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When you think of food in New Orleans or South Louisiana, most people think of things like the seafood, beignets, King Cake, Zatarain’s, Tony Chachere’s, gumbo or snoballs. I once saw someone on television make a modified beignet with granulated sugar and felt my hackles rise. They are made with powdered sugar. It’s not a true New Orleans beignet unless you need skill to eat it without being covered in white powder. That is how you know the natives from the tourists. But alas, some things you have to live here to know.

But the one thing people from Louisiana love and don’t even know is uniquely ours is our Chinese food, specifically, Mandarin Chicken. If you aren’t from here, you don’t know what I’m talking about. If you are from here, you are screaming, “Yes!” You see, if you do a search online for Mandarin Chicken you will find a chicken dish made with oranges. That is not what we have here. Mandarin Chicken in New Orleans is made with a creamy brown sauce, different in every restaurant, but almost always delicious. Sometimes it is garnished with almonds or peanuts. Sometimes it is a little thicker or thinner, red tint or darker brown. But wherever you go, and whichever place serves your favorite, it is a staple in every local Chinese restaurant.

I was introduced to this fantastic dish in college. It was my first time eating Chinese food, so I was nervous and someone recommended I try Mandarin Chicken. I am a picky eater, but I loved it right away. I remember going to the grocery store and looking for the sauce, with no success. I looked it up online and couldn’t find it. Years passed and I forgot my search. Then this year I began teaching myself to cook and thought to look it up again. Surely, there must be some information somewhere online on how to make this sauce. What I found was a lot of former Louisiana residents, now living in far away states, all looking for the same thing. Turns out if you go to a Chinese restaurant anywhere else in the world and ask for this dish, they look at you like you are crazy. I found a recipe on yahoo answers that seemed close, but came out more like the thinner gravy used on vegetable dishes and Beef and Broccoli. I tried modifying it with no luck. Then I found the answer I had long been searching for. The reason no one could find this dish is because it goes by other names. We aren’t crazy. It does exist.

Another incarnation is an American Cantonese inspired dish in Michigan called Warr-Shu-Gai, or Almond Boneless Chicken. From what I have found, people in that area are met with the same problem when they venture out, unable to find this dish elsewhere. I found an interesting article, “The Mystery of Almond Boneless Chicken” by Tina Caputo, on the history of this Detroit favorite. (See link at bottom of page.)

In searching through other Chinese food sites I found a couple other chicken dishes that appear to be similar in structure to the ones above. General Tso’s Chicken and Cashew Chicken look like they could be prepared or modified to taste similar or  achieve similar effects. Like Warr-Shu-Gai, General Tso’s chicken is based on a sauce made of soy, ginger, and chicken broth, among other things. It also has sugar, which I found in a Panda Express Mandarin Sauce copycat recipe. I saw an article on Cashew Chicken that says it was fried in at least one incarnation. The use of the cashews, similar to the use of peanuts or almonds in other Mandarin Chicken dishes leads me to believe these two could be related in some forms. Of course not ever restaurant is the same, so if you order cashew chicken thinking to get Mandarin Chicken, you could be very disappointed.

What has been your experience with this dish?

Do you know of any other names it goes by?

Which of the recipes below do you think most capturs the taste of New Orleans Mandarin Chicken sauce?

Do you know of any other recipes/modifications that work?

My discoveries.

I still have to try all these sauces to decide which one I like best, but that is a matter of personal preference, so in the mean time, I put this out there for the world so all of you may learn and experiment with your own Chinese food at home. Have fun.

Warr-Shu-Gai/Almond Boneless Chicken

Panda Express Copycat Recipe

2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon cornstarch

or – another recipe I found

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce[3]
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice[4]
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 2 teaspoons minced ginger
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch[5]

General Tso’s Chicken Sauce Recipe

Cashew Chicken Sauce Recipe

Beef and Broccoli/Vegetable Brown Gravy Recipe

(I found this recipe first, thinking it was the elusive Mandarin Chicken Sauce and finding a perfectly good sauce for my other Chinese food vegetable dishes.)

2 tbsp. cornstarch
1 1/4 c. water
1/3 c. soy sauce
1/4 c. Karo syrup (light or dark)

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–A.D. McLain



Baking Adventure

I finally have a hobby.

I know. I know. I’m a writer. For many people, that would be their hobby, since I don’t really get paid enough to call it my career, (yet). But writing is my passion.  I read, and I enjoy it when I have the time, but that feels a lot like writing to me. Gaming has a lot of creative thought and storytelling, so that also fell into the writing category for me.

I’m a full time employee, writer and mother of two children under five. “Free time” is a foreign word to me. So, I’ve never really understood the term “hobby.”

But now I do. I finally found the joys of baking. I tried to bake a few times in the past. I’ve made my share of box brownies and cakes. And I tried baking bread for over two years only to have it always come out doughy. Then I learned my mistake. Too much flour. I was dumbly, blindly following my recipes without knowing what the dough was supposed to look and feel like. So I over did it on the flour (by a lot).

Learning that small thing has opened up a whole new world of cooking for me. I’ve baked cookies from scratch, made my own pasta and alfredo sauce. I make my own pizza crust now, and I like it better than most of the ones I can buy, with the possible exception of Pizza Hut. I just love their crunchy, buttery crust. I still have more recipes I want to try, like lasagna, ravioli, cake, brownies and pecan pie. I have some more sauces I am trying to learn, and I am trying to duplicate the brown sauce Chinese restaurants in South Louisiana use for their Mandarin chicken. It is delicious and apparently not made anywhere else on the country. My first attempt duplicated the thinner gravy they use on beef and broccoli. So, I am trying it again with some modifications to see if I can make the sauce I so desire.

Anyway, I have found, after years of microwave obedience, I have broken into full on baking and cooking, and I love it. With a new recipe each week, I am excited to plan out our meals for once.

I am documenting recipes I want to try and have already mastered on my Pinterest page.

So come join me on my journey into my new hobby.


Tried Mandarin Chicken again, but mine keeps coming out like the gravy from beef and broccoli.

I was using recipe here.

2 tbsp. cornstarch
1 1/4 c. water
1/3 c. soy sauce
1/4 c. Karo syrup (light or dark)
1/4 tsp. red pepper

Found site that says our mandarin chicken is actually based off a Cantonese dish. warr-shu-gai.

Have to try this next time.


A.D. McLain

Twitter: wotpast

I just self-published my first book. In many ways, it feels more rewarding than publishing the traditional route. I published two books through publishers. That was an exercise in disappointment. I had little to no help with marketing. You can’t sell a book if no one knows it exists. I’ve been writing since I was 12 years old. I always thought writing the books was the hard part. Once I found a publisher to take a chance on me, I would have it made. Ah, the naiveté of youth.

So I decided to forgo that with this book and do it myself. I’m doing all of the work anyway. Why not get a bigger chunk of the rewards? Having complete control over when and how it is published, what the cover looks like, how much it costs, having the freedom to run promotions or give out free copies at my discretion, is exhilarating and frightening. With no one to approve or finalize my work, it’s all on me. I am the final say. If there are problems, I have no one to blame but myself. Of course, there is still the matter of that darn marketing beast. How do you find readers in a world of virtual bookshelves? Will I ever walk into a bookstore and see my book on the shelves? It is a little disappointing to think I may not.

I still remember (back before the internet was used for everything short of breathing) printing out hard copies of my books, standing in long lines at the post office to send certified letters to publishers and then waiting months for the rejection letters to start coming in. It sucked, but that was what being a writer and trying to get published used to be. That was what you expected. It may take ten years or more, but keep trying and eventually you will get your break. If I had known then what I know now, I’d have spent a whole lot more time just writing. Instead of writing one book and waiting to publish it, I would have immediately started the next and built up my body of work. Of course, my life experiences have shaped who I am and have shaped my writing. So I am content with my past mistakes and stumbles. I know now, and that is what matters. Now I am only limited by myself and my own ideas.

So I will keep writing. I will not fall into the same trap of write and wait. I may not get publicity or become  well-known on this book or the next. but, like finding that first publisher, it will happen eventually. And when it does, I don’t want to look back and wish I had written more. I put out “Suriax” six months after I started it. Now let’s see if I can do even better with the next one. I’ve got a lot of stories to tell. Time to get them out there.

-A.D. McLain/Amanda Young