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.
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