Sunday, November 18, 2007

Easier Than you Think: General Tsao's Chicken

I have 3 Chinese cookbooks and not one of them contains a recipe for General Tsao’s Chicken. But walk into any Chinese Restaurant in America, and you’ll find it on the menu. Is this a Chinese-American invention or is it actually genuinely Chinese? Anyone with an answer, please speak up.

Whatever it’s origins, it’s definitely a crowd pleaser. That’s why I was thrilled to find a recipe for it here on Slashfood. If you think it’s difficult or time consuming to make, it’s not! I think it’s the deep-frying bit that turns people off to making this at home. Personally, I find deep frying a lot neater than frying up a steak or pan searing chicken; it just takes a little longer. Still, this dish can be done in about 30 minutes.

I pretty much followed the recipe since this was my first time, and it turned out great. The only things I did a little differently were double the sauce (because God forbid there isn’t enough sauce to go around) and wok-caramelized the chicken in the sauce to give it that extra touch. Of course you can just toss the chicken in the sauce and serve it that way.

There are a couple of important things to remember: 1) Even though the sauce may taste very salty by itself, the chicken is not seasoned, so it all mellows out in the end. Serving with steamed rice also cuts the saltiness. 2) Use whatever cuts of chicken you like. Contrary to what people think, using breast meat will not be too dry. In fact, it won’t be dry at all. The cornstarch prevents that. It’s the Chinese secret to any stir-fry and deep fry. 3) The batter will look similar to a tempura batter, but the chicken will never get as “crunchy” due to the egg. Don’t worry. The result will not be soggy, especially after you give it a quick turn in the sauce in your wok.

General Tsao’s Chicken
  • 1 lb skinless, boneless chicken, cubed or sliced
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup soy sauce (low sodium is fine)
  • ¼ cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tbs cornstarch
  • ¼ cup sugar (more or less to taste)
  • 1-2 tsp sambal oelek or 1-2 chili peppers split lengthwise (or more to taste)
  • 4-5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbs minced ginger
  • 1 bunch green onions, sliced in long on the diagonal (save 1 to slice finely for garnish)
  • vegetable oil for deep-frying (I do not recommend olive oil)
Set the oil on the stove to heat while you prepare the chicken and batter. Depending on the size of the pot, you may need about 3-5 cups of oil.

Start by making the batter. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until they are well scrambled. Slowly add the cornstarch in batches while whisking vigorously to prevent clumping. When you get a uniform mixture, add the chicken and turn to mix well. When the oil reaches 350º, it’s ready. Don’t worry if you don’t have a thermometer, just add a drop of the batter to the oil. If it starts to sizzle, the oil is ready. Fry the chicken in batches, making sure not to crowd the pieces. Use a spider to separate the pieces as they will have a tendency to stick together, even if they are not crowded. It will probably take about 2 minutes per side, so a total of 4 minutes per batch. The chicken should be golden brown and cooked through. I recommend draining on a rack set above a cookie sheet, but draining on paper towels is okay too.

As you’re frying up the chicken, you can begin to make the base for the sauce. In a small sauce pan, add the soy sauce, vinegar, cornstarch and sugar. Whisk to dissolve the cornstarch. Put the pot over a medium-low heat and simmer until the sauce thickens. Stir it as needed. Add more sugar or vinegar according to your taste. Once it gets thick, turn off the heat and put the lid on to keep it warm until needed.

Once the chicken is done and the sauce is ready, heat up your wok on high heat. Add about 1 tbs of oil (you can use some of the oil from deep-frying) then add the garlic, ginger and sambal or chili. Stir-fry for about 30 seconds or until the mixture is fragrant. Add the green onions and continue to stir-fry for about 1 minute. Add the chicken and continue cooking. Add the sauce (about ½ cup or more to your taste) and quickly turn the chicken it in. You need to work quickly because the sauce will become very thick and caramelize quickly. Once the chicken in well coated, you’re done. Garnish with the sliced green onion. Serve immediately with steamed rice and a vegetable.

TIP: One thing you can do is to cook a vegetable like asparagus or broccoli in the wok after you have removed the chicken. Add the vegetable and a little water to release the caramelized sauce. Put a lid on the wok and steam/simmer the vegetable until tender-crisp.


Manggy said...

You're in luck re: the origin, 'cause here's a Wikipedia entry. Very thorough.

That looks good, but where are those broccoli? Does Sonny like vegetables? :)

dp said...

I did asparagus this time, but didn't even think to take a picture.

"Like" is a strong word :-) He'll eat veggies or he doesn't get dessert. Some veggies he eats more willingly than others. I think that's pretty typical for kids.

Anonymous said...

general tsao's chicken is a chinese american invention. you can read the book "the fortune cookies chronicles" following a chinese woman's journey in discovering the true heritage of many chinese foods. it's a very fascinating book!