General Tso’s Chicken is that perfect combination of sweet, savoury, spicy and tangy with crispy Chinese chicken bites. It’s a Chinese takeout favourite that just pushes all the right buttons!
General Tso’s Chicken
This is a popular Chinese-American dish that appears in suburban Chinese restaurants here in Australia under various other guises. Peking-Style Chicken or sometimes something mysteriously titled House Special Crispy Chicken. I can never resist a House Special!
It is said to originate from the Hunan province of China and is named after a well-respected Chinese military leader, General Tso.
While the accuracy of either of these statements is questionable – and in fact, rumour has it that it was brought into the US by Taiwanese Chefs (!) – what we do know is that this is one of the most popular Chinese dishes in America and it’s not hard to understand why.
Crispy chicken. Sticky, spicy, savoury sauce. All good stuff we like!
What goes in General Tso’s Chicken
There’s 3 parts to making General Tso’s Chicken:
- Sauce/Marinade – one mixture does double duty to marinate the chicken AND to make the sticky sauce that coats the chicken;
- Crispy Chicken – tossed in cornflour/cornstarch then fried in as little or as much oil as you want. No, you don’t need to deep fry for this dish; and
- Stir Fry – it’s not really a stir fry dish, but we do sauté garlic and ginger at the end before making the sticky sauce to toss the chicken in.
1. Sauce / Marinade
Here’s what you need for the Sauce / Marinade:
- Chilli – the spiciness in the sauce. I like using Sambal Oelak which is a type of chilli paste sold at everyday supermarkets in Australia but feel free to use your favourite brand (preferably Asian, if you can!);
- Soy sauce – light or all purpose, just not dark soy sauce (way too strong flavour and will make sauce too dark). More on different soy sauces and when to use which sauce, here;
- Rice vinegar – for the signature touch of tang in General Tso’s Chicken. It has a distinct flavour different to Western vinegars (it’s made from rice – did the name give it away? 😂) and it is less sour. Best sub: White wine vinegar;
- Brown Sugar – for the sweet in the sauce with a slight caramel note. Not loads – just 3 tablespoons. Many other recipes use way too much. This is not a dessert, it’s a meal!
- Hoisin sauce – the secret ingredient! Adds a hint of extra flavour that takes this recipe from ok to yummo!
- Sesame oil – for a wonderful hint of sesame flavour;
- Chicken stock – to give the sauce depth of flavour without using Chinese Cooking Wine (Shaoxing Wine) and to make enough sauce to coat all the chicken; and
- Cornflour / cornstarch – to thicken the sauce as well as make it nicely shiny and clear (whereas wheat flour makes sauces more opaque, like with Gravy).
2. The Chicken
For the chicken, you will need two tablespoons of the Sauce we made above for marinating, as well as ginger and garlic for flavour.
Unlike other crispy Chinese fried chicken dishes, such as Honey Chicken, the chicken is not coated with a batter but instead is tossed in cornflour/cornstarch to make it crispy. It’s quite similar to the way crispy Sweet and Sour Pork is made – but simpler because chicken pieces are tender and easier to cook than pork.
Best chicken – boneless skinless thighs, because they stay nice and juicy even if you overcook them a bit (which is easy to do if you’re not an experienced fryer). If you want to use chicken breast or tenderloins, see recipe notes for how to tenderise it before cooking using a touch of baking soda/bi-carb. This technique offers some insurance against dry, overcooked breast notorious in recipes like this.
3. Making the Sauce
And here’s what you need to cook the Sauce – ginger, garlic and red pepper flakes (chilli flakes). These are sautéed until golden before adding the Sauce.
How to make it
Here’s how to make it:
- Sauce/Marinade – first, mix the Sauce/Marinade. We do this in two parts. Firstly, mix all the ingredients except the sugar, chicken stock/broth and the cornflour/cornstarch, and use some of this initial mix to marinate the chicken (in Step 2 below). THEN mix in the sugar, stock and cornflour to the remainder to create the dish’s final Sauce – these are Sauce-specific ingredients we don’t want in the chicken marinade;
- Marinate Chicken – Use 2 tablespoons of the initial Sauce mix to marinate the chicken for 30 minutes along with fresh garlic and ginger. It’s really nice to add fresh ginger and garlic into the marinade to really get those flavours into the chicken;
- Coat chicken in cornflour – just add it into the bowl and mix, making sure the pieces are separate so they are fully coated;
- Shake off excess cornflour using whatever method works for you – I use a colander these days. Not all the cornflour falls through the colander holes and that’s ok. It still gives me a means to shake out most of the excess and some chunks settled at the base. We don’t want a thick layer of cornflour on the chicken because it can make it taste powdery and also you end up with loads of cornflour in the oil which burns unless you scoop it out;
- Cook chicken using preferred amount of oil – either shallow fry as I do (which is when the chicken is sitting on the base of the pan and the oil comes halfway up the chicken) or deep fry (which is when there is enough oil so the chicken floats around in the oil). You can even cook it with just a thin layer of oil in the pan but you’ll need to rotate each piece of chicken 4 to 6 times to get all sides crispy – which is a pain!
- Drain on paper towels to remove excess oil.
Time to sauce it!
Chicken done, so next up: time to make the sauce. This part literally takes 3 minutes:
- Sauté garlic, ginger and chilli flakes until garlic is golden and it smells amazing, then pour the sauce in;
- Simmer sauce for 2 minutes until it thickens enough so you can draw a path across the base;
- Add chicken;
- QUICKLY toss to coat then serve, stat! The faster you get it on the table, the crispier the chicken stays!
General Tso’s CRISPY FACTOR
Chicken cooked using this method (ie. coated in cornflour) will never be as crispy compared to a more involved batter method, such as with Honey Chicken which stays crispy for hours (and that is no exaggeration!).
But if you really want super-crispiness, just use the batter method in Honey Chicken and the sauce from General Tso’s Chicken!
What to serve with General Tso’s Chicken
Serve on you rice of choice with some greens on the side. For me, Ginger Smashed Cucumber Salad is just the sort of refreshing side I’d serve for a dish like this. Otherwise, any fresh salad, leafy greens or steamed greens with my reliable Asian Sesame Dressing.
For a larger banquet, try adding some extra dishes such as one of these:
Let me know when you’re planning that banquet and I’ll be there in a flash! 😂 – Nagi x
Watch how to make it
General Tso's Chicken
- 3 tbsp soy sauce - light or all-purpose (NOT dark soy, Note 1)
- 1 tbsp hoisin sauce
- 1 tbsp rice vinegar (sub white wine vinegar)
- 2 tsp chilli paste , any (Sambal Oelak is great)
- 1 tsp sesame oil toasted preferably (Note 6)
- 3 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tbsp cornflour/cornstarch
- 3/4 cup chicken stock/broth , low sodium
- 600g/ 1.4 lb chicken thighs , boneless skinless, cut into 2.5cm / 1" pieces (breast / tenderloin - Note 2)
- 1 tsp ginger , finely grated
- 1 tsp garlic ,finely grated
- 1 cup cornflour/cornstarch (Note 5)
- 1 - 4 cups oil, for frying (peanut, vegetable or canola; Note 4)
Stir Fry Sauce:
- 2 tbsp oil (peanut, vegetable or canola)
- 2 tsp ginger , finely chopped (Note 3)
- 2 cloves garlic , finely chopped (Note 3)
- 1/2 teaspoon red chilli flakes (red pepper flakes)
Garnishes (at least 1 recommended):
- Finely sliced green onion
- Sesame seeds
- Sauce-Marinade: Mix the soy, hoisin, vinegar, chilli and sesame oil.
- Marinate Chicken: Take out 2 tablespoons of Sauce-Marinade and mix with chicken. Add ginger and garlic to chicken, mix, then marinate 30 minutes.
- Dust chicken: Add cornflour into chicken and toss to coat, ensuring pieces are separated so they get fully coated.
- Shake off excess: Tip into a colander and shake to remove excess cornflour (or grab handfuls, shake so cornflour falls through your fingers).
- Finish Sauce: To the remaining Sauce-Marinade (that you made in Step 1), add sugar and cornflour. Mix, then add chicken stock and mix.
- Heat oil: Heat 2 cm / 4/5" oil in a deep skillet (or large pot - whatever you’re comfortable with) to 200°C/390°F. To use less, see Note 4.
- Fry: Cook chicken 3 minutes, turning halfway, until golden and crispy. Drain on paper towel lined plate.
- New / clean skillet: Discard oil, wipe skillet and return to heat. Or use another large skillet.
- Stir Fry Sauce: Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, ginger, chilli flakes, saute 30 seconds until garlic is light golden. Add Sauce, bring to simmer and stir occasionally until it thickens enough that you can draw a path across pan base.
- Toss! Add chicken, toss to coat quickly - the quicker you are, the crispier the chicken stays! Transfer to serving plate, garnish and serve immediately with your rice of choice.
Life of Dozer
He couldn’t believe his eyes when he waddled into the kitchen to find a giant bag of dog food open on the floor…….!!
For those of you who know that I usually feed Dozer a raw food diet – these dog biscuits are special gastrointestinal friendly biscuits after this tummy problems a month or so ago. Just slowly transitioning him back to his normal diet!