general tso chicken
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General Tso’s chicken, crisp chunks of deep fried chicken breast dunked in hot and sour sauce is an American Chinese dish. It has as many various names as many recipes for it, most far too complicated. This is just two-stage one: coat and fry the chicken - toss it with the sauce. And making the sauce is easier than buying bottled.
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 a dish of deep fried chicken in hot and sweet sauce.
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 I bet not so fussed about what he ate. Nor would he be familiar with this particular tomatoey, sweet and hot chicken dish as it is another western impostor.
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 immigrant’s songs.
Many scorn those dishes, but I don’t think there’s much wrong. Say, if I’d lived a hundred years earlier and came to the UK with my mind set on opening a Polish takeaway (no, there’s no such thing thank God), I probably wouldn’t start off with duck blood soup or jellied pig’s head but gently, non-controversially with pierogis and bigos, cooking to please the local palates and from available produce.
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. In the more sophisticated ones 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. I didn’t use sugar at all but many recipes recommend adding it to the sauce; I thought the thing was calorific enough as it was. I’ve drawn mostly from NY Times Cooking’s Fuchsia Dunlop’s recipe but swapped chicken thighs for breast fillet and tweaked the seasoning.
general tso chickenServings: 3-4Time: 1 hour
- For the sauce:
- 1 tbsp. tomato puree
- 2 tbsp. of 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) chicken breast fillets, skinned
- 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, plus 2 tbsp. for the sauce
- 6 - 10 dried red chilies
- 2cm (1 inch) fresh root ginger, peeled and finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
- 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 the soy sauces, egg yolk and corn flour so all the pieces are well coated. Snip the dried chillies into pieces with scissors and shake out the seeds.
3. Heat the oil for deep frying in a wok (or use deep fat fryer) to 200C/400F. 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 onto a plate lined with paper towels with a slotted spoon.
4. Bring the oil back to the right temperature and proceed with the second batch of chicken. Pour the oil out of the wok to an appropriate container and wipe the wok clean with paper towels; use another wok or skillet if you don’t mind all the washing up.
5. Heat the 2 tbsp. of oil in the wok over high heat. 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. Cook stirring until it thickens, add the chicken pieces and stir well to coat each one.
6. Remove the wok from the heat, add the sesame oil and serve with rice, garnished with the spring onions.