General Tso’s Chicken

I never really knew who General Tso was when I first tasted General Tso’s Chicken many years ago and sorry to say I didn’t care either. All I cared for was this sweet, sticky, tangy and crunchy chicken that was available in the Chinese eateries. General Tso Tsungtang was born on Nov. 10, 1812 and died on Sept. 5, 1885. General Tso’s chicken ( tswò) was named after this Zuo Zongtang a Qing dynasty statesman and military leader although there is no recorded connection to him nor is the dish recognized in Hunan, Zuo’s home province. Kinda like many Indian dishes that never originated in India (Balti Chicken, anyone?)

According to Fuchsia Dunlop, the English writer and cook who specialises in Chinese cuisine , the recipe was invented by Hunan cuisine chef Peng Chang-kuei, an apprentice of Cao Jingchen. New Yorker Eric Hochman also theorizes this dish was indeed invented in the mid-1970s, in New York, by Chef Peng. When Peng moved to New York to open a restaurant he started inventing and modifying traditional Chinese dishes. Coincidentally, when Peng introduced this somewhat sweet dish to the local population in Hunan in the 1990s, the restaurant closed as the locals found the dish too sweet. Whatever the theory of origin, we can all enjoy the dish regardless.

The problem is, it is hard to get hold of a good Chinese eatery in the West- most of the regular ones are so blah- just a whole heap of ‘sweet and sour’ msg-loaded, artificial colors and taste-wise pretty bland too. Ok before I offend anyone, I’m talking from my experience of living in London (although London has some great Michelin star Chinese restaurants -I’ve only tried Hakkasan Hanway Place and the food was nothing like we usually know as Chinese food which proves my point), Oxford, Atlanta, New Jersey, and now Rochester. What is it about Chinese food that makes it authentic? I’ll tell you what- no, I’m not Chinese (if you didn’t know that by now, you do need to look at my ramblings about Bengali food especially ) but as in all authentic cuisines, drowning the dish in some unnamed sauce isn’t it. Authentic cuisine is clean, fresh, made with local ingredients and tastes light on the tongue. See, I like a little bit saucy (pun intended) dishes so I have kept a bit of sauce going on in this recipe but honestly you could make the dish healthier by adding half of the sauce ingredients and still be able to enjoy it @sarchakra

PREP TIME: 15 mins

COOK TIME: 15 mins

YIELDS: Serves 3

Ingredients

  • Chicken, boneless 24 oz
  • Oil for frying 1 cup
  • Salt
  • Ginger 1 tbsp, grated
  • Garlic 2 tbsp, grated
  • Soy sauce ¼ cup
  • Rice vinegar ¼ cup
  • Hoisin sauce 1 tbsp
  • Sugar 2 tbsp
  • Cracked black pepper 2 tsp
  • Cornstarch ½ cup
  • Sesame oil 1 tbsp
  • Sesame seeds 1 tbsp
  • Red pepper flakes 1 tsp for garnish
  • Scallions 2 tbsp, chopped

Method

  • Cut boneless chicken into small 1 inch pieces. Put in bowl. Add in ½ cup of cornstarch, 2 tsp salt and black pepper. Toss to combine and dredge the chicken with the cornstarch.
  • In a bowl combine soy sauce, rice vinegar, hoisin sauce and sugar. In a small bowl take 1 tbsp of cornstarch and dissolve it in 2 tbsp of water. Pour this mixture into the soy sauce and stir to make a smooth homogeneous mixture. Keep aside.
  • Heat oil. Shake off any excess of cornstarch and fry the chicken pieces till golden. Drain on kitchen towels. Remove all the oil.
  • Heat 1 tbsp of sesame oil. Sauté grated ginger and garlic. Add the fried chicken. Toss together to combine. Add the sauce and let it come to a boil and thicken up. Turn the heat off.
  • Garnish with sesame seeds, red pepper flakes and chopped scallions.

There is an interesting article in the Washington Post written many years ago in 2002 by Michael Browning entitled ‘Who Was General Tso And Why Are Eating His Chicken’. Check it out here who-was-general-tso-and-why-are-we-eating-his-chicken/.

Dredging the chicken with the seasoned cornstarch
Chicken is ready to be fried
The ingredients
Fry the chicken in batches
Fry till golden and drain on kitchen towels
The sauce mixture
All the chicken is fried
Sauté grated ginger and garlic
Add chicken and sauce
Garnish with red pepper flakes, sesame seeds and scallions
General Tso’s Chicken is ready
Served with Jasmine Rice and sautéd Broccoli

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