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Bloomberg / Contributor
Trader Joe’s is known for its fanatics who are obsessed with their bevy of tasty products, many of which have garnered a cult following (we’re looking at you, Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups, Everything but the Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend, and beautiful, affordable flowers). Heck, even chefs are in love with TJ’s wares. But the fervor for these favorites doesn’t hold a candle to one particular item nestled in the freezer section: Mandarin Orange Chicken.
Why everyone loves Trader Joe’s Mandarin Orange Chicken
If you’ve tried this frozen dinner, you can attest: It’s stupidly good, and you’re not alone in thinking so. In fact, there are some pretty legit statistics to back up your–and the rest of the world’s–love for the takeout dupe, thanks to the Annual Trader Joe’s Customer Choice Awards.
“Mandarin Orange Chicken has been on the list as either the Favorite Frozen Product or the Favorite Entree, the favorite of whatever category in which it fits, every year since we’ve had the Customer Choice Awards,” Tara Miller, Trader Joe’s “director of words and phrases and clauses,” shared on the Inside Trader Joe’s podcast.
Mandarin Orange Chicken domination, unpacked
Mandarin Orange Chicken won big in the 2022 awards, claiming the title for the coveted Favorite Overall category (defeating Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups, Unexpected Cheddar, Everything but the Bagel Seasoning Blend, and Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese) and Favorite Entree (beating out Chicken Tikka Masala, Butter Chicken with Basmati Rice, Joe’s Diner Mac ‘n Cheese, and Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese).
That makes 13 consecutive years of customer choice awards wins, more than any other Trader Joe’s product has racked up. “I feel like maybe we should just give it a lifetime achievement award and open up space for something else,” Matt Sloan, Trader Joe’s “marketing product guy” said on Inside Trader Joe’s.
So, what makes this frozen spin on takeout so appealing? One Google reviewer sums it up perfectly: “It was actually better than most of the restaurant versions I’ve had. Mind was blown. I’m not sure how they do it, but the oven-baked chicken comes out as crispy as if [it] had just been fried.” –Velma L.
And to drive home the point: “[It] is one of my absolute favorite meals. I usually grab their riced cauliflower or just their frozen fried rice and it’s so easy for dinner, but so delicious!! I highly recommend this to everyone. It’s also such a great price, you really can’t beat it!” –Lauren T.
The best ways to prepare Trader Joe’s Mandarin Orange Chicken
Trader Joe’s recommends cooking the frozen feast in the oven (18-20 minutes at 400 degrees), warming the sauce in a skillet or wok, and tossing the cooked chicken in the sauce until a beautiful, caramelized miracle is achieved.
On the podcast, hosts Miller and Sloan join Trader Joe’s crewmember Alex in the kitchen to try a fresh way to cook Orange Mandarin Chicken: in the air fryer, with what sounds like delicious results.
“I’ve tried preparing Mandarin Orange Chicken a whole bunch of ways over the years. That was definitely the easiest, the quickest, and I’m going to say maybe the best,” Miller said of the air fryer version.
To make a batch in the air fryer, cook the chicken for 10 minutes at 400 degrees. Add the sauce to a pan, heat it up, and once it bubbles, add cooked chicken and toss to coat.
If you aren’t already one of the legions of Mandarin Orange Chicken fans, it might be time to add it to your Trader Joe’s grocery list.