General Tso’s Chicken

My friend Peng has been bugging me to make General Tso’s chicken for several months now. He lives in California and is really into the Asian-Mexican fusion thing, so he’s fixated on the idea of a General Tso’s burrito with fried rice and kimchi. I don’t know how I feel about that, but I’m nothing if not accommodating, so here I am…making General Tso’s chicken. You’re welcome, Peng.

I don’t usually order General-anything from Chinese restaurants, but Dan loves the stuff. He’s come a long way in his Chinese food-eating habits, but he’ll still pick General Tso/Gao’s chicken over “real” Chinese food any day. Can’t really blame him, though. Breaded, fried chicken bits tossed with garlic and hot chilis in a sticky, sweet and savory sauce? There are worse things to eat.

Wikipedia tells me that while General Tso’s chicken is thought to have originated somewhere in Hunan Province, China, there is no historically recorded recipe for it in Hunan, and General Tso’s own living descendants, when interviewed, had never heard of the dish. I was born in Hunan, and have eaten all manner of heavily spiced/sauced fried meats there, but I’ve never seen anything resembling the sticky concoction we know as General Tso’s chicken. Hunan cuisine tends to be very spicy and salty, but rarely sweet. A more likely explanation is that the dish was created by immigrant Chinese chefs trying to cater to the tastes of their American customers.

Whatever the origin, it seems like everyone I know loves General Tso’s chicken, Chinese people included. There’s something about the crispy stickiness of the chicken that’s super addictive, and the heat from the dried chilies creates a tongue tingling sensation that leaves you wanting more. Even someone like me, who (1) can’t handle spicy food and (2) is a Chinese food snob, can’t get enough of the stuff. Hey, I said I won’t order General Tso’s chicken, but if Dan gets it…well…then it’s up for grabs, baby.

So, it turns out that General Tso’s chicken isn’t all that hard to make. Tedious, sure, with a lot of steps — but, not difficult. Just gotta cut up some chicken, marinate it, bread it, fry it, and saute it with a thick, homemade spicy/sweet sauce. If you discount the amount of time it took me to photo-document the cooking process, this dish really only took about 45 min to an hour to make. (Disclaimer: If you’re working with a narrow-bottomed wok, or a smaller pan, you won’t be able to fry as many pieces in one go, so your cooking process will take longer. I would estimate that this dish should take the average person about an hour to 1.5hrs to make, depending on how much chicken you’re using)

I’m saving a small portion of this chicken to make that General Tso’s burrito I mentioned earlier, but Dan and I made quick work of rest of the dish. The chicken wasn’t as crispy as the restaurant version (they double-fry), but served with some steamed rice it was just so good that we couldn’t stop eating it, even though there was enough food for several meals. Definitely a recipe I am adding permanently to my Asian food cooking repertoire.

General Tso’s Chicken (Adapted from Appetite for China’s recipe)

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced into 1-inch cubes
– 1 1/2 cups cornstarch
– 1/4 cup salt
** Dan and I love our food salty, but some people might find 1/4 cup to be too much. If you’re not as salt-loving as us, I would suggest starting low (1 or 2 tsp), dipping/frying a couple pieces of chicken with that, tasting, and modifying accordingly. If it’s too salty, add more cornstarch; if it’s not salty enough, add more salt in small increments.
– 3 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
– 3 cups vegetable oil for frying, plus 1 tablespoon for stir-frying
– 5 dried red chilis, roughly chopped
– 2 tsp minced garlic
– Scallions, green parts thinly sliced, for garnish

– 1 tablespoons soy sauce
– 1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
– 2 egg whites

– 1/4 cup chicken stock or broth
– 1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
– 1 tablespoon soy sauce
– 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
– 1 teaspoon hoisin sauce
– 1 teaspoon chili paste (I didn’t have this, so I substituted 2 tsp cayenne pepper and red pepper flakes)
– 1 teaspoons sesame oil
– 1 tablespoon sugar
– 1 teaspoon cornstarch

(1) In a large bowl, combine the soy sauce, rice wine, and egg whites. Coat the chopped chicken in the marinade mixture and let sit for 10 minutes.
(2) In a small bowl, combine the chicken stock, tomato paste, sugar, soy sauce, rice vinegar, hoisin sauce, chili paste, sesame oil, sugar, and the 1 teaspoon of cornstarch. Stir until well combined. Set aside.
(3) In a large bowl or deep plate, mix the cornstarch with salt and pepper. Add the marinated chicken and toss to coat. Shake off any excess before frying.
(4) In a large wok or thick-bottom pan/skillet, heat vegetable oil on high until it begins to bubble and sizzle/pop. Turn heat down to medium, and start frying your chicken.
(5) Working in 4 or 5 batches, add the first batch of chicken cubes (about 6 cubes per batch) and fry until golden brown on the outside and cooked through, about 3-5 minutes. Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Repeat until all your chicken is cooked.
(6) Turn stove off, drain the oil into a heatproof container and save for discarding. Leave about 2 tbsp oil in your wok.
(7) Reheat the wok or pan/skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chopped dried chilis and garlic, and stir-fry until just fragrant, about 20 seconds.
(8) Pour in the sauce and stir until it begins to simmer and thicken, about 1 to 2 minutes.
(9) Add fried chicken to the wok/pan and stir well to coat with sauce. Turn off stove, and transfer chicken to a serving dish.
(10) Garnish with chopped scallions. Serve with white rice and vegetables.

For other great recipe ideas, click here.


    • justputzing says

      Thank you! You should definitely give this recipe a try. Why spend money/time at a restaurant when you can make a perfectly good replica at home, right?

  1. says

    This looks to die for….
    I love Chinese food but I try to make them at home…..
    This general tsos looks so perfect…
    I am now craving this, too bad I don’t have chicken in my freezer..
    Glad i found your blog, its wonderful :-)

  2. says

    Aaack! I didn’t have your new URL in my RSS feed and somehow I missed a month of posts. I figured you were really busy studying legal documents or something.

    This looks awesome. And it’s a recipe that has always seemed totally daunting to me (deep-frying *and* making a complicated sauce?) but if you say it can be done in 45 minutes, I totally need to try it out.

    • justputzing says

      Yeah, it really wasn’t too bad at all. The longest part was frying the chicken in batches in my tiny skillet. If you’ve got a fryer though…

  3. Cara says

    We made this dish tonight, and it was really great! The only issue we found with it, though, is the fried chicken pieces were much too salty. We measured out the 1/4 cup salt to mix in with the 1 1/2 cups corn starch, thinking that seemed excessive. The dish was almost unbearably salty. Any thoughts on this?

    • justputzing says

      We are big salt-fans in our house, so we tend to go a little nuts with that particular seasoning. I should have had a disclaimer about that, sorry! The original recipe only called for about 1/2 tsp salt, which seemed way too low for me. I would suggest adding 1 or 2 tsp to start, dipping/frying a couple pieces of the chicken with that and seeing how the salt level is for you, then adjusting from there. If it’s still too salt, add more cornstarch; if it’s not salty enough, add more salt in small increments. Good luck!

    • justputzing says

      Hi! When I made it, there was enough for dinner with 2 people, plus leftovers for dinner the next night. I imagine it could feed at least 3-4 if you were serving it at a party with other dishes.

  4. Amy Bell says

    WHEW! I found this recipe to be way too spicy. I like my General’s chicken more on the sweet side, too much spice in this one. I loved the chicken before adding the sauce though! So will be using that portion to fry chicken from now on!

    • justputzing says

      Ah yes, this recipe is definitely a little spicy. My mouth was burning the whole time, but it was definitely one of those “man, this hurts so good” kind of moments :) Maybe try the recipe without so many chilis next time?

      • Amy Bell says

        I didn’t even attempt the chili’s. I think it was the cayenne pepper and red pepper flakes. (I used your substitute because I didn’t have chili paste either.) I think next time I’ll just add 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper and leave that as the only heat. I made another batch of sauce without the C.P. and pepper flakes and it wasn’t bad, but it was missing something. I’m going to try to adapt yours into a sweet version vs heat.

  5. says

    So I just made the sauce part of this recipe (I was already cooking the chicken when I decided to look this up) and I LOVE it!! I only ever get General Tso’s (and sometimes Sesame) chicken when I order take-out but this will make me rethink ordering out again. I didn’t have tomato paste or chilli paste so I used ketchup and red pepper flakes. So good! Thanks for posting!

  6. Valerie says

    Wow, this was wonderful, even better than in the restaurant. My husband and kids loved it. The only problem was, no leftovers. Thanks so much for sharing.

  7. Payson Adams says

    Wow! So I’ve used this recipe twice and wow! The best GTC I’ve ever had. I work in Chinatown in Boston so I know what I’m talking about. We are serving this at our Christmas party as one of our finger foods with toothpicks. We added a few drops of red food coloring to the sauce. The contrast with the green scallions makes for a perfect Christmas snack!

    • justputzing says

      That’s awesome! Using these as a party app is genius :) I’ll have to give the food coloring a try too. Hope your Christmas guests like the recipe too!

  8. deb threefeathers says

    omg, you like and admit to eating salt that’s beyond awesome! it pinches my style being a closet salt eater around some of my friends

    when we go out to eat chinese, this is what we always race to the buffet line for first. always

    i will endeavor to make this over the weekend, except for the rice wine and chile paste, i usually have everything else on hand, but we’re heat weenies so will probably just use the cayenne and pepper flakes

    thanks for the gorgeous pics and for sharing this fave of ours recipe

    • justputzing says

      Yes, my sodium intake is probably crazy bad but I don’t care! Salt makes everything more delicious. FYI, you should be able to find rice wine and chile paste in the ethnic food aisle at your local grocery store.

      Thanks for reading!

  9. Alice Crosby says

    The comments about this recipe make it look worth trying. One of the main reasons I like General Tso’s, though, is that it traditionally uses chicken THIGHS, not breasts. I find chicken white meat to be dry – that’s why it is always presented in some kind of sauce. I will try the recipe, but I’ll be using thigh meat.

  10. Sue Hartman says

    This looks great and sounds like something I can manage. I think I’ll go a bit sweeter and leave out the chilis as well. :-)

    • justputzing says

      Great idea! You should definitely tweak the recipe to suit your tastes :) Let me know how it turns out for me!

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