You must have tried the famous Chinese dish General Tso’s chicken 左宗棠鸡 if you are in America.
It is perhaps the most popular dish that serves in American Chinese restaurants.
I have tested the recipe from changing the ingredients to tweaking the ratio of each component in search of the best General Tso’s chicken.
Finally, has become one of the most popular items in our restaurant, which I want to share with you.
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Here is the step-by-step guide the make the General Tso’s Chicken at home.
Step by step guide (The tested recipe in our restaurant)
(You will expect we exposed all our trade secret, and reveal the reason behind each action).
1. Marinate the chicken
The first step is to marinate the chicken.
We stick to our guns by not giving in to use chicken breast, and only use debone chicken thigh meat. The reason? Dark meat has more flavor than white meat, and a smoother texture too.
Marinate the chicken overnight is our minimum requirement. The prolonged marination enables the seasonings to penetrate the meat, thus solving the problem the many restaurants faced- the flavor is only skin deep.
The chicken should be of bite-size, not too large.
The marinate consist of the following ingredients:
- Egg white – to produce a smooth texture
- Dark soy sauce – provide some caramelized flavor and color
- Light soy sauce – mainly to give the savory flavor an umani from the soy
- Shaoxing wine – add extra flavor (use dry sherry as the substitution, or omit it if you do not take alcohol)
- Cornstarch – to bind the liquid to marinate to the chicken meat.
2. Prepare General Tso’s chicken sauce
After deep frying, we returned the chicken to the wok and coated it with the sauce.
We made the sauce in bulk, and use one tablespoon of the mixture for every 50g of marinated chicken.
The sauce consist of the following items:
- Dark soy sauce, light soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, and cornstarch – the purpose is identical the inclusion in the marinate
- Vinegar – to provide sourness required by the recipe
- Sugar – to balance the sourness of the vinegar. The quantity of sugar in our recipe is relatively less than most of the formula that we have studied. They are far too sweet in our opinion. We only need sufficient amount to balance the sourness of the vinegar. Any extra sugar will not give you any additional flavor.
- Sesame oil – this is an essential item to provide the much need aroma.
- Tomato paste – A small amount is added to improve the color of the General Tso’s chicken.
3. Make the dry coating mix for frying the chicken
We then coat the chicken with a dry mixture before deep-frying.
There are four items in the flour mix to coat the marinated chicken:
- Cornstarch – Cornflour can create a crispy crust, which will stay crisp even after tossing in the sauce briefly
- Plain flour – The coating with cornstarch alone is too crumbly. Both plain flour (regular flour that we use to make cakes) and cornstarch give a right balance of volume and crispiness.
- Baking soda – A small amount help to make to coating airy, light and crunchy.
- Salt – The standard item to season the coating. It is still tasty in the event of the coating separate from the chicken.
4. The Aromatics
After deep-frying the chicken, we saute four aromatic ingredients together until fragrant, then combine with the chicken and the gravy with a few quick stirs in the wok.
The aromatics are:
- Minced ginger
- Minced garlic
- Thinly sliced scallion
- Dy chili, remove the seed and cut into 2cm sections
Sometimes we omit the dry chili upon our customer’s request.
General Tso’s chicken recipe
The recipe provides constant pulls between sweet and sour, and augmented with the umami of soy, with crackling coating even after soaking up some sauce and bursting with the spicy flavor of dry red chili.
I love to serve General Tso’s chicken along with some stir-fry vegetables, Chinese broccoli (Gai Lan) with oyster sauce or bok choy. The combination gives you a well-balanced meal along with a bowl of steamed rice.
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 chicken thighs, boneless, skin-on, cut into 4cm chunks
For the Dry Coating
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.
- Joyce Chen 21-9972, Classic Series Carbon Steel Wok Set, 4-Piece, 14-Inch, Charcoal
- Pearl River Bridge Golden Label Superior Light Soy Sauce, Plastic Bottles, 16.9 oz
- Rice Cooking Wine (Red) - 750ml (Pack of 1) by Shaohsing
- Thai whole dried chile - 3.5 oz
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Amount Per Serving:Calories: 2317 Total Fat: 129g Saturated Fat: 37g Trans Fat: 1g Unsaturated Fat: 68g Cholesterol: 482mg Sodium: 7816mg Carbohydrates: 144g Fiber: 8g Sugar: 32g Protein: 141g
More about General Tso’s chicken
Chinese restaurants rarely serve General Tso’s chicken in Asia.
General Tso’s chicken is a staple of Chinese-American cuisine with a ubiquitous presence on most of the Chinese restaurant in the United States.
I hesitated at first but eventually decided to dig deeper to find out what is the ancient general got to do with this most familiar yet enigmatic Chinese dishes in America.
Who is General Tso (the myths and lore)
It is peculiar that how on earth an American dish is named after a general who lives in the eighteenth century. Before we reveal how the name of an ancient general is tagged with a modern American dish, you may be curious about who he is.
General Tso is called Zuo Zongtang (左宗棠) in Chinese. There isn’t any exact pronunciation of his surname 左 in English, and the closest proximation Tso is eventually accepted.
Remember the epic biography film The Last Emperor stating John Long? This film is a documentary about the final era of the Qing dynasty and is the best way to learn more about the last dynasty of China. Although this film does not mention General Tso, there is another less known but mouthwateringly entertaining film called The Search For General Tso depicts the origin of General Tso’s chicken.
Tso is a famous general during the Qing Dynasty (清朝). His is the native from the Hunan province. After obtained a degree from the imperial examination, he joined the Qing military and eventually become the Provincial Governor of Zhejiang Province.
Created by a Taiwanese chef
The name of the dish was created by Chef C.K. Peng (彭长贵) from Taiwan during the 1950s. Chef Peng is from Hunan Province, where General Tso’s was born. He moved to Taiwan after the chaotic aftermath of the China civil war.
Fast forward to the 1970s, Chef Peng went to New York to set up his restaurant and serves the typical Hunan cuisine which was unknown by the American. He improvised the authentic Hunanese chicken and highlighted it as the house specialty of his restaurant. This light battered chicken thigh coated with sweet and sour sauce become an instant hit among the American and become the epitome of Hunanese cuisine outside mainland China.
That is why despite its international acceptance, it is still little known in the Hunan Province until today.
In search of the best General Tso’s chicken
Through my research, I realize there is no consensus about the origins of General Tso’s chicken, neither there is a standard method of preparing the dish.
If General Tso’s is still alive, he must feel distraught over how the people interpret the original recipe that he enjoyed. He will disapprove all the modern version of the chicken dishes cal General Tso’s chicken.
Since it is futile to claim which General Tso’s chicken is authentic, I would instead focus on formulating one that suits my taste buds.
My research brought me to the history and folklore of General Tso. After two weeks of studying in both English and Chinese recipe and carry out a gauntlet of tests, I finally found one formula that can produce the flavor, color, and texture I want.
I have tested four favorite recipes before I finally create the General Tso’s chicken the way I perceive to be the ultimate version.
There is a great deal to learn and absorb from the four masterful recipes that I tried to replicate.