General Tso’s Chicken

General TsoMy daughter Zoe came home for the holidays from the east coast and she said General Tso’s chicken is one of the most popular dishes in any Chinese restaurant.  I always loved going to Hunan restaurants when I lived in New York.  There don’t seem to be many on the West Coast.  Anyway, I decided to try to make her some.  Note to self – it’s easier to order it from a restaurant, but it does work.

General Tso’s chicken (sometimes Governor Tso’s chicken, General Gau’s chicken, General Tao’s chicken, General Tsao’s chicken, General Tang’s chicken or simply General’s Chicken) is a sweet, slightly spicy, deep-fried chicken dish that is popularly served in North American Chinese restaurants. The dish was unknown in China before it was introduced by chefs returning from the United States. The dish is named after General Tso Tsung-tang, or Zuo Zongtang, a Qing dynasty general and statesman, although the connection is tenuous. He is said to have enjoyed it, and perhaps helped create a dish, but there are no recorded recipes.

The dish is reported to have been introduced to New York City in the early 1970s as an example of Hunan cooking, though it is not typical of Hunanese cuisine, which is traditionally very spicy and rarely sweet.

New York claim

Peng’s Restaurant on East 44th Street in New York City claims that it was the first restaurant in the city to serve General Tso’s chicken.

New York’s Shun Lee Palaces, East (155 E. 55th St.) and West (43 W. 65th St.) also says that it was the first restaurant to serve General Tso’s chicken and that it was invented by a Chinese immigrant chef named T. T. Wang in 1972. Michael Tong, owner of New York’s Shun Lee Palaces, says, “We opened the first Hunanese restaurant in the whole country, and the four dishes we offered you will see on the menu of practically every Hunanese restaurant in America today. They all copied from us.”

I vote for Shun Lee Palace since I used to go there all the time…

General Tso’s Chicken

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs, sliced into 1-inch cubes
1 1/2 cups cornstarch
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 cups peanut or vegetable oil for frying, plus 1 Tbs for stir-frying
8 dried whole red chilis, or substitute 1/4 tsp dried red chili flakes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp white sesame seeds, for garnish
Scallions, green parts thinly sliced, for garnish

Marinade:
1 Tbs soy sauce
1 Tbs Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
2 egg whites

Sauce:
1/4 cup chicken stock, or substitute water
1 1/2 Tbs tomato paste
1 Tbs soy sauce
1 Tbs rice vinegar
1 tsp hoisin sauce
1 tsp chili paste
1 tsp sesame oil
1 Tbs sugar
1 tsp cornstarch

Prepare the marinade: In a large bowl, combine the soy sauce, rice wine, and egg whites. Coat the chicken to the marinade mixture and let sit for 10 minutes.

Prepare the sauce: 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 the sugar and cornstarch are dissolved. Set the sauce aside.

In a large bowl or deep plate, toss the 1 1/2 cups cornstarch with the salt and pepper. Coat the marinated chicken in the cornstarch and shake off any excess before frying.

Heat the 3 cups of peanut or vegetable oil in your wok until it registers 350°F on an instant-read oil thermometer. Working in 2 or 3 batches, add the first batch of chicken cubes and fry until golden brown on the outside and cooked through, about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Repeat with the rest of the chicken.

Drain the oil into a heatproof container and save for discarding. Wipe the wok with a paper towel to remove any brown bits, but don’t wash.

Reheat the wok or skillet over medium-high heat. Add another 1 tablespoon of oil and swirl to coat the base and sides. Add the dried chilis and garlic to the wok and stir-fry until just fragrant, about 20 seconds. Pour in the sauce mixture and stir until thickened, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Return the chicken to the wok and stir well to coat with sauce. Transfer the chicken to a serving dish. Garnish with white sesame seeds and scallions. Serve with white rice and vegetables.

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