Our Saucy Hack Takes Trader Joe's Orange Chicken To The Next Level

We're always looking for hacks, tricks, and tips that make prepared food better. While we love frozen meals for their convenience, they can sometimes miss the mark. Trader Joe's does a pretty good job of combining quality and flavor, but even its meals can use a little sprucing up. So we were intrigued when we heard that you could swap the sauce from the new Shrimp Boom Bah with one of our go-to favorites, the Mandarin Orange Chicken. The latter is pretty perfect on its own, but we're also not afraid of change if it happens to be better.

There are countless hacks to be found across the internet, but we cooked this one up all on our own. To pull it off, we picked up a box of the Shrimp Boom Bah and a bag of Mandarin Orange Chicken. Instead of following the directions on the package, we swapped the sauces, tossing the crispy chicken bits with the boom bah sauce and the breaded shrimp with the mandarin orange sauce. We were only going to be satisfied if both sauces worked for both proteins. After all, only using half of the package would be a complete waste of money! So, does the hack have merit?

Mandarin Orange Chicken is super popular

Trader Joe's Mandarin Orange Chicken is one of our favorite frozen meals. In fact, it's one of our favorite Trader Joe's items, period. This dish has captured the hearts and taste buds of countless customers because of the way it combines tender chicken with a zesty orange glaze. It's easy enough to prepare for a quick weeknight dinner, but you can also spruce it up to serve for a fancy dinner party.

The mandarin orange sauce comes in two separate frozen bags. Upon reheating, it looks pretty thin, but it turns out pretty sticky because of its sugar content. That means it works well to coat the chicken bits, glazing them so each bite has a perfect amount of sauce. There's usually some left over in the bottom of the dish, which tastes fantastic over rice or noodles. We love how the sweetness is balanced out with a tangy orange flavor. We detected a hint of spice when we tried it on its own — perhaps from the ginger? — but there was no noticeable heat once it coated the chicken.

But although we absolutely love this stuff, there's always little room for improvement. The chicken itself has a nice texture and we savor its sauce, but if you prefer things on the spicier side (and perhaps with less citrusy zing), this popular dish might feel a bit lacking — which is what made us think of this hack in the first place.

Shrimp Boom Bah sold out after its release

Trader Joe's released the Shrimp Boom Bah in April 2023. Like many new items, it sold out quickly and was unavailable for about a month. A Trader Joe's employee told us this is pretty typical with new items that gain fast popularity. The warehouse needs a little time to amp up production, so it's normal to see a gap of unavailability. They also analyze whether the ingredient is popular enough to be continued or whether it will go on the list of discontinued items.

This frozen package contains two components: a bag of breaded shrimp and a sauce packet. Unlike the Mandarin Orange Chicken, which comes with two packets of sauce, you'll only get one sauce packet with the Shrimp Boom Bah. We didn't mind once we tasted it, though. This sauce is thicker and richer than the tangy orange sauce, so we were perfectly fine with the smaller quantity. The sauce is bright orange with tiny red flecks of chili flakes, and it's not fully smooth. There are some small chunks of what appears to be garlic, but it doesn't taste chunky when it coats the breaded shrimp. The sauce is lightly spicy but not so spicy that you can't finish the batch.

We hacked the two dishes to make a super dish

We were so excited to try this new frozen meal, especially after Trader Joe's described the sauce as sweet, spicy, and "thrilling enough to make you shout, 'Rah! Rah! Rah!'" The only problem is that the shrimp themselves weren't as exciting as we had hoped. The breading is exceptionally thick, making the tiny shrimp inside feel almost nonexistent. We enjoyed them best as an appetizer or in lettuce wraps instead of on top of rice or noodles (the way we typically eat Mandarin Orange Chicken). Which got us thinking: What if we combined the two dishes to make a super dish?

For our taste test, we used the air fryer instructions for the shrimp and the chicken bits. We wanted everything to be as crispy as possible, and the air fryer creates the ideal texture without the excess greasiness of a deep fryer. Then, we heated both sauces according to the package directions. We tried each protein with each sauce, both as a dipping sauce and when tossed together.

How does the hack affect the nutrition information?

It's challenging to get accurate nutrition information for this hack because Trader Joe's doesn't list the sauce as a separate nutrition component. When the Mandarin Orange Chicken nutrition information changed in 2012, the Jaunting Journalist emailed Trader Joe's to ask why. The company wrote back that the sauce had previously not been included in the nutrition data. That changed the fat from 7 to 16 grams, and the calories from 190 to 320 calories per serving, so we can make some guesses about how the two components come together in that dish. However, we have no such information about the Shrimp Boom Bah, so it's impossible to speculate.

For comparison's sake, the Mandarin Orange Chicken comes in a 22-ounce (624-gram) package that contains five servings. Each 140-gram serving contains 320 calories, 16 grams of fat, 95 milligrams of cholesterol, 330 milligrams of sodium, 24 grams of carbohydrates, 6 grams of sugar, and 21 grams of protein.

The Shrimp Boom Bah comes in a 16-ounce (454-gram) package that contains four servings. Each 113-gram serving contains 370 calories, 30 grams of fat, 70 milligrams of cholesterol, 840 milligrams of sodium, 14 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of sugar, and 10 grams of protein.

What's the cost of this hack?

The Mandarin Orange Chicken is one of the best deals at Trader Joe's. The bag only sets you back $4.99, and it contains five one-cup servings (although we find four servings are more filling when feeding the family). The Shrimp Boom Bah isn't quite the same deal. It costs $8.99 and allegedly provides four servings, but that math only works if you're serving the shrimp as an appetizer. For dinner, we thought that portion was way too skimpy.

For this hack to work from a price perspective, you have to be willing to use all the proteins and sauce packets. If you're just hoping to spice up the Mandarin Orange Chicken with a new sauce, the dish would cost $13.98, and you'd waste the shrimp and orange sauce packets. Of course, in the grand scheme of things, $14 isn't really that high for four to five servings of food, so it may be worth it for you even if you don't plan on using the other components.

How to serve Trader Joe's orange chicken hack

We found the mandarin orange-spiced shrimp tasted best when served as a lettuce wrap or on top of a salad. The breading is a little too thick to serve with other carbohydrate-rich dishes (like rice or noodles), but it was well-balanced when paired with fresh, watery vegetables. It was also pretty good when combined with roasted broccoli (especially when the broccoli gets tossed in the orange sauce as well).

The chicken in boom bah sauce was fantastic in every application. Serve it the classic way over plain white rice seasoned with a little soy sauce, or boost the flavor by pairing it with Trader Joe's frozen vegetable fried rice. To make it look visually appealing, sprinkle some sesame seeds and chopped scallions on top before serving. We also thought the sauce was good with noodles, so don't be afraid to whip up a package of ramen noodles (saving the ramen seasoning packet for another use). For a lighter meal, lettuce wraps and salads are a good option here, too.

How did the chicken taste side-by-side with the two sauces?

First of all, air-frying the chicken made a huge difference in this dish. Even if we plan to prepare the packaged chicken with its original sauce, we will still make the chicken in the air fryer. It was ready after 10 minutes (about half of what it takes to make it in the oven), and the exterior became ultra-crispy. The inside stayed nice and tender, so the air fryer seemed to bring out the best in these frozen chicken bites.

Without the sauce, we found the chicken to be a little bland. It wasn't salty or seasoned, so it definitely needs to be coated in some kind of sauce to make it more exciting. As we know, the orange sauce goes really well with the chicken. It's thin, but it has enough sugar to glaze the chicken bits nicely. It delivers a nice soy sauce presence and a big orange flavor. There's nothing to hate about this combination.

The chicken in the boom bah sauce really did make us want to stand up and cheer. Where the orange sauce is light and tangy, the boom bah sauce is rich and creamy. It was thick enough to coat the chicken, clinging to the exterior and delivering a sweet-tangy-spicy vibe that we really enjoyed. It definitely took the chicken to the next level.

How did the shrimp taste side-by-side with the two sauces?

The shrimp by themselves tasted like a lot of breading. That's not necessarily a bad thing — it's well-seasoned, so the flavor could stand on its own without any sauce. But, if you were expecting a big shrimp bite, you'll find yourself disappointed by the minuscule shrimp inside.

The spicy boom bah sauce did a nice job of cutting through that breading, reducing the salinity by coating each bite with the creamy sauce. We found that the experience was much better when we tossed the shrimp with the sauce instead of using it as a dipping sauce, but the breading does get pretty soggy if we let it sit for a long time.

When we combined the shrimp with the orange sauce, we agreed with our assessment to coat instead of dip. The orange sauce is too thin to use as a dip, and you can barely taste it through the thick breading. The combination was okay when we tossed the two together, but it still wasn't quite right. Then, we tried reducing the orange sauce by half, simmering both packets for 10 minutes with a little grated ginger. This not only turned the sauce into a glaze that perfectly coated the thick breading, but it also concentrated the Asian flavors. Now, the sauce was bold enough to meet the bready shrimp and create a flavor bomb with every bite.

Verdict: Will this orange chicken hack make your mind go boom?

Although we love the Mandarin Orange Chicken just as it is, we were thrilled with the new flavor combination. The boom bah sauce is incredible, and it transformed a glazed chicken dish into a saucy eating experience. This really opened our eyes to the versatility of this frozen chicken. Could we toss it with buffalo sauce for boneless "wings?" How about pesto for Italian-style pasta? Since the chicken itself doesn't contain any mandarin orange flavors, it's a blank canvas for however you want to serve it.

Unfortunately, we can't say the same for the Shrimp Boom Bah. While it tasted great with the boom bah sauce and really good with the reduced mandarin orange sauce, the shrimp themselves are a little problematic. The breading has a strong flavor, and the shrimp inside tasted very, very salty. A single serving of the shrimp is 37% of the daily average recommended sodium intake, and while some of that sodium comes from the sauce, we could absolutely taste salt on the shrimp themselves.