There’s something about General Tso’s Chicken that’s so universally appealing, and frankly, addictive. It’s sweet, tangy, spicy, crispy-crunchy, and silky-lush, with big-big flavor.
But wait! How come no one in the Hunan province of The People’s Republic of China has ever heard of General Tso’s Chicken, much less eaten it? And who is General Tso and why are we eating his chicken?
The one thing culinary scholars seem to agree on concerning the history of this ostensibly Hunanese dish is that General Tso never tasted it. Worse, he wouldn’t have wanted his esteemed name attached to it. Because, well, it doesn’t taste like the authentic cuisine of Hunan. How’s that for irony?
Here’s what Chef Peng Chang-keui told noted Asian cookbook author, Fuchsia Dunlop: “General Tso’s chicken did not preexist in Hunanese cuisine,” he said, “but originally the flavors of the dish were typically Hunanese–heavy, sour, hot and salty.
Chef Peng Chang-keui brought the dish to his restaurant, Peng’s, in New York in 1973, at which time Hunanese food was unknown in the United States. Henry Kissinger loved it, other Asian chefs in New York copied it, and the rest is history.
General Tso’s Chicken: Crispy, Spicy, Sweet & Tart
There’s something about this dish that’s so universally appealing, and frankly, addictive. It’s sweet, tangy, spicy, crispy-crunchy, and silky-lush, with big-big flavor. The only thing that may keep you from making it twice a week is that the dish requires deep frying—a technique most of us use only occasionally–because of the potential mess, danger, cost, and calories.
But with a little practice, deep-frying is not a technique to dread or avoid. All four caveats are within your control.
I like to use my cast iron, flat-bottom wok for deep frying. It’s super heavy and stable on the stove, doesn’t require as much oil as a saucepan does, and doesn’t splatter oil all over me or the countertop. As for calories, properly deep-fried foods (350ºF-375ºF) absorb very little of the oil they are fried in.
4-6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 1 pound)
1 tablespoon Kikkoman soy sauce
1 tablespoon Shao Xing rice wine (not ‘cooking’ wine) or dry sherry
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon cooking oil
1 tablespoon cornstarch
¼ cup chicken stock
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon Kikkoman soy sauce
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 cup white rice flour
¼ cup tempura batter mix (try Koto brand, available at City Market in Northwest Portland)
3-4 cups cooking oil with high smoke point, for frying: safflower (510º), corn (450º), peanut (440º), or canola (435º)
2 tablespoons cooking oil (safflower, corn, peanut, or canola)
½-1 teaspoon crushed red chile (depending on how HOT you want it)
1 tablespoon peeled, minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon skinned, minced garlic
2 green onions, trimmed and thinly sliced
- To prepare the chicken, lay the thighs on a cutting board, skin side down. Butterfly each thigh by slicing it almost in half horizontally (knife parallel to the cutting board) and opening it out (like a butterfly). Make shallow crosswise cuts at ½-inch intervals into the meat of each thigh, without cutting all the way through. Now cut each thigh into 1½-inch long by ½-inch-wide strips.
- To marinate chicken, put it in a medium mixing bowl, add soy sauce, rice wine, and sugar, and toss gently to distribute. Stir in the cornstarch, and then stir in the oil. Cover and refrigerate until ready to proceed, as long as 24 hours.
- To prepare the sauce, in a small mixing bowl, whisk chicken stock, ketchup, soy sauce, vinegar, and potato flour. Cover and reserve.
- To dredge chicken, in a large mixing bowl, whisk rice flour and tempura batter mix. Toss the well-drained chicken pieces in the rice flour mixture to coat well. Just before frying, tap excess flour from each piece of chicken.
- To deep-fry chicken, set a heavy flat-bottomed wok or deep saucepan over high heat. Quickly add cooking oil to a depth of at least 3 inches. Heat oil to 350ºF-375ºF.
- Add the chicken, several pieces at a time (don’t overcrowd the wok), and fry until crisp and golden brown, about 2 minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove chicken from the hot oil to a paper-towel lined platter. Continue until all chicken is fried.
- Remove the wok from the heat, and CAREFULLY ladle the hot oil into a container. The oil may be used again if it hasn’t reached the smoke point.
- To complete the stir-fry, wipe the wok clean and set over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons cooking oil and chile flakes. Stir-fry quick and briefly until the fragrance of the chiles wafts up to your nose.
- Add ginger and garlic and stir-fry for a few seconds. Add the sauce and stir as it thickens.
- Add the deep-fried chicken and quickly toss to coat each piece with the sauce. Drizzle the sesame oil over the chicken, toss to distribute and turn out onto a serving platter.
- To garnish, top with green onions, and serve immediately.
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- Thai Red Curry Paste
- Thai Red Curry Soup
- Vietnamese Chicken Salad
- Vietnamese Crispy Crepes (Banh Xeo)
Cookin’ with Gas (inspiration from around the web)
- General Tso’s Chicken | Wikipedia
- The Best High-Quality Cooking Oils | eHow
- The Curious History of General Tso’s Chicken | Salon
- The Fabulous General Tso | Fuchsia Dunlop
- The Story Behind America’s Obsession with General Tso’s Chicken | NBC News
- The Strange Tale of General Tso’s Chicken | NPR
- What Is the History Behind General Tso’s Chicken? | Huffington Post
Copyright 2013-2019 Susan S. Bradley. All rights reserved.