’ll start with, of course, our tofu. This recipe features super firm tofu which usually comes vacuum sealed, as opposed to other types of tofu that come in tubs of water.
If you can’t find tofu like that, get regular firm or extra firm tofu and use a tofu press or two cutting boards or plates and a heavy object to press extra water out of the tofu. This will help the tofu get crispy and chewy, and also help it absorb the flavors from our sauce.
Anyway, I really like cooking the tofu in the air fryer because it’s both fast and hands off.
We’ll cook the sauce in a large pot so that way we can stir all our tofu directly in the sauce. This vegan orange chicken recipe uses two pounds of tofu, so it makes a lot!
You can start by sauteing the garlic and ginger in a pan. If you use a nonstick pan, you won’t need to use oil. I normally try not to cook with it unless I really need to based on the type of pan I’m using (like cast iron or enameled cast iron like my Le Creuset Dutch Oven).
After sautéing the aromatics, all you have to do is add the other sauce ingredients, bring it to a simmer, add the thickening agent (arrowroot powder or cornstarch) mixed with a little water, and then let the sauce thicken.
Then all you do is add your baked / fried tofu, stir, and serve!
I like to serve my orange tofu with cooked jasmine rice, a sprinkle of green onions and some chili flakes. You can also serve some veggies on the side if you’d like!
Ingredients and Substitutions
- 2 packages (16 ounces / 454 grams each) of super firm tofu: For this recipe, we want to use the tofu in vacuum-sealed plastic, not a tub of water. If you only have firm or extra firm tofu (that comes in water), you’ll want to drain the tub and press the block of tofu. You can substitute soy curls, seitan chunks, or store-bought vegan chicken pieces--breaded or not.
- 3 cloves minced garlic and 1 inch grated ginger: Minced fresh garlic and grated fresh ginger is best, but feel free to use jarred or powdered if you need to.
- 1 + ½ cups orange juice: This is vegan orange chicken so we need orange flavor! You can use fresh squeezed or carton orange juice for this recipe.
- ½ cup sugar: For the authentic color and more sweetness, use organic cane sugar in this recipe. If you’d like to use a less refined option, try coconut sugar. Yes, your orange tofu may look more brown, but it still tastes great.
- 3 tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce or gluten-free tamari: This is for flavor. If gluten-free, pick up some gluten-free tamari. You can also substitute coconut aminos, but I find this to be not as salty and a little more sweet.
- 3 tablespoons of rice vinegar: To balance out the sweetness of our orange tofu, a little vinegar helps. You can substitute apple cider vinegar here if needed.
- ½ teaspoon chili flakes / red pepper flakes, optional and to taste: You can use these in the sauce or as a garnish or both. If you don’t like spicy food, skip this ingredient.
- 3 tablespoons arrowroot powder + ¼ cup water: You can substitute cornstarch here if needed.
- 1 - 2 teaspoons orange zest, optional
How to Make Vegan Orange Chicken
- NOTE: If you did not buy super firm tofu (the kind that comes vacuum sealed), drain out all the water and press the block of tofu in either a tofu press or between two plates/cutting boards with a heavy weight on them for 20-30 minutes. Waterlogged tofu will not get very crispy.
- Start your tofu using one of the methods below. If you are baking or air frying your tofu, you can choose to leave it plain, toss it in a small amount of oil before cooking, or breading it like with my crispy tofu or panko tofu. Sometimes leaving it plain can dry it out somewhat--but you’re going to be adding it to a sauce so it’s not unpleasant, just personal opinion.
- Air Fryer Method: Add tofu cubes to your air fryer in a single layer if possible. Set it at 400 degrees Fahrenheit (205 degrees Celsius) for 15 minutes and shake the basket halfway through. Check the crispness. If you desire the tofu to be more crispy, cook for longer or you can give it a misting of avocado (or other) oil if you like and then cook it for a few more minutes. 15-17 minutes usually works perfectly for me.
- Oven Method: Preheat your oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit (218 degrees Celsius) while you prep your tofu. Place tofu cubes on a baking tray lined either with a silicone baking mat (I find this gets the tofu crisper) or parchment paper. Bake for 25-30 minutes, flipping the tofu and rotating the pan halfway through.
- Pan Fry Method: Heat a generous amount of high heat oil in a large skillet. Once the oil is hot enough (you can test this using a wooden skewer. When inserted into the oil, little bubbles should rapidly form around the end of the skewer when the oil is hot enough). Add tofu (tossed in cornstarch or arrowroot powder for best results) in a single layer and spaced at least a half inch apart. Depending on how big your cubes are and how crowded your pan is, cook for a few minutes and flip. Cook and flip until tofu is lightly golden brown then transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb excess oil.
- While the tofu is cooking, prepare your sauce in a large nonstick pot (I like to use nonstick to reduce the need for oil, but use what you’re comfortable with).
- Either add a small amount of oil to your pan OR you may cook with water if you like--and saute your garlic and ginger for about a minute over medium heat, stirring frequently.
- Add the orange juice, sugar, soy sauce / gluten-free tamari, and rice vinegar to the pot. You can add some chili flakes now so they get soft and mix into the sauce or you can leave them as a garnish if you prefer. Stir constantly until the sugar dissolves, then let the mixture come to a simmer.
- In a small jar or bowl, mix together the water and arrowroot powder or cornstarch until a slurry forms. Pour that into the pot and stir well. Cook until thickened considerably, about 3-4 minutes.
- When the tofu is done, turn the heat to low on your sauce pot and add the tofu to the pot. Gently stir in the tofu until completely coated. Prefer it crisper? Serve right away. Want to make it more like sticky tofu? Cook it down for a few minutes in the sauce (turn the heat to medium low and stir frequently). Toss with orange zest and remove from heat.
- Serve orange tofu and plenty of sauce over cooked jasmine rice and sprinkle green onions (and chili flakes) on top. Or add toasted sesame seeds. Enjoy!
- Refrigerate leftovers for up to 4 days in an airtight container.
Frequently Asked Questions
The absolute best tofu for this orange tofu recipe is super firm tofu. Look for the tofu that is packaged in vacuum sealed in plastic as opposed to the tofu that comes in a plastic tub filled with water. If you can only find water packed “firm” or “extra firm” tofu, you’ll want to drain the excess water and press the tofu block using a tofu press or 2 cutting boards or plates, paper towels, and a heavy weight for 20-30 minutes. Otherwise it may turn out soggy and won’t soak up any delicious sauce.
I mean, it is called orange tofu, but yes, you can use almost any other plant based protein in this recipe, with the note that they may need to be prepared somewhat differently. For example, if using store-bought or pre-made seitan chunks, you can just reheat them in a skillet and brown them a little, then they will be perfect to add into the sauce at the end of cooking just like I do the tofu. The same goes for any store-bought chicken alternative (like Gardein), but just prepare it according to package instructions and then add it to the orange sauce. If you’d like to use soy curls, I recommend rehydrating them in flavorful broth, squeezing the excess marinade off, and then dry frying in a skillet, adding a touch of oil only when they start to brown. I’m actually writing a book on soy curls, but in the meantime, learn more about how I use them in this list of soy curls recipes + tips and tricks.
I like to serve this tofu with cooked rice (I prefer jasmine rice) and top it with lots of chopped green onions and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes. Sometimes I also add toasted sesame seeds which are also delicious. This recipe goes well with most vegetables--my favorites include broccolini / baby broccoli or regular broccoli, baby bok choy, green beans, or stir fried mixed vegetables.
Pro Tips for Success
- The best tofu for this is super firm tofu that comes vacuum sealed (but still in the refrigerator section. I’ve also sometimes seen it labeled as High Protein tofu. That’s only because they’re pressing down a larger block of tofu so you are technically getting more tofu and less water, which does give it a higher protein content. This is ultra firm, does not require pressing, and is ready for most tofu dishes. I find it at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and other larger grocery stores in my area. If you cannot find it near you, I highly recommend investing in a good tofu press.
- It sounds complicated, but try to time it so that you begin your sauce when the tofu has between 5-8 minutes left to cook. That way your tofu is ready to go when your sauce is thickened and ready to accept the tofu (haha sounds silly when I write it!).
- Try to gently stir in your tofu so as not to break it. Crispy tofu is a lot less fragile but since I didn’t bread my tofu in this recipe, it can be a bit fragile.
- If you WOULD like to bread your tofu, check out my panko tofu or regular crispy tofu and add that to your vegan orange chicken.
- Don’t use too much orange zest or it can become bitter (I speak from experience).
More Recipes Like Orange Tofu
- Vegan Honey Garlic Tofu
- Vegan General Tso’s
- Sticky Tofu
- Vegan Pepper Steak
- Vegan Chop Suey
- Sweet and Sour Tofu
- Vegan Beef and Broccoli
- Vegan Chicken Teriyaki
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