Photo: Kevin Pang. Graphic: Natalie Peeples

Welcome to MmmPop, our exploration of unexpected ways to use soda pop in recipes.

I’ll just say it: this one sounded friggin’ gross. I blanched when I read an idea for slow-cooking chicken in orange soda and soy sauce. But as a citizen of this great nation, one inspired to invent flavors called Cool Ranch and Flamin’ Hot, I took this as a challenge to make a recipe work—and, well, color me surprised and delighted by the result.

The first batch tasted too two-dimensional. The soy sauce was overpowering, and the soda yielded a flavor tasting like the artificial orange from a chocolate orange. Eventually I realized attempting to make this taste like orange is a losing proposition—it’s best to approach the sweetness more like teriyaki, bending ever so slightly toward a notion of orange candy. Viewing this from an Asian prism, garlic and ginger proved necessary, and a spoonful of honey made it taste more naturally (as opposed to artificially) sweet. In the end, the sweet and savory flavor in a tender protein like chicken thighs reminded me of free sample “bourbon chicken” at mall food courts. And do you ever turn down free samples of bourbon chicken at mall food courts? Exactly.

Orange soda chicken, à la mall food court

1 lb. boneless skinless chicken thighs

Marinade
12 oz. orange soda
2 oz. soy sauce
1 clove minced garlic
1 tsp. minced ginger

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Finishing sauce
12 oz. orange soda
2 oz. soy sauce
1 clove minced garlic
1 tsp. minced ginger
1 Tbsp. honey
Black pepper

1 tsp. corn starch + 1 tsp. room temperature water
Sesame seeds
Sriracha

In a bowl or zip-up plastic bag, marinate chicken thighs in orange soda, soy sauce, garlic, and ginger overnight.

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Ideally, grill the chicken thighs over fire until charred on both sides. If that’s not an option, fire up a skillet and sear in vegetable oil over medium-high heat, flipping every few minutes (the sugar in the marinade will make the chicken easy to burn). Remove and place on plate when chicken is caramelized and cooked through.

Now, take a sauce pan and splash in a little oil. Fry minced garlic and ginger for about a minute, until fragrant. Then add the orange soda, soy sauce, honey, and black pepper and bring to boil. Lower heat to medium-low. Take a small bowl and combine corn starch and room-temperature water. Add this into the finishing sauce and whisk until it gets thickish, but not gloopy.

At this point, I like slicing the chicken thighs into strips and adding them to the sauce pan, until the chicken gets coated entirely with the sauce. Remove chicken onto serving plate, sprinkle with sesame seeds, squirt liberally with Sriracha, and stick a bunch of toothpicks. Step out onto your sidewalk and offer this to passersby, because you’re a swell person.

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