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Panda Express

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    Score: 5.00. Votes: 1

    A popular staple of any Chinese chain is the fried rice so it better be good, and the version served at Panda Express most certainly is. Here's an easy hack when you need a stress-free, low-cost side for your entrées. But I do suggest that you cook the white rice several hours or even a day or two before you plan to make the finished dish. I found that the cooked rice called for in this recipe works best when it's cold. 

    As for a shortcut, bagged frozen peas and carrots will save you from the hassle of petite-dicing carrots since the carrots in those bags are the perfect size to produce an identical clone. And they're already cooked. 

    Now, how about some Honey Walnut Shrimp, or Beijing Beef to go with that rice? Find all my Panda Express copycat recipes here

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    It’s not always on the menu at the huge Chinese take-out chain, but when this spicy special offering makes a limited-time-only appearance, I’m there. When it’s not on the menu, no problem. I’ll just grab some black bean paste at my local Asian market, and while I’m there I’ll get some dry Thai chilies to help perk things up.

    This dish owes its great flavor to black bean paste, which is full of umami savoriness, just like soy sauce, so it enhances the taste of everything around it. You'll have a good laugh when you notice most recipes attempt to hack this dish with canned black beans. That's ridiculous, since black bean paste is a traditional Asian flavoring ingredient made with fermented soybeans, not with black beans like the kind you get in your burrito at Chipotle.

    Plan ahead to brine your chicken breast for a couple of hours so that it's moist and flavorful. This is an important step for a spot-on hack.

    Find more of my Panda Express copycat recipes here

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    Score: 5.00. Votes: 2

    I got lucky on the day I picked up a box of chow mein from this huge Chinese chain because they had just run out. This meant that I could watch from the sidelines as they whipped up a fresh batch in a giant wok over a high flame in the completely visible kitchen, and I was able to take plenty of mental notes. The whole dish took just a few minutes for the enthusiastic chef to prepare, and before I knew it I was out the door with a huge box of hot chow mein ready for hacking. 

    Just like the real dish, the beauty in this re-creation is its simplicity. There are only seven ingredients, and the prep work is low-impact. I used dry chow mein noodles (also called Chinese stir fry noodles) which are easy to find and cheap, and dark soy sauce to get that great caramel color. And if you don’t have a wok for this, a large skillet with sloped sides for tossing will work just fine.

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    Score: 4.71. Votes: 7

    Here's a dish from a rapidly growing Chinese food chain that should satisfy anyone who loves the famous marinated bourbon chicken found in food courts across America. The sauce is the whole thing here, and it's quick to make right on your own stove-top. Just fire up the barbecue or indoor grill for the chicken and whip up a little white rice to serve on the side. Panda Express - now 370 restaurants strong - is the fastest-growing Asian food chain in the world. You'll find these tasty little quick-service food outlets in supermarkets, casinos, sports arenas, college campuses, and malls across the country passing out free samples for the asking. 

    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

    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 on its way to a hungry you. My early attempts at hacking my favorite dish at the massive Chinese food chain all resulted in gummy, soggy beef pieces that were more like flat dumplings 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 coating and an even darker piece of meat beneath it. I anticipated a beef jerky experience, but when I took a bite, I found it to be delicious! It wasn’t tough and chewy as I expected it to be. And when this seemingly overcooked beef was stirred into the sauce, it stayed crispy until served, just like the real thing.

    Now, with the soggy beef problem solved, we’ve finally got a good hack for this famous sweet-and-spicy dish.

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    Score: 5.00. Votes: 2

    Three components must be mastered to properly 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. For the sauce, you just whisk the ingredients together in a bowl.

    To make your shrimp look like the shrimp at Panda Express, you don’t want them tightly curled up when they fry. You can keep them from curling by pinching the tail end of each shrimp after it has been floured and dipping it into the batter headfirst. When you pull it out, the weight of the batter will help unfurl the shrimp a bit, and if you then lower it slowly into the oil it will mostly stay that way.

    When all the shrimp have been fried, bake them in the oven so that they are crispy and warm, then toss the shrimp and the nuts in the sweet 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 (“No matter what, be sure you don’t…ah, never mind. Have a cookie.”), sometimes sarcastic (“Wow, you broke a cookie! Have you been working out?”), and sometimes paradoxical (“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 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 1900s—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 I found out that I don’t like those cookies. They're thin and tasteless and have an unnatural orange tint 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. These are pliable when warm and crispy when cool—so you’ll need to work fast when forming them. Because they’re so thin, it’s best to bake the cookies on a silicone pad or nonstick 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 three or four 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. 

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    Menu Description: “Honey Sesame Chicken Breast is made with thin, crispy strips of all-white meat chicken tossed with fresh-cut string beans, crisp yellow bell peppers in a sizzling hot wok with our new delicious honey sauce and topped off with sesame seeds.”

    The limited-time-only availability of this entree is unfortunate for those who claim it as their top choice at America’s biggest fast Chinese chain. But now, with this Top Secret Recipe, you can make your own version of honey sesame chicken breast anytime you want, and it won’t matter when the real one goes away.

    The success of this clone depends almost entirely on how good the sauce is. The sauce needs to be sweet, but when I used too much honey the honey flavor overpowered the dish, so it was clear that some of the sweetness would have to come from sugar. Eventually, I found the right balance for a good sauce hack: sweet, salty, and sour, with a light back-end hit of red pepper.

    For the batter, I tweaked the coating in my hack for Panda Express Honey Walnut Shrimp, increasing the yield of the batter, so you won’t run out.

    After your sauce is done and the chicken is finished, build the dish by tossing green beans, yellow bell peppers and crispy chicken in a wok or large sauté pan with the sauce, then spoon it over rice, and grab some chopsticks.

    Get the full recipe in "Top Secret Recipes Unleashed" exclusively on Amazon.com.

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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.

I'm Todd Wilbur,
Chronic Food Hacker

For 30 years I've been deconstructing America's most iconic brand-name foods to make the best original clone recipes for you to use at home. Welcome to my lab.

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