The Best Way To Make Trader Joe's Mandarin Orange Chicken Might Surprise You

Few frozen food aisles have loyal fans, as the offerings are often bland or calorie-restrictive diet options. But that is not the case when you walk into a Trader Joe's. Their frozen food selection is full of ingredients from around the world, and it keeps people coming back for more. One of their most popular offerings is Mandarin Orange Chicken, making an appearance on Best Of Trader Joe's frozen foods lists at Delish and Buzzfeed. A third of Mashed users voted it as the number one Trader Joe's frozen entree.

The frozen dish boasts a vibrant orange sauce with heavy notes of ginger and garlic, and crispy battered chicken that folks can't get enough of. We especially love to pair it with a side of steamed rice and some freshly chopped green onions. According to Trader Joe's, they recommend preparing the chicken in a 400º Fahrenheit oven for optimal results. And we won't lie; this method does produce tasty chicken, but there's actually a way that creates even crispier tender chicken. Plus, it can even significantly cut down cooking time. What's not to love about that?

Bring out the air fryer

Obviously, air fryers are great for a multitude of tasks, but especially when it comes to frozen foods you want to keep crispy. Microwaving battered food tends to leave it soggy, but ovens can take what feels like an eternity to heat up. That's why the air fryer is the perfect heating method when it comes to TJ's Mandarin Orange Chicken. We think Air Fryer World's instructions are fool-proof — place still-frozen orange chicken in a single layer in your air fryer basket, and don't add any oil. Be sure to keep the sauce to the side, as you'll add it to the chicken once it's fully heated, otherwise, you'll end up with soggy, sad chicken.

Air fry at 400º F for just 8 minutes, then give the basket a shake or use tongs to turn the chicken over. This allows the chicken to get a nice, all-over crisp coating. Then return the basket to the fryer for 2–4 minutes to get everything extra crispy. Finally, microwave the sauce until it's hot (about 1 minute), transfer the chicken to a medium-sized bowl, add sauce, and toss to coat. But to take this orange chicken up another notch, skip this sauce coating step, and read on for getting even crispier results. 

Alternative hacks for the Trader Joe's mandarin orange chicken if you don't have an air fryer

If you don't have an air fryer, then sure, you may not be getting the best possible mandarin orange chicken, but there are still ways to level up your mandarin chicken game. Instead of focusing on how to heat up the chicken, turn your attention to the sauce and give it a little extra love. 

"While it's perfectly acceptable to microwave the sauce, mix it with the baked chicken and get on with your life, there's an extra step you can take that takes this chicken over the top, and makes it extra delicious," explains Trader Joe's.

Here's the step: while you're in the last few minutes of baking the chicken according to the instructions on the package, fire up the stove. Pour the defrosted sauce into a piping hot wok or non-stick pan. When the sauce is sizzling, add the cooked chicken and stir. The sauce will caramelize perfectly on the chicken. By air frying or caramelizing your chicken, you'll be able to take your Trader Joe's Mandarin Orange Chicken from being really good for frozen food to just really good.