Saturday, March 16, 2013

General Tso's Chicken

General Tso’s Chicken is a favorite stir-fry dish at Chinese restaurants and mall food courts.  Researching the dish was interesting, because despite the popularity of this Hunanese dish, it is virtually unknown in the Chinese province of Hunan itself.  As near as I can tell from my readings of Chinese cookbooks and on-line sources, General Tso’s chicken was supposedly named for Tso Tsung-t’ang, a formidable 19th-century Chinese general who is said to have enjoyed eating it. According to Wikipedia; “the real roots of the dish lie in the post 1949 exodus of Chinese chefs to the United States. 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”  

Since recently getting my new “kick-ass” outdoor wok stove, I have been on a mission to replicate some of my favorite take-out dishes, of which this dish is one.  I think it comes pretty close to the one served at my favorite Chinese restaurant, "Szechuan House" in Lutherville, MD!  Enjoy!


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

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

1/4 cup chicken stock, or substitute water
1-1/2 tablespoons 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
2 tsp cornstarch


Prepare the marinade in a large bowl by combining the soy sauce, rice wine, and egg whites. Coat the chicken pieces to the marinade mixture and let stand for 10 minutes.  To make the sauce, combine the chicken stock, tomato paste, sugar, soy sauce, rice vinegar, hoisin sauce, chili paste, sesame oil, sugar, and cornstarch in a small bowl. Whisk until the sugar and cornstarch are dissolved and set aside.  In a large bowl, mix 1-1/2 cups cornstarch with the salt and pepper. Thoroughly coat the marinated chicken pieces in the cornstarch and shake off the excess before deep frying.  Heat 3 cups of peanut or vegetable oil in a wok until it reaches 350 F as read on a deep fry thermometer. Working in 2 or 3 batches, add the chicken pieces and fry them until golden brown on the outside (about 4 to 5 minutes.) Remove a piece and pierce with the tip of a knife to make sure it is cooked through (it should not be pink in the center.)  When the chicken pieces are done, remove the first batch from the oil with a mesh strainer or slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Let the oil return to 350 F before adding the second batch and repeat the process with the rest of the chicken.  Turn off the heat and carefully ladle the used oil in the wok to a heatproof container to cool for discarding. Wipe the wok with a paper towel to remove any brown bits, but don’t wash it.  Reheat the wok or over medium-high heat. Add another tablespoon of oil and swirl to coat the base and sides. Add the dried chiles and cook until they start to blacken (about 1 minute.) Add the garlic and ginger to the wok and stir-fry until just fragrant, about 20 seconds. Pour in the sauce mixture and stir until it thickens, about 1 to 2 minutes.  Return the cooked chicken pieces to the wok and stir well to coat with the 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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