How to Make General Tso's Chicken

Chinese New Year: General Tso’s Chicken

It’s difficult to imagine that anyone in China has ever eaten anything even remotely resembling General Tso’s Chicken. Even the origins of the dish are a little murky. Ostensibly a delicacy with origins in the Hunan province (though Hunan cuisine doesn’t typically feature very much sweetness, opting instead for sour flavors), and named after General Tso Tsung-tang, the dish’s “history” reads like the stuff of legend, or at least, the stuff from the back of an imaginative Chinese restaurant menu in NYC. In the United States, however, it is the number one selling item in Chinese takeout restaurants; often, a combination of heavily-breaded overcooked chicken tossed in a thick, gloppy, sickeningly-sweet brown sauce, with a few dried chiles thrown in for good measure.

How to Make General Tso's ChickenI had never been exposed to the dish until my first year in college, where the school’s hospital-style dining program was wildly out of sync with its high tuition. I was first served “General Tso’s Chicken” by the school’s chef, an old man named “Sam” whose other major contribution to the culinary world was the ability to scoop hot tuna salad onto English muffins while smoking. His version of the dish was made by the gallon using frozen chicken nuggets, and a mixture of honey and soy sauce. It was awful, inedible stuff, and his version of General Tso’s kept it off of my regular Chinese restaurant order for many years to follow.

Today, everything changed. Our interpretation stays true to the Chinese-American version of this classic, making refinements here and there without changing the nature of the dish. Our chicken is given a much lighter, but still crunchy coating, and the sweetness of the sauce is balanced by a fair amount of heat. The result is a General Tso’s Chicken like you just won’t find in Maine takeout restaurants, with a complexity and a depth of flavor that I never knew was possible in this much-maligned dish. Even if you have sworn General Tso’s off as Westernized junk, I urge you to give it a try.

How to Make General Tso's Chicken

General Tso’s Chicken

Rating: 51

Yield: Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 2 teaspoon Sriracha sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/3 cup + 2 teaspoons cornstarch, divided
  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, but into bite-sized chunks
  • 2 tablespoons dry white sherry
  • Peanut oil, for frying
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
  • 6-8 "Japonese" dried red whole chiles
  • 3 scallions, white and green parts, cut into half inch chunks

Method

In a small bowl, combine chicken stock, soy sauce, vinegar, hoisin, Sriracha, sesame oil, sugar, and 2 teaspoons of the cornstarch. Stir until smooth.

In another bowl, toss chicken chunks with sherry and a pinch of salt, and set aside to marinate for 15 minutes.

When ready to cook, toss chicken to coat evenly with remaining 1/3 cup of cornstarch. Chicken should have a dry coating of cornstarch; add a little more if coating seems moist. In a large skillet over medium heat, bring peanut oil to 325 degrees. Add chicken and cook, stirring often, until chicken is brown on all sides, about 4-5 minutes. Remove from skillet and drain on paper towels.

Pour most of the oil out of the skillet, until only a thin coating remains in the pan. Add garlic and ginger to pan and stir until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Add whole chilies, chicken pieces, and scallion pieces, and toss to combine. Add sauce and simmer, stirring constantly, until sauce thickens, becomes shiny, and evenly coats chicken. Top with more sliced scallions and serve immediately with steamed rice.

In our “Chinese New Year” series, we unlock the secrets of our favorite Chinese-American takeout classics with a week’s worth of recipe posts. We realize that the Chinese New Year isn’t until January 23rd this year, making the name of this series more “clever,” than it is “informative.” To read more from this series, click here.

Comments

    • Malcolm says

      Thanks, Shannon. Our plan was to have it for dinner, but we devoured it immediately after making it (and after we had already had our first lunch for the day). You guys have gotta try it.

  1. Jaime says

    Just found your blog via foodgawker. This looks amazing. In my tiny little hometown in the middle of nowheresville Missouri, they make a General Tso’s chicken that looks just like this. I’m excited to see if it tastes the same.

    • Malcolm says

      Hi Jaime! We are in the same boat here in Maine, a place not well-known for Chinese food. This recipe definitely gets us through the rough patches.

  2. says

    This looks fantastic! About how much peanut oil do you usually use for frying the chicken? I rarely fry stuff, so I wasn’t sure what a reasonable amount of oil would be.

    • Malcolm says

      Hi Jessica! You don’t need a ton of oil…about a half an inch in the bottom of the pan should do the trick.

      • says

        Thanks, Malcolm! One other question – Japonese chilis – are these the same thing as sichuan chiles? BTW my husband just saw this over my shoulder and said, “That looks goooood…when are we having it?”

        • Malcolm says

          I *THINK* so, but I wouldn’t swear by it. You don’t actually eat them, so I don’t think it’s critical.

  3. says

    Loved the photography on your page!! I came here from http://tasteologie.notcot.org/. I need a favor from you if you have time! I also write a food blog, http://ambikaskitchen.com. I also submit my pictures to foodgawker, tastespotting, foodepix and photograzing. But whenever I try to upload an image to tasteologie, the image losses color & contrast as soon as it is uploaded on this site. I use photoshop to edit my pictures, but I’ve tried picnik.com also, but end up with the same results. Can you please tell me how you edit pictures for tasteologie?? Thanks in advance!!

    • Malcolm says

      I haven’t had that problem with Tasteologie, so I’m not sure how to help. Have you tried contacting them about it? Also, I don’t submit to Foodepix…do you get good results with them?

      • says

        Yes, I have contacted them, but haven’t received much help. And I do submit my pictures to Foodepix, no problems there. Its just with Tasteologie and Dishfolio :(, maybe they don’t like me :(
        Thanks for taking the time to reply :)

    • Malcolm says

      I think you can and SHOULD make it with tofu. Just omit the chicken steps…the sauce can be slathered on anything.

  4. Dianne Linscott says

    This really sounds yummy, Malcolm but I think it would taste sooooo………much better if you cooked it for me. Sure anytime, just give me a shout!!! Please hurry and have that baby girl!!!

    • Malcolm says

      Hahahahah! What I learned after this batch is that I need to make a quadruple serving of it, to pass around to friends and family.

  5. Misty says

    This looks amazing. The nearest Chinese place is a 40 minute drive from my part of the sticks, and it’s really sort of…you know…not that good? I am so going to make this happen in my kitchen. Thanks for sharing. <3

  6. HCBB says

    GREAT RECIPE! I was wondering If you have any recipe for kung pow chicken! I tried some i found off the internet cooking channel and it was a disaster! Specially since here in PR I can’t find much by the ways of ingredients!!!

    • Malcolm says

      We use sherry a fair amount, and keep a bottle next to the stove. However, you can also use rice wine, or even the dregs from a plain ol’ bottle of supermarket white wine. Thanks for reading!

  7. says

    Just made this tonight and I had to come back to your blog and write to tell you how AWESOME this recipe was!! Holy cow. I will never order General Tso’s from a take-out restaurant again!! Thanks for sharing!

  8. Samantha says

    My fiance LOVES General Tso’s Chicken, so I decided to make this for him for dinner last night. It turned out absolutely amazing (even the leftovers heated up for lunch today were delicious)! I had a little bit of difficulty finding hoisin sauce, but finally found it in the ethnic food aisle at Woodman’s. I also steamed some fresh broccoli to go with it. I will definitely be making this again!

  9. Steve says

    I made this last night and it was *phenomenal*. BEST Chinese take-out I’ve ever had, and it was all the better since I made it myself! I couldn’t find the dried red chili peppers at our local Hannaford supermarket, but the recipe was sufficiently spicy without them. This will definitely become one of my regular dinner meals! I can’t wait to try the Crispy Orange Beef recipe later this week.

    Thank you for for providing a fantastic recipe for one of my all-time favorite Chinese take-out meals!

    Steve in Brunswick

    • Malcolm Bedell says

      Hey Steve, so glad to hear it! Be sure to let us know what you think of our other Chinese recipes, if you try ‘em out.

  10. grace says

    I’m so impressed by my cooking ability! Never thought I would ever be able to cook this favourite dish. Followed your recipe exactly and it came out so much better than I have ever tasted anywhere before. It’s awesome!
    After this major success I’m forced to cook all your recipes, so I’ll be spending a lot of time checking out your blogs.
    Thank you so much.

  11. Wendy O says

    Made this recipe tonight and it was delicious! Delicately crunchy, no overwhelming sweetness, just wonderful! Thanks for sharing it.

  12. Tammy says

    I made this last night, it was AMAZING! Restaurant quality and it looked just like your picture, beautiful. Thank you so much for this recipe.

  13. grace says

    i just made this for dinner, and it was absolutely amazing. i can’t believe how well it turned out :) so good, and it looked just like your picture. what a great recipe, thanks so much.

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