This General Tso’s Chicken recipe (左宗棠鸡) is the top-selling Chinese food in our restaurant.
Our team has done numerous experiments during the development phase and fine-tuned them to become the most popular item in the last three years.
We decided to rewrite the recipe and post it on this blog to let all our readers across the world replicate this proven General Tso’s Chicken recipe at your comfy home.
We understand that General Tso’s Chicken does not need an introduction to our American readers. Still, to my surprise, there are hardly any Chinese restaurants that serve this mouth-watering American Chinese cuisine in Hong Kong and Malaysia.
My goal is to make sure you can replicate my recipe, and hence I will provide as much detail as possible with the video presentation to show this homemade General Tso’s chicken recipe. Once you tried this recipe, you are most likely not to order from take-out anymore!
Shoot me a question in the comment section below whenever you have doubts. By doing so, you are helping me to get my messages across in the most precise means, as I will keep updating the content of this article.
Let’s dive straight into the details.
Who is General Tso? (the myths and lore)
General Tso is called Zuo Zongtang (左宗棠) in Chinese. Tso is a famous general during the Qing Dynasty (清朝).
He is a native of the Hunan province who joined the Qing military and eventually become the Provincial Governor of Zhejiang Province.
The name of the dish was created by Chef C.K. Peng (彭长贵). Chef Peng went to New York to set up his restaurant. He improvised the authentic Hunanese chicken and highlighted it as the house specialty of his restaurant. It becomes an instant hit among the Americans and become the epitome of Hunanese cuisine outside mainland China. He named his chicken dish after General Tso.
1. Prepare the chicken
We use only boneless chicken thighs in our General Tso’s Chicken recipe. Chicken breasts meat is not the best because it is dry, and the texture is tougher than the thigh meat.
Therefore we only order the whole chicken leg from our chicken vendor. He will debone the chicken for us, which I think you can request the same service from your chicken supplier.
Upon receiving the chicken (his worker will deliver it to our kitchen), our staff will clean the chicken and drain the chicken thigh in a large colander.
We discard the skin as it does not taste good. Cut the chicken thigh into bite-size pieces, about three to four cm square. We also want to make sure that the thigh meat is entirely free from any small bones. Sometimes we found some bone debris still attached to the meat unnoticed.
Transfer the meat pieces to the kitchen scale to obtain the net weight. We weigh everything with the digital scale down to one gram because consistency is crucial in the restaurant business. It is so useful that I also purchase a digital scale for my kitchen at home, although I am only cooking at home occasionally.
Our standard recipe is based on one kg of deboned thigh meat. We will recalculate the amount of each ingredient based on the actual amount of meat that we have. Occasionally, the net weight is less than a kg. Sometimes we also make larger batches.
Once we have recalculated the batch size (we use a spreadsheet to do this), we can then move on to the next step, i. e. to prepare the marinade.
2. Constitute the marinade
The marinade comprises five ingredients: egg whites, dark soy sauce, light soy sauce, Chinese rice wine, and cornstarch. Let’s look at the reason why we use these ingredients to marinate the chicken meat.
- Egg whites. It is customary to use egg whites to marinate meat in Chinese cooking. It helps to protect the meat from direct heat during stir-frying, which can dry up the meat.
- Light soy sauce. It is the primary flavoring agent for the chicken. Since it is salty, salt is not required in the recipe.
- Dark soy sauce. It is not as salty as the light soy sauce, but with a tinge of caramelized flavor. We use both soy sauces to strike a balanced flavor. Dark soy sauce also adds color to the chicken.
- Chinese rice wine The wine infuse flavor to the meat. It is also an acidic component that helps to tenderize the meat.
- Cornstarch. It forms a coating on the meat. It also acts as a binder to hold the soy sauce and bind to the meat.
How to marinate
The reason we marinate the chicken in advance is that we don’t want to run out of chicken at the last minute. After it is marinated for one hour, the flavor should have penetrated the entire piece of meat.
The process is straightforward. Before you begin, let’s keep the chine dry with paper towels. You only need to combine the marinade with the chicken. Since we usually prepare this General Tso’s Chicken recipe in advance, we divide the marinated meat into two hundred grams portions (keep in small bags) and keep them refrigerated.
The meat can be frozen if we do not use it immediately. In this case, we will remove the required portions from the freezer in advance and let them defrost at room temperature before cooking.
3. Deep-fried the chicken meat
Coat with a unique flour mix
Coat the chicken meat with our special flour mix before deep-frying to create a crispy coating.
We coat the chicken with a mixture of dry ingredients, not a batter. This method can create a coating that stays crispy for more than half an hour.
The component of the dry flour mixture are:
- 100g (3/4 cup) of all-purpose flour
- 100g (0.6 cup) of cornstarch
- 2g (1/2 tsp) of salt
- 4g (1 tsp) of baking powder (or baking soda)
We make a larger batch of the flour most than above for the restaurant, but half of the above should be sufficient for one kg of chicken meat.
Drain away any excess marinade. Mix the chicken meat with a copious amount of flour mix. Shake off any excess flour and deep-fried immediately.
Based on our experience, the chicken will be very crispy if we deep-fried the chicken chunks immediately. That is when the flour mix still coats the exterior. The chicken will be less crispy if we left it until the dry powder absorbs the marinade, and the surface becomes wet.
We deep-fried the chicken at 175°C/350°F for four minutes until golden brown. Remove the meat from the oil and drain.
Use clean oil to deep-fry
General Tso’s Chicken recipe involves deep-frying, which is a concern to some people. The oil will break down once it hits the smoking point, which creates organic substances that are bad for health. A similar chemical reaction will happen after the oil is recycled multiple times. Therefore, we should be careful while deep frying any food items by following a few simple rules :
- Use the smallest amount of oil required for deep-frying. You can use either a large wok or a large skillet.
- Do not recycle the oil for more than three times.
- Be careful not to heat the oil until it turns smoky.
I am using minimum oil with a frying pan to deep-fry the chicken. Here are a few tips for you :
- Make sure you pay attention to the temperature. Do not let the oil turn smoky. Medium-high heat is the best.
- Use cooking oil with a high smoking point. Vegetable oil such as peanut oil, palm oil, and corn oil are my choice.
- Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon once it turns golden brown.
- Pour the used oil through a wire mesh strainer. Keep for future use.
4. Formulate the General Tso’s sauce
The next step of this General Tso’s Chicken recipe is to coat the fried chicken with thick and spicy sauce.
The sauce is the extension of the marinade. It comprises all the ingredients of the marinade plus vinegar, sugar, sesame oil, and tomato paste.
Since the sauce has all the ingredients of the marinade, why do we still want to marinate the meat? The reason is that the sauce can only coat the surface and is unable to penetrate the interior of the meat.
Now let’s understand the role of each additional ingredient in the sauce.
Vinegar. It furnishes the sourness required by the recipe. I am using white vinegar, but you are free to substitute it with balsamic or rice vinegar.
Sugar. The objective of using sugar, in my opinion, is to balance the sourness of the vinegar. Our version of General Tso’s Chicken recipe has less sugar than the original version. This adjustment is based on the request from our customers as most Asians prefer savory over sweet in general. You can use either white or brown sugar in this recipe.
Sesame oil. It adds a layer of nutty flavor to the chicken. We do not use it to marinate the chicken as the heat will destroy it during deep-frying.
Tomato paste. It gives the chicken a slightly reddish color, which certainly looks better than dark brown. The small amount of tomato paste does not contribute much flavor.
We do not use hoisin sauce as the above ingredients are sufficient.
To prepare the sauce, combine all the ingredients and bring it to a boil. Make sure the sugar is dissolved.
We need 45ml (3 tbsp) of this sauce for every 150g (5 oz) of the marinated chicken meat.
If you like this sauce, you can make a large batch and portion it to 45ml each. It can be stored in an airtight container and stable for up to 2-3 months in the freezer.
5. Coat the chicken with the sauce
Now we come to the final step of this recipe- coat the chicken with General Tso’s Chicken sauce.
To do this, you need to get ready four ingredients – chopped ginger, chopped garlic, chopped scallion, and dried chilies. You can use red pepper flakes if you do not have dried chilies.
Here are the steps
- Heat some oil in the pan. Saute all the four ingredients, as mentioned above, until aromatic. You need about a teaspoon each of these items for every 150g (5 oz) of chicken. There is no need to use high heat, and the process will take fifteen to thirty seconds.
- Next, add the correct amount of sauce to the aromatics. (45g per 150g chicken). The sauce will boil within ten seconds as the amount is small.
- Add the crispy chicken pieces to the sauce mixture. Mix and flip the chicken quickly to coat the surface with the sauce. Once there is no more sauce left in the pan, remove from heat, and serve.
You will notice we only a small amount of water constitutes the sauce, as we want a concentrated sauce with intense flavor to coat the meat without wetting the surface too much. This method is our way to preserve the crispiness of the chicken, and it works.
If you add more water to the sauce, coupled with using a cornstarch slurry to thicken the diluted sauce, all the effort to deep-fry the chicken until crispy will be wasted. We want the sauce with intense flavor to cling on to the crispy surface, not to let the chicken be inundated by a pool of cornstarch paste.
Note: If you like this recipe, you will most likely also like our Sesame Chicken, Kung Pao Chicken, and Lemon Chicken. It is also prepared by deep-frying and coated with a thick savory sauce.
Garnish and serve
We garnish the General Tso’s Chicken with shredded scallion and chopped red chiles. It is not necessary to have elaborate garnishing, as the chicken will disappear from the plate in no time. You may also sprinkle some toasted sesame seeds on top. It is best to serve with white rice.
I have just shown you our General Tso’s Chicken recipe and all the trade secrets behind the scene, nothing is left untold. My goal is to make it clear to you so that you can replicate it at home wherever you are living.
If you have any doubts, please leave your comments below. I will update this recipe whenever it is necessary to make every point clear and concise.
Enjoy the General Tso’s Chicken.
General Tso's Chicken
General Tso's chicken is the ultimate American Chinese cuisine.
For the marinate
- 1 egg white
- 1 tablespoons dark soy sauce
- 1 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 4 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
- 3 tablespoons corn starch
- 500 g (1.1 pounds) chicken thighs, boneless, skin-on, cut into 4cm chunks
For the Dry Coating
- 1/2 cup (50g) plain flour
- 1/2 cup (50g) corn starch
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
For the Sauce:
- 1 1/2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
- 1 1/2 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
- 2 tablespoons white vinegar
- 3 tablespoons water
- 4 tablespoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon corn starch
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoons chopped garlic, , minced
- 2 teaspoons ginger, , minced
- 2 teaspoons scallion, , cut
- 8 dry red chili
- Vegetable oil
- Score the skinless side of the chicken in a crosshatch pattern. Be careful not to cut through the meat.
- Cut the chicken into 4 cm chunks, leaving some skin on it for extra crispiness.
- Marinate with the ingredients in (A) for at least half an hour or oversight.
- Mix the ingredients (B) together to become the dry flour mix.
- Drain off any excess liquid from the chicken. Dredge the chicken chunks into the flour mix.
- Pour at least 1.5-inch layer of vegetable oil into a heavy-bottomed pot or wok and heat the oil up to up 360 °F (180 °C).
- Deep fried the chicken until cooked through and turns golden brown about 5 minutes. Stir occasionally with chopsticks to avoid the chicken pieces sticking together.
- Drain the chicken pieces on a plate lined with a paper towel.
- Mix the ingredients D together.
- Saute the garlic, ginger, dry red chili and scallion in D with vegetable oil in a pan. Pour the ingredients D to the pan and cook until the mixture become translucent. Turn of the heat.
- Add the deep-fried chicken to the sauce. Coat the chicken with the sauce thoroughly. Serve.
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Amount Per Serving: Calories: 2317Total Fat: 129gSaturated Fat: 37gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 68gCholesterol: 482mgSodium: 7816mgCarbohydrates: 144gFiber: 8gSugar: 32gProtein: 141g
Thursday 14th of April 2022
I have loved General Tso's Chicken for many years - all from restaurants. After a disappointing meal at the last restaurant - I began my search for a recipe to cook at home. All the recipes I found were NOT anywhere near "authentic" - BUT then I found your website and a recipe that I hoped would be my answer. Your recipe did not fail - it was wonderful!!! At first, I was not sure but after adding the garlic, scallions, ginger, etc - it all came together!! I am so excited to find your recipe and your wonderful directions!! My family agreed with me - it is now a definite favorite at our house! Thank you so much--
Thursday 14th of April 2022
Great to know that it works and you like it :)
Wednesday 13th of April 2022
I use Mirin instead of shaoxing wine
Saturday 1st of January 2022
Hi Mr Kwan,
May I know what could be a substitution for shao xing wine if it is for halal purpose. Meat tenderizer ?
Sunday 2nd of January 2022
In general, you omit any alcohol in most Chinese recipes. It will not affect much. Also, You can substitute most Chinese recipes with pork with chicken. For example, if the recipe mentioned minced pork, please replace it with minced chicken meat.
Tuesday 20th of July 2021
Baking powder and baking soda are not the same. I have seen some recipes where baking powder is stipulated and which say that baking soda should not be used. any comment?
Tuesday 20th of July 2021
My understanding is that the leavening power of baking soda is about 4x of baking soda. Therefore, it is important when we interchange both in any baking recipe. Another point is that baking powder tends to be more stable at a higher temperature and can be mixed with the food in advance. On the other hand, baking soda will react and release CO2 immediately after mixing with water and hence have to use immediately. Not an expert in food science, but this is what I know.
Saturday 30th of January 2021
Thank you Mr Kwan - Can I use skinless chix thighs? What’s the difference in texture using corn starch or flour? What about flour w a bit of corn starch?
Sunday 31st of January 2021
Hi Gayle, You can remove the skin, and I wouldn't affect the result. Cornstarch can make the sauce much thicker and longer holding power than the regular flour. The sauce with normal flour will become diluted again overtime during serving. Thanks. KP Kwan