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General Tso chicken

Updated: Wed, 15 November, 2023

General Tso’s chicken, crisp chunks of deep fried chicken breast dunked in hot and sour sauce is a delicious American Chinese dish.

general tso chicken

General and his chicken

Governor Tso's chicken, General Tao’s chicken, General Mao's chicken, General Tsao's chicken, General Tong's, Tang's, Cho's and Chai's chicken; General Joe's, Ching's, Jong's chicken – these are all variants of names for the dish of deep fried chicken in hot and sweet sauce. It has as many various names as many recipes for it, most far too complicated.

Legendary general Zuo Zongtang would probably be amazed that a chicken dish has been named in his honour. He was a 19th century warrior, so probably was not so fussed about what he ate. Nor would he be familiar with this particular tomatoey, sweet and hot chicken dish as it is yet another western impostor.

chicken general tso

Immigrant song

Chicken balti, deep pan pizza, chicken parmigiana, hamburgers, chilli con carne, fortune cookies and chop suey are all counterfeits invented in Britain or America, pretending to be authentic ethnic dishes. They may well have been designed and cooked by ethnically correct immigrants but they still are what I call immigrant songs.

Many scorn them, but I don’t think those dishes are so wrong.

Say, if I’d lived a hundred years earlier and came to the UK with my mind set on opening a Polish takeaway (I think there is no such thing anywhere around, possibly the better for it), I probably wouldn’t start off with duck blood soup or jellied pig’s head.

Instead, I’d try to entice the British customers gently, non-controversially, with pierogis and bigos, cooking to please the local palates and from available produce.

chicken general tao

Many ways to general’s chicken

As many names, as many recipe variants for the good general’s chicken abound. The crudest version I’ve seen involves dunking fried chicken in ketchup. The more sophisticated ones involve marinating the chicken, frying it and cooking the sauce separately.

Mine is a two-stage recipe: coat and fry the chicken, then toss it with the sauce. And making the sauce is easier than buying it bottled.

I’ve been inspired mostly by NY Times Cooking’s Fuchsia Dunlop’s recipe but have trawled through many different ones. You can use chicken thighs or chicken breast fillet, depending on your preference.

sweet and hot chicken general tso

How to cook the chicken?

Somewhat counterintuitively to Western cookery concepts, crispy fried chicken pieces do not stay crisp but are dunked in sauce.

On the other hand it is the approach familiar to our meatball making: fry the pieces of meat to quickly cook and seal the moisture, then drown them in the fragrant sauce to infuse with flavour and to dress pasta, or rice as in the case of the General’s dish.

Chicken sliced into small chunks or large dice is first marinated in soy sauce and egg yolk. There is a controversy whether to use egg yolk or egg white to help crust the chicken: I’ve tried both and can vouch for egg yolk.

Thus coated, the chicken is briskly deep fried until crisp and golden, then drained on paper towels while we empty and wipe the wok. It is a bit of a chore but shallow frying won’t cut the mustard here: chicken might not cook through. If you strain the oil into a sturdy container, it can be happily re-used.

deep frying chicken

How to make the sauce?

The sauce for General Tso’s chicken is delicious, albeit westernised by the use of tomato paste. The paste is stirred together with the classic combination of soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, rice vinegar and some chicken stock or simply water.

The third element of the dish apart from (already cooked) chicken and (now mixed) sauce are the aromatics: snipped whole dried chillies, with or without the seeds depending on your resilience to heat, finely chopped ginger and finely chopped garlic.

Once the wok is re-heated post-chicken, the aromatics can be briefly cooked in a little fresh oil – watch out for the fumes!

Then the sauce should be poured in and almost immediately you can return the chicken pieces into the wok, to toss and coat in the sauce over medium heat. Adjust the thickness of the sauce by adding a spoonful of cornflour slurry, or splashing more stock or water in.

And that’s the dish ready to serve over plain rice, with a drizzle of sesame oil and a scattering of chopped spring onions.

general tso sauce

More Chinese chicken recipes

Bang bang chicken made the authentic way is poached, shredded chicken served with crunchy vegetables and a mind-blowing peanut butter sauce.

Chicken yu xiang, chicken breast pieces cooked in Sichuan ‘fragrant fish’ sauce which has seafood only in the name. With addition of dried cranberries for sweetness and almonds for crunch.

Kung pao, or gong bao chicken is a chicken and peanuts stir fry with thick and spicy sauce. Authentic taste of a good kung pao chicken takeaway made at home, with the spiciness from chilies and Sichuan peppercorns.

chicken tso in wok

More recipes for stir fries

Chinese five spice duck breast with perfectly rendered fat seared in a pan, atop aubergines and mushrooms stir fried with oyster sauce, is the kind of brilliant recipe that is quick and easy but very impressive.

Beef and asparagus stir fry with beef so tender you won’t believe it’s a cheaper cut. There’s a secret to a successful beef stir fry and you’d never guess what it is.

Stir fried ginger vegetables: a mixed vegetable stir-fry with ginger and sesame. This healthy Chinese vegetable stir fry is a side dish or a vegetarian main when served over rice or noodles.

chinese fried chicken in hot sauce

General Tso chicken

Servings: 3-4Time: 1 hour


  • For the sauce:
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 2 tbsp water
  • ½ tsp corn flour
  • 1 tsp dark soy sauce
  • 2 tsp Shaoxing wine
  • 1 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 3 tbsp chicken stock or water
  • For the chicken:
  • 3-4 (about 1 pound) skinless chicken breast fillets
  • 1 tsp dark soy sauce
  • 2 tsp light soy sauce
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tbsp corn flour
  • 1 litre groundnut or sunflower oil, for deep frying
  • 6-10 dried red chilies
  • 2cm (1 inch) fresh root ginger
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 3-4 spring onions, chopped, for garnish


1. For the sauce, stir all the ingredients together in a bowl.

2. Slice the chicken fillets into bite-sized chunks or slices. Toss them in another bowl with both the soy sauces, egg yolk and corn flour so all the pieces are well coated.

3. Snip the dried chillies into pieces with scissors and shake out the seeds. Peel and finely chop the ginger and the garlic.

4. Heat the oil for deep frying in a wok (or use deep fat fryer) to 200C/400F.

5. Working quickly and carefully, drop half the chicken pieces one by one swiftly into the hot oil. Cook until they all float up to the surface and are crisp and golden. Remove them with a slotted spoon onto a plate lined with paper towels.

6. Bring the oil back to the right temperature and proceed with the second batch of chicken.

7. Carefully pour the oil out of the wok to an appropriate container and wipe the wok clean with paper towels.

8. Reheat the wok until lightly smoking and return 2 tbsp of the oil into it. Add the dried chilli pieces and stir fry for a few seconds until they turn dark. Add the garlic and ginger and stir fry for another few seconds. Pour in the prepared sauce mix and turn down the heat.

9. Cook stirring until the sauce thickens. Add the chicken pieces and stir well to coat them all.

10. Remove the wok from the heat, add the sesame oil and serve the chicken with plain rice, garnished with chopped spring onions.

Originally published: Tue, 19 March, 2019

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Hello! I'm Anna Gaze, the Cuisine Fiend. Welcome to my recipe collection.

I have lots of recipes for you to choose from: healthy or indulgent, easy or more challenging, quick or involved - but always tasty.


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