General Tso’s Chicken
General Tso's Chicken
5 from 3 votes
Dive into the culinary journey of General Tso's chicken, an iconic dish known for its perfect balance of sweet, sour, and spicy flavours. I will share insights into the recipe's origins, making process, and the unique blend of ingredients that give this dish its signature taste.
General Tsos Chicken

The name “General Tso’s Chicken” immediately brings to mind a tantalizing dance of flavours and textures. The crispy, golden-brown chicken, glazed with a tangy and mildly spicy sauce, garnished with sesame seeds and spring onions – it’s a dish that has earned its place in the heart of global cuisine. 

The history of General Tso’s Chicken is as captivating as the dish itself. Despite being a staple in American-Chinese restaurants, the recipe has its roots in the Hunan Province of China.  

However, its actual connection to General Tso – a famed military leader from the Qing dynasty – remains a mystery. Some sources suggest that the recipe was created by Chef Peng Chang-Kuei, a Hunanese chef who named the dish after General Tso to honour his home province’s history. 

As a chef, I appreciate the complexity of flavours and textures in General Tso’s Chicken. From the crunch of the perfectly fried chicken to the kick of the dried red chilies and the sweetness of the sugar, every ingredient complements the others, creating a symphony of taste that is uniquely satisfying.  

The beauty of this recipe lies in its balance – every flavour is pronounced, yet none overpower the others. 

In terms of difficulty, General Tso’s Chicken is a moderate-level recipe. While it requires some skill to perfectly fry the chicken and to create a well-balanced sauce, it’s a recipe that home cooks of varying levels can successfully execute with a bit of practice.  

It’s all about finding the right rhythm – the way the ingredients blend together, the method of frying the chicken, and the patience required to let the flavours meld together perfectly. 

In this article, I will break down each step of making General Tso’s Chicken at home. The recipe has been adapted for home cooks, taking into account the availability of ingredients and ease of process.  

Whether you’re a fan of this iconic dish, a home cook looking for a challenge, or a food enthusiast interested in the stories behind popular dishes, this guide will offer a comprehensive look into General Tso’s Chicken. 

What Ingredients to Use & Why 

When crafting a classic like General Tso’s Chicken, every ingredient is vital, contributing its unique attributes to create the dish’s signature taste and texture. Here, I’ve broken down the key components and the role they play in our recipe, as well as potential alternatives to consider. 

Chicken Thighs: As the main ingredient, the chicken sets the tone for this dish. I prefer boneless, skinless chicken thighs for their tenderness and flavour. The higher fat content of thighs ensures the meat stays moist, even after frying.  

An alternative can be the chicken breast, which is leaner but can become dry if overcooked. 

Corn-starch: Essential for getting that desirable crispness on the fried chicken pieces, cornstarch forms a light, crunchy coating when fried. You could replace it with potato starch, but the texture may vary slightly. 

Vegetable Oil: Used for frying, vegetable oil has a high smoke point and a neutral flavour. You can replace it with canola or peanut oil, keeping in mind that the latter imparts a slightly nutty flavour. 

Soy Sauce: It is the base of the sauce, lending a deep umami flavour. Low-sodium soy sauce can be used as a less salty option. For a gluten-free alternative, consider tamari. 

Rice Vinegar: Its tanginess balances the sweetness and heat in the sauce. White wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar can work as replacements. 

Hoisin Sauce: It contributes a sweet and salty dimension to the sauce. An easy substitute can be a mixture of soy sauce, peanut butter, honey and a dash of vinegar. 

Sesame Oil: This gives the dish its distinctive, nutty aroma. While it’s difficult to mimic its unique flavour, you could use perilla oil, which also has a slightly nutty taste. 

Sugar: Sugar imparts the characteristic sweetness to the dish, balancing out the spicy and tangy notes. If you want a less refined option, honey or maple syrup can serve as replacements. 

Chicken Broth: This adds a depth of flavour to the sauce, enhancing its savoury quality. Vegetable broth or water can be used if chicken broth isn’t available, but they may alter the taste slightly. 

Garlic and Ginger: These are used for their aromatic properties, infusing the dish with a warm, spicy undertone. They are rather unique, and finding exact replacements can be challenging. 

Spring Onions and Sesame Seeds: These serve as garnishes, adding colour, freshness, and a bit of crunch to the final dish. While not necessary, they certainly elevate the presentation. 

Dried Red Chilies: These provide the heat in the dish. Adjust the quantity based on your preference for spiciness. For a less spicy dish, deseed the chillies or replace them with sweet bell peppers for a milder version. 

Creating a recipe is similar to conducting a symphony – each ingredient, like a musical instrument, plays its part to create a harmony of flavours. So, when you’re making General Tso’s Chicken, remember that while each ingredient has its role, together, they create the melody that is this delightful dish. 

The Origin of General Tso’s Chicken 

General Tso’s Chicken, a dish known and loved by many across the world, has a fascinating history that many aren’t aware of. Although it’s a staple in American-Chinese restaurants, its origins are deeply rooted in the Hunan Province of China.  

Named after General Tso Tsung-tang, a famous military leader from the Qing dynasty, this dish surprisingly has no actual connection to the General. 

The recipe was created by Chef Peng Chang-Kuei, a native of the Hunan province, who brought it to the United States in the early 1970s.  

He started serving this dish in his restaurant in New York City, where it was an instant hit, especially among the diplomatic and UN delegates that frequented his restaurant. 

However, the version of General Tso’s Chicken we know today is quite different from Chef Peng’s original recipe. The original dish was tailored to the tastes of the Hunanese people, who favour flavours that are hot and sour.  

However, to cater to the Western palate, the recipe evolved into a sweeter version, incorporating ingredients like sugar and hoisin sauce. 

In a culinary context, General Tso’s Chicken is a symbol of the versatility and adaptability of food, showing how a dish can transform and evolve when it crosses borders. So, the next time you dig into a plate of this delightful dish, remember its rich and captivating history. 

Achieving the Perfect Crispiness in General Tso’s Chicken 

Crispiness is a key characteristic of General Tso’s Chicken, and achieving it requires a bit of technique and know-how. One of the essential steps in this recipe is coating the chicken pieces in cornstarch before frying them.  

Corn starch, as opposed to flour, creates a light and crunchy texture when fried. It helps form a barrier that seals the juices of the chicken, ensuring that the inside stays tender and juicy. 

Another key factor in achieving that perfect crispiness is the temperature of the oil. It’s important that the oil is sufficiently hot before adding the chicken.  

If the oil isn’t hot enough, the chicken will absorb the oil rather than fry, resulting in a greasy and soggy texture. Conversely, if the oil is too hot, the chicken may burn on the outside before it’s fully cooked inside. 

Lastly, avoid crowding the pan or wok while frying the chicken pieces. If the pan is too crowded, the temperature of the oil will decrease significantly, hampering the frying process and causing the chicken to steam instead. Fry in small batches to maintain a consistent oil temperature. 

Practice and patience go a long way. Achieving the perfect crispiness might take a few tries, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be well on your way to making restaurant-quality General Tso’s Chicken at home. 

Hoisin Sauce Substitutes in General Tso’s Chicken 

Hoisin sauce is a thick, fragrant sauce commonly used in Chinese cooking. Its sweetness and complex flavour, combining soybeans, vinegar, sugar, garlic, and various spices, contribute to the distinctive taste of General Tso’s Chicken. 

However, I understand that hoisin sauce may not be readily available in all kitchens. If you find yourself in such a predicament, don’t fret. There are several alternatives you can use that can closely mimic hoisin sauce’s unique flavour. 

A quick and easy substitute can be made by combining equal parts of soy sauce and peanut butter, then adding a little honey and a dash of vinegar to balance the flavours. This mix will have a similar sweet and tangy taste, although it may lack some of the complexity of hoisin sauce. 

Another option is to use a combination of barbeque sauce and molasses. The barbeque sauce provides a savoury depth, while the molasses adds sweetness, resembling hoisin sauce’s characteristics. Keep in mind, though, that the resulting flavour will be a bit smokier than the original. 

Remember, substitutions are about approximating the flavour, and these alternatives may not be identical to hoisin sauce. But part of the joy in cooking is the ability to experiment and adapt, turning limitations into opportunities for creativity.  

So go ahead, mix, match and taste until you find the perfect blend for your General Tso’s Chicken. 

Adjusting the Spice Level in General Tso’s Chicken 

General Tso’s Chicken is known for its balanced flavours: sweet, tangy, and a touch of heat from dried red chillies. However, the beauty of cooking at home is the flexibility to adjust the flavours to your preference. If you’re not a fan of spicy food, there are ways to adapt the recipe to suit your taste. 

The main source of heat in General Tso’s Chicken comes from the dried red chillies. To reduce the spiciness, you could deseed the chillies before adding them to the dish, as a lot of the heat is concentrated in the seeds. If you still find it too spicy, you could reduce the quantity of the chillies. 

For those who prefer a milder version, you could replace the dried red chillies with sweet bell peppers. They add a similar pop of colour and a hint of sweetness without the heat. 

Remember, though, that the contrast between the sweet and spicy flavours is one of the defining characteristics of General Tso’s Chicken. Reducing the spice will alter the overall flavour profile, but as long as you enjoy the result, that’s all that matters.  

After all, the best part of cooking is creating meals that you and your loved ones enjoy. 

Making General Tso’s Chicken Healthier 

General Tso’s Chicken, while delicious, is traditionally deep-fried, making it less than ideal for those watching their caloric intake. However, as a chef who appreciates a healthy lifestyle, I believe there are ways to make this dish healthier without compromising too much on taste. 

One simple change is to opt for shallow frying or sautéing the chicken instead of deep frying. By using less oil and employing a quick stir-fry method, you can significantly reduce the overall fat content of the dish. 

Another approach is to use a healthier cooking method like baking or air frying. You can coat the chicken pieces in cornstarch and then bake or air fry them until crispy. This method still provides a satisfying crunch without the extra calories and fat from deep frying. 

The sauce can also be adjusted to be healthier. Traditional recipes call for sugar to achieve the sweet aspect of the dish. You could replace this with a natural sweetener like honey or even a sugar substitute. Also, using low-sodium soy sauce can help decrease the overall sodium content. 

Lastly, serving General Tso’s Chicken with a side of steamed vegetables or brown rice can help balance the meal, adding necessary fibre and nutrients. 

Remember, making a dish healthier doesn’t mean sacrificing flavour. With these simple tweaks, you can enjoy a delicious and slightly healthier version of General Tso’s Chicken in the comfort of your own home. 

Balancing Sweet and Spicy Flavours in General Tso’s Chicken 

A harmonious blend of sweet and spicy defines General Tso’s Chicken. This interplay of flavours is what makes the dish so appealing. However, achieving this balance might seem challenging, especially if you’re new to cooking. 

The sweetness primarily comes from the sugar and hoisin sauce in the recipe, while the spiciness comes from dried red chillies. One way to balance these flavours is to gradually add these ingredients, constantly tasting and adjusting until you achieve the right mix. 

If you find the dish too spicy, you can add more sugar or hoisin sauce to offset the heat. Alternatively, if it’s too sweet for your liking, increase the number of dried chillies or even add a dash of chilli sauce. 

Understanding your ingredients is key. For instance, hoisin sauce adds both sweetness and a savoury depth to the dish, so adding more of it will intensify these flavours. On the other hand, adding more chillies will increase the heat, but it will also bring a smoky flavour to the dish. 

Lastly, remember that cooking is a personal journey. The perfect balance of flavours is subjective and depends on your palate. The “right” flavour is the one that tastes best to you.  

As you continue to cook and experiment, you’ll develop an instinct for balancing flavours, making your General Tso’s Chicken the perfect blend of sweet and spicy. 

Using Chicken Breast in General Tso’s Chicken 

Traditional General Tso’s Chicken recipes typically call for chicken thighs due to their richer flavour and juicier texture. However, there’s no hard and fast rule stating you can’t use chicken breast. In fact, many people prefer chicken breast for its leaner profile and lower fat content. 

When using chicken breast, a few considerations can ensure a delicious result. Firstly, avoid overcooking as chicken breasts can become tough and dry if cooked for too long. Unlike chicken thighs, chicken breasts don’t have a high-fat content that keeps them moist during cooking. 

Marinating chicken breast in a bit of soy sauce, corn starch, and Shaoxing wine can help tenderize the meat and infuse it with flavour. This step is crucial in making sure the chicken doesn’t turn out bland or dry. 

Furthermore, chicken breasts cook quicker than thighs, so you need to keep a close eye on your cooking time. A quick stir-fry on high heat should suffice to cook the chicken pieces without drying them out. 

Whether you prefer using chicken thighs or breasts in your General Tso’s Chicken, what matters is how you prepare and cook them. With a bit of care and attention, you can make a delicious dish that suits your dietary preferences. 

Making General Tso’s Chicken Without a Wok 

A wok is a versatile cooking utensil, ideal for high-heat cooking methods like stir-frying. It’s especially handy when making dishes like General Tso’s Chicken. However, not having a wok shouldn’t deter you from trying out this recipe. 

You can substitute a wok with a large, deep skillet or frying pan. These pans usually have a thick bottom that allows for even heat distribution, which is crucial for stir-frying. Make sure the skillet or frying pan you choose is big enough to comfortably accommodate all the chicken pieces without crowding. 

When frying the chicken, remember that the goal is to achieve a crispy, golden-brown exterior. To do this, the oil needs to be hot enough, and the chicken pieces shouldn’t touch each other. This is easier to achieve in a wok due to its shape and size, but with careful attention, it can be done in a frying pan too. 

For the sauce, a deep saucepan works just as well. The most important part here is ensuring that the heat is high enough for the sauce to thicken quickly without burning. 

Remember, while specific tools can make cooking easier, they aren’t a requirement. As long as you understand the principles of the cooking technique, you can adapt and use the tools you have on hand. Cooking is all about creativity and flexibility, after all. 

Gluten-Free General Tso’s Chicken 

If you’re following a gluten-free diet but still crave a good General Tso’s Chicken, I’m here to assure you that you can still enjoy this delicious dish with a few modifications. 

Firstly, be mindful of the soy sauce used. Traditional soy sauce contains wheat and is not suitable for a gluten-free diet. However, there are gluten-free soy sauce options available in the market, like Tamari, which you can use as a substitute. 

The second component to watch out for is the hoisin sauce, which also typically contains wheat. Look for a gluten-free version of hoisin sauce, or you can make your own at home using gluten-free ingredients. 

For the chicken coating, corn starch is already gluten-free, so there’s no need for any adjustments there. But be cautious about cross-contamination. If you’re highly sensitive, ensure that the corn-starch brand you’re using is certified gluten-free and hasn’t been processed in facilities that handle wheat. 

Finally, when frying, use a clean oil that hasn’t been used to fry foods containing gluten. Cross-contamination can also occur through the frying oil, so this is an important point to note. 

Cooking gluten-free doesn’t mean you have to miss out on your favourite foods. With some thoughtful substitutions and careful preparation, you can enjoy a plate of delicious and gluten-free General Tso’s Chicken right at home. 

Vegetarian Version of General Tso’s Chicken 

General Tso’s Chicken is traditionally a meat-based dish, but if you’re vegetarian or simply looking to reduce your meat consumption, I’ve got you covered. You can create a delicious vegetarian version of this recipe by substituting chicken with tofu or a variety of vegetables. 

When using tofu, I recommend using firm or extra firm tofu. It holds its shape well and can be crisped up nicely when fried. Just like the chicken, coat the tofu pieces in cornstarch and then fry until golden brown. 

If you want to go the vegetable route, cauliflower is a great option. The florets can be coated and fried just like the chicken. When prepared properly, cauliflower offers a satisfying bite and can carry the flavours of the sauce very well. 

No matter which substitutes you choose, the key is to mimic the texture and flavour of the original as closely as possible. Remember to make the sauce as you would for the traditional recipe. The familiar sweet, sour, and slightly spicy sauce will give the dish its distinctive General Tso flavour. 

While these substitutions may not perfectly replicate the taste and texture of chicken, they provide a delicious and satisfying alternative. It’s a testament to the versatility of cooking and how it can be adapted to different dietary needs and preferences. 

Check Out These Other Recipes 

Walking into the realm of Chinese cuisine after savouring my General Tso’s Chicken feels like stepping into a vibrant banquet. I want to share with you, my favourite soul-soothing dishes that make me feel like I’ve been transported straight to the heart of Beijing. 

Firstly, the Chicken Manchurian. This is an absolute must for me. The burst of flavours from the tangy sauce, the tender chicken bites – it’s the kind of dish that has you reaching for more before you’ve even finished your first helping.  

The spicy, sweet, and sour symphony of flavours gives the Manchurian its addictive persona. Truly, it’s a meal that echoes the essence of General Tso’s Chicken. 

Next up, we have the Kung Pao Chicken, a dish that never fails to excite my palate. The sharp, fiery taste of the Szechuan peppercorns combined with the tender, succulent chicken truly is an affair to remember. Each bite into the juicy, spicy chicken is like being swept away by a thrilling flavour roller-coaster. 

From the spice-laden lanes, let’s stroll down to the milder, but just as delicious territory of the yummy Chicken Fried Rice. It’s a comforting classic that always manages to hit the spot.  

The stir-fried rice, rich with the flavours of soy, garlic, and hints of sesame, mixed with chunks of chicken, forms an enthralling culinary experience. 

Now, imagine the soothing aroma of Chicken Soup wafting through your kitchen. The wholesome warmth of the chicken broth, accompanied by a delicate medley of vegetables and tender chicken, feels like a comforting hug in a bowl. A must-try, especially on those chillier nights. 

As I share these dishes with you, I invite you to embark on your own journey through the exciting landscape of Chinese cuisine. Discover, create, and, most importantly, enjoy! And remember, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section. 

General Tsos Chicken

General Tso’s Chicken

by Nabeela Kauser
Dive into the culinary journey of General Tso's Chicken, an iconic dish known for its perfect balance of sweet, sour, and spicy flavours.
5 from 3 votes
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 50 minutes
Course Appetiser
Cuisine American, Chinese, Taiwanese
Servings 4
Calories 304 kcal

Ingredients

  • 500 g Chicken Boneless
  • 60 g Cornflour
  • Salt To taste
  • Black Pepper To taste
  • 2 cloves Garlic Minced
  • 1 tbsp Ginger Minced
  • 2 Spring Onions Chopped
  • 1 tbsp Sesame Seeds
  • 8 Red Chillies Dried
  • Oil For frying

Sauce

  • 3 tbsp Soy Sauce
  • 2 tbsp Rice Vinegar
  • 2 tbsp Hoisin Sauce
  • 1 tbsp Sesame Oil
  • 2 tbsp Sugar
  • 1 tbsp Cornflour
  • 120 ml Chicken Broth

Instructions

  • Cut the chicken thighs into bite-sized pieces. Season with salt and pepper, then toss them in corn-starch until well coated.
  • Heat vegetable oil in a large pan or wok over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and fry until crispy and golden brown. Remove the chicken and set it aside on a plate lined with paper towels.
  • For the sauce, whisk together soy sauce, rice vinegar, hoisin sauce, sesame oil, sugar, corn-starch, and chicken broth in a bowl. Set this aside.
  • In the same pan, add a bit more oil if needed and sauté the minced garlic and ginger until fragrant. Add in the dried red chilies and sauté for another minute.
  • Pour in the sauce mixture and let it simmer until it thickens.
  • Return the fried chicken to the pan, toss it in the sauce until well coated. Cook for another 2 minutes.
  • Garnish with chopped spring onions and sesame seeds before serving. Enjoy your General Tso’s Chicken with a side of steamed rice or noodles.

Notes

For a spicier kick, add more dried red chillies.
For a healthier version, you can oven-bake the chicken instead of frying.
Nutritional facts:
The provision of nutritional information is done so merely as a courtesy and should not be taken as a guarantee.

Nutrition

Calories: 304kcalCarbohydrates: 28gProtein: 14gFat: 15gSaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0.1gCholesterol: 46mgSodium: 1041mgPotassium: 205mgFibre: 1gSugar: 9gVitamin A: 148IUVitamin C: 3mgVitamin D: 0.1µgCalcium: 27mgIron: 1mg
Keyword Chicken, Cooking, Food, Recipe, Snack
Tried this recipe?Mention @CookwithNabeela or tag #CookwithNabeela!

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Cook with Nabeela

Hi, I'm Nabeela!

I love to cook! I want to share with you my favourite, delicious family-friendly recipes. I want to inspire you to create fantastic food for your family every day.

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