Thursday, November 20, 2008

Recipe: General Tso's Chicken

Today's world food that you can prepare in your home kitchen is one of the most popular Chinese dishes in North America. It's origin is disputed and it may not even be a Chinese dish at all, but rather a Chinese-American dish that was a fusion of both Hunan and Szechuan styles that better appealed to North American palates.

In fact the dish itself is known by a dizzying array of names that include: General Tso's, General Tao's, General George's, General Tsao's, General Zhou's, General Mac's, General Gao's, General Gau's, Chou's, General Tzo's, General To's, General So's, General Joe's, Jordan Chicken, General Toso's, General Chow's, General Chicken, Admiral Tso's, Pei Wei Spicy and General Chu's. You say poe-tay-toe, I say pah-tah-toe, who cares! As I say: the truth is in the taste.

Depending on what you read or who you listen to, this dish may have first been prepared by any number of people. A sampling of popular origin stories would include:

A.) Either General Zuo Zongtang (the dishes namesake regardless of personal participation), his wife or chef during the 1800's of the Qing Dynasty.

B.) The chef of popular Chinese politician Tan Yankai who used the hero's name on the dish to honor him around 1900.

C.) A Taiwanese chef by the name of Peng Chang-kuei may have first prepared the dish in New York in the early 1970's.

D.) Another Chinese chef named T.T. Wang may have first prepared the dish also in New York, also in the early 1970's.

In my extensive (well, not really extensive) research, I have even found a similar, more savory Australian variant of the dish also called "General Tso's Chicken". See, a wonderful, engaging, mystery with some controversy, a perfect element to immortalize this dish!

In any event, this is an extremely popular dish in North American Chinese restaurants and buffets. It is sweet and spicy goodness and not all that difficult to prepare in your home kitchen. There are no exotic ingredients and it can be replicated in even the most humble of home kitchens. Try it, you'll like it.

The recipe below is a good representation of the dish as I have had it in a number of Chinese restaurants on the East Coast of the U.S. and Canada. Personally, I'm still tweaking it so that it tastes just like it does at my favorite local Chinese restaurant. I'll change it here when I do.

General Tso's Chicken

For the sauce:

2/3 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup water
1 TBS garlic (minced)
1 TBS ginger (minced)
1-1/2 cups sugar
1 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup sherry or white wine
3 cups chicken broth

For the chicken and broccoli:

3 lbs. boneless chicken thighs cut into 1" square pieces
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 egg
1 cup cornstarch
4 cups of broccoli florets
2 tsp ginger (minced)
2 tsp garlic (minced)
3/4 cup peanut oil (plus more oil for deep-frying)
2 cups green onions (thinly sliced, reserve a little for a garnish)
16 small dried hot peppers or 2 tsp red pepper flakes

In a large bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and the water. Add the garlic, ginger, sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, sherry/wine and chicken broth. Stir until sugar dissolves completely. Move to the refrigerator until needed.

In separate bowl, beat the egg, soy sauce and white pepper together. Add the chicken and coat it well. Add cornstarch to a smaller bowl and thoroughly coat each piece of chicken. When finished return the chicken to the bowl. Add all but 2 tablespoons of the peanut oil to help stop the chicken pieces from sticking together.

Heat a wok over medium high heat. Add two tablespoons of the peanut oil to the wok. Immediately, add the ginger and garlic and swirl once. Add the broccoli and stir fry for a few minutes. Add a little water if necessary. You want the crunch to remain in the broccoli, DO NOT OVERCOOK OR BURN. When done, remove the broccoli from the wok and set aside.

Replace the wok over the heat. Add enough of the frying oil to fry the chicken in small batches. Fry the chicken until golden brown, remove and set aside to drain. Continue until all the chicken is cooked.

Remove all but 1-2 tablespoons of the oil from the wok. Replace the wok over the heat. Add the green onions and hot peppers and stir fry for a few moments (don't burn!). Then add all the sauce and stir while cooking over medium heat until the mixture begins to bubble and thicken (this can happen quickly so be prepared). As soon as the sauce starts to thicken, add the chicken and broccoli and stir to coat well. Cook until everything is warmed through.

Remove from heat. Serve over rice garnished with green onions or a light sprinkle of sesame seeds.

Recipe: General Tso's Chicken from Chop Onions, Boil Water by Henry Krauzyk


  1. looks good! let me know when you're done tweaking it and I'll give it a try. This is a favorite with my sons and I have an excellent recipe of my own but I'm always on the look out for a "best" recipe.

  2. Thanks for this! Would love to make this myself.

  3. I've never come across General Tso's Chicken but I must say it looks delicious.

  4. Thanks so much for the recipe. I made it and it was really good. I was surprised how close it was to takeout places, but much better. I used half the chicken, and made all the sauce but only used half. My only comment if your tweaking it is that the ginger seems to strong to me, but thats just my personal preference.

  5. Thanks Anonymous! I really appreciate your detailed comments and suggestions. Regarding the ginger, what may really be at issue here is regional or even restaurant to restaurant variation. General Tso's seems to have many interpretations. For me, this recipe closely represents one of my favorite General Tso's from a local restaurant. That said though, I'm certainly not averse to trying it with the ginger backed off a little and will certainly do so.

    I'm busy working on the new Chop Onions, Boil Water website, when it is complete it will have forums where people can add their own recipes. I hope you visit and perhaps add your interpretation of General Tso's for everyone to try.

    Thank you again for your great comments!