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Panda Express

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    Score: 4.71. Votes: 7

    This dish from the rapidly growing Chinese food chain satisfies anyone who loves the famous marinated bourbon chicken found in food courts across America. The sauce is the secret, and it's quick to make right on your own stovetop. Fire up the barbecue or indoor grill for the chicken and cook up a little white rice to serve on the side. Panda Express—now over 700 restaurants strong—is the fastest-growing Asian food chain in the world. 

    Update: Recently, Panda Express took this item off their menu and replaced it with Grilled Teriyaki Chicken. The only way to enjoy this now Dead Food is to clone it.

    Source: Even More Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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    Score: 4.44. Votes: 9

    This delicious crispy chicken in a citrusy sweet-and-sour chicken is the most popular dish at the huge Chinese take-out chain. Panda Express cooks all of its food in woks. If you don't have one of those, you can use a heavy skillet or a large saute pan.

    Source: Even More Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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    Score: 5.00. Votes: 1

    Andrew J. C. Cherng lived in China, Taiwan, and Japan before he came to the United States to study mathematics at Baker University. After graduation in 1973, Andrew used his extensive education and business savvy to open an Asian restaurant in Pasadena with his father; Master Chef Ming Tsai Cherng. Southern Californians went crazy for Andrew's Panda Inn and its cutting-edge menu that blended the styles of Szechwan and Mandarin cooking.

    Today the chain—now called Panda Express—includes more than 320 units in thirty-two states and is famous for the addictive fried chicken dish with the tangy orange sauce. We can re-create this dish using a baking technique to avoid the fat that's unavoidable when frying.

    Nutrition Facts
    Serving size–1 sliced chicken breast
    Total servings–4
    Calories per serving–400 (Original–580)
    Fat per serving–12g (Original–30g)

    Source: Low-Fat Top Secret Recipes by Todd Wilbur.

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    Score: 5.00. Votes: 1

    The problem with adding sauce to fried food is that the wet sauce makes the crunchy fried food not so crunchy. Panda Express manages to keep the crispy beef in Beijing Beef crispy even though it may be sitting for over 20 minutes in the sauce until it’s served to a hungry you. My early attempts at hacking my favorite dish at the massive Chinese food chain all resulted in gummy, soggy beef that was more like a flat dumpling than the delicious crunchy strips of joy they were meant to be. Then, finally, on one batch, I decided to fry the coated beef for much longer than I intuitively felt it should be cooked, resulting in dark browning on the cornstarch, and an even darker piece of meat beneath it. I predicted a beef jerky experience, but when I took a bite, I found it to be perfect! The meat was not tough and chewy as I expected. And when this seemingly overcooked beef was stirred into the sauce, it stayed crispy until served, just like the real thing.

    Now, with the mystery of the crispy beef solved, we’ve finally got a great hack for this famous sweet and spicy dish.

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    Three components must be mastered to hack this top menu pick at the country’s largest fast Chinese chain: candied nuts, honey sauce, and perfectly battered shrimp. For the candied walnuts, I came up with a technique using the oven, which means there’s no candy thermometer required and it’s a no-brainer. The shrimp at Panda Express is not tightly curled up, and you can do the same thing at home when you fry yours. Pinch the tail of each shrimp after it has been floured and dip it into the batter until well-coated. The weight of the batter will help to unfurl the shrimp, and if you lower each one slowly into the batter it will mostly stay that way. When all of the shrimp has fried, you bake them in the oven so that they are crispy and warm, then toss the shrimp and the nuts in the delicious honey sauce and serve.

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    I like making fortune cookies because it means I get to write fortunes. My fortunes are sometimes ridiculous (“You will one day fight an evil robot and win.”), sometimes sarcastic (“Wow, you broke a cookie! Have you been working out?”), and sometimes paradoxical (“All of these cookies are filled with lies.”). But’s let’s face it, the fortune isn't the best part. What matters most is that the cookie tastes really good.

    Contrary to popular belief, fortune cookies are not from China. They don’t even serve them in China. Fortune cookies are an American invention, created either in San Francisco or Los Angeles in the early 1900’s—the exact origin is in dispute.  Originally I set out to clone the best-selling fortune cookie in the U.S., called Golden Bowl, made by Wonton Foods. But those cookies suck. They're thin and tasteless and have an unnatural orange tint added to them. Instead, I chose to hack the thicker, tastier, golden brown fortune cookies you get at the largest Chinese take-out chain.

    Fortune cookies start their life looking like pancake batter. The batter is formed into 3-inch circles, that when baked, become thin cookies that are pliable when warm and crispy when cool—so you’ll need to work fast when forming them. Because they are so thin, it’s best to bake the cookies on a silicone pad or non-stick Release foil. You can also use parchment paper, but it tends to ripple from the moisture of the batter, and that ripple shows up on the surface of the cookies.

    I suggest baking just 3 or 4 of the cookies at a time so that they'll all be warm and pliable while you add the fortunes and shape them. And if you're very fortunate, you can find a helpful someone to assist you with that part so you'll be able to make more cookies faster. 

    If you're in the mood for more Panda Express, check out my other copycat recipes here.

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