American Chinese food is really a category in itself. It consists of dishes created by Chinese immigrants. Many dishes are not widely known in China. One such dish is General Tso’s Chicken. After some research, I have created my own General Tso’s Chicken recipe.
I have a love/hate relationship with Chinese food. As a kid, I loved Chinese restaurants and dishes like sweet and sour pork. As I got older my taste bids evolved and I found a great deal of American Chinese food to be overly sweet and fried.
On top of that, I have a severe nut allergy, especially to peanuts. If a pan is not cleaned out after being used to cook peanuts, I can get sick. This has happened several times at Chinese and Thai restaurants.
Over the past 15 years, we have learned to make our own version of Chinese cuisine. This is not only healthier but tastes much better. Our bible for Chinese food has been Nina Simonds China Express.
The recipes in China Express tend to be very healthy. This is a major positive, but I wanted to venture a little into the Chinese restaurant food of my childhood. Something with that fried crunch but not as sweet and with a little more spice.
I decided that I would try making General Tso’s Chicken after a local restaurant offered it as a special. In doing my research, I found a version from another one of our favorite cookbooks. David Rosengarten’s It’s All American Food.
Rosengarten’s cookbook focuses on how U.S. immigrants have made their own American versions of dishes from their home country. Many of these dishes are more popular in America than in their home country. I believe this is probably true of General Tso’s Chicken.
Of course, I have to do research on the origin of General Tso’s Chicken. The best source I came upon was Jennifer Lee, author of Fortune Cookie Chronicles. According to her, and other sources, General Tso’s Chicken was invented by Taiwanese chef Peng Chang-Kuei. His death in 2016 at the age of 98 was widely reported.
General Tso’s Chicken is mainly considered Hunan cuisine because Peng was from the Hunan province. He named it after a general from his area. Peng created the dish in Taiwan, but it became famous when he introduced it to restaurants in New York City in the 1960s.
So General Tso’s Chicken is mainly an American dish, not widely known in China. In addition, the recipe varies a great deal. The main feature is boneless pieces of deep-fried chicken in a sort of red sauce.
There is actually a documentary film entitled The Search for General Tso. I have not seen it but it is about the history of Chinese food in America.
Looking at the history of General Tso’s Chicken gave me a great deal of confidence to do my own version. I started with David Rosengarten’s recipe. Rosengarten was aiming for a light, crunchy coating that was low in sugar and not greasy.
Using Rosengarten’s marinade and batter as a start I combined some techniques from Nina Simonds China Express. This included adding orange peel, black bean garlic sauce, and water chestnuts in an effort to go for a more Sichuanese sauce. I tend to like the more robust flavor of Sichuanese food.
With some tweaking of the batter, the results are great. This dish has some spice, but it is not super spicy. The kids loved it, even if it is not the pure sugar kick the local Chinese places provide.
One thing about Chinese cooking is that it can have many ingredients and steps. I have found that it is essential to prepare in advance and have everything ready to go.
For General Tso’s Chicken I break it down as follows:
- Four hours before cooking cut chicken and make the marinade. That should take 10 minutes.
- An hour before cooking make the batter and sauce. This should take about 10 minutes.
- Half an hour before cooking heat water for orange zest and water chestnuts and prepare rest of spices. This should be another 10 minutes maximum.
- Start cooking 15 minutes before you want to serve. Put oil on to heat. While oil is heating black orange zest and water chestnuts. By this time oil should be hot enough (350 degrees).
- Cook chicken in 2 to 3 batches and set aside.
- Either wash out the pan you cooked the chicken, or use another pan (my choice). Cook spices, add sauce, add cooked chicken.
I serve this immediately but was surprised to find it tasted even better as leftovers the next day!
General Tso’s Chicken
General Tso's Chicken is more popular in America than in China. This is General Tso’s Chicken recipe is a slight twist that adds some Sichuanese flavoring for a more savory dish
- 2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breast
- Oil for frying vegetable or any good frying oil
- 2 Tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 Tablespoon Chinese black vinegar
- 1 Tablespoon sake
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 cup flour
- ½ cup cornstarch
- 1 Tablespoon baking powder
- 2 teaspoon salt
- 1.5 cups club soda
- 1 Tablespoon Chinese black vinegar
- ¾ cup chicken stock
- 1 Tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 Tablespoon sugar
- 2 Tablespoon black bean garlic sauce can use hoisin sauce for sweeter flavor)
- 1 Tablespoon chili garlic sauce
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 orange
- 8 ounce water chestnuts
- 10 cloves minced garlic
- 1 Tablespoon fresh ginger minced
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes or 3 dried chili peppers broken into pieces
Slice chicken into cubes about ½-inch by an inch. Combine marinade ingredients in a bowl. Add chicken, cover and let marinate for at least 30 minutes, ideally 3 to 4 hours.
To make batter combine flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt in a bowl. Mix in club soda and vinegar and blend. Cover and let set 30 minutes at room temperature.
Heat a small pan of water to boiling. In a bowl combine the sauce ingredients. Set aside. With a vegetable peeler remove zest from orange skin in thin strips. Add orange zet strips to boiling water for 1 minute. Remove with slotted spoon and rinse under cold water. Dry with paper towels and set aside. Add water chestnuts to boiling water for 20 seconds. Remove, rinse under cold water, drain and set aside.
When ready to cook heat about 2-inches of vegetable oil in a heavy-duty skillet or pan. Remove chicken from marinade and place in batter bowl. Fully coat chicken with batter. When oil reaches 350 degrees add about half the chicken in separate pieces. Let cook for 4 to 5 minutes making sure they do not stick to each other. Remove and place on paper towels. Reheat oil to 350 degrees and cook remaining chicken. Repeat until all the chicken is cooked.
In a wok or large skillet add 2 tablespoons of frying oil. Add orange zest and other seasonings and stir-fry for about 10 seconds. Add water chestnuts and cook an additional 30 seconds. Add sauce and bring to a boil for 1 minute. Add cooked chicken and toss to coat with sauce. Serve immediately.
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