A stop at an Asian fusion bistro was something that was added arbitrarily to my list of weekend “To Dos”. Tired after running errands in the scorching Texas sun, a sip of Mango Ice Tea was more than just refreshing!
After a 15 minute scan of the items listed in the Menu, I finally dared to give up my favorite Kung Pao Chicken for the Hunan style General Tso's chicken - something that I had been wanting to try for a while. Though not quite sure what I was getting into or who General Tso was, I decided to kick the spice level up a notch to a "High" from my regular "Medium". The lady taking down my order rolled her eyes and repeated “Did you say High?"...making sure she heard me right!!
Awaiting my complimentary bowl of Hot & Sour soup with crispy noodles, I was mentally trying to figure out how good or bad would General Tso's Chicken be! With a ferocious name like this, I imagined the chicken to be superrr spicy. "Of course I had just been eating nothing but Kung Pao for years now from the American-Chinese cuisine, so how was I going to guess", I convinced and prepared myself for the worst.
The wait seemed longer, though it just took 10 minutes, for the General Tso's chicken to finally arrive. I began scrutinizing from the first glimpse I could catch while it was placed on my table. It seemed very different from Kung Pao, no peanuts, more sauce, no veggies, decadent chicken with nice big red chillies. With all senses alarmed, I gathered courage to dive into that first bite of Tso's chicken. And boy! Was it brilliant or what!
With an impeccable balance of sugar and salt, this crispy chicken had just the right flavor without the over powering effect of soy sauce. And yes, the spice level was just perfect for me. Yum! It was simply delicioso!
I fell in love with Chinese food all over again with General Tso's chicken. Now, did someone say "change" is the essence of life:)
Thrilled to have made a sumptuous choice, I got back home to only to reserve an online copy of a cookbook loaded with Asian cuisine, at the local Public library. There it was my recipe to General Tso's chicken hidden amongst its Schezuan cousins. I also began asking friends at work about a good recipe - as an alternative. A few of them narrated their versions of the recipe and I noted down each one of them - religiously:) ; I tried permutations & combinations too, till I finally had my own version that created the same lasting impression on me as that from the Asian fusion bistro.
What best place to document my first experience and my version of General Tso's than the chow chronicle....
For the chicken
¾ lb Boneless, Skinless Chicken Thighs
1/3 cup Soy sauce
¾ cup Corn Starch
1 egg, beaten
1 ½cups Canola Oil
For the Sauce
½ cup Corn Starch
¼ cup water
½ tablespoon brown sugar
½ teaspoon iodized Salt
¼ cup Soy Sauce
¼ cup white vinegar
¼ cup Sherry Wine
1 can low sodium Chicken Broth
1 teaspoon Ginger powder
1 teaspoon Garlic powder
4 dried medium sized Red chilies
2 tablespoon Sesame oil
1 tablespoon Orange juice (Optional)
For the chicken: Cut chicken into inch long cubes. To a zip top bag (Large) add soy sauce, and beaten eggs, close and shake well to get an even emulsion. Add pieces of chicken into the emulsion close the bag and mix well (inside the bag by slow tossing). To a second zip top bag add ¾ cup of corn starch. With kitchen tongs, remove pieces of chicken, one after the other, and add into the corn starch. Make sure to coat well. Heat oil in a wok, tap off excess corn starch and add pieces of chicken into the wok. Fry pieces of chicken in hot oil (325 degrees on the thermometer) until golden brown. Drain excess oil using paper towels.
For the sauce: Mix all of the following in a zip top bag: cornstarch, water, sugar, salt, soy sauce, ginger powder and garlic powder. Make sure no lumps are formed. Add in white vinegar, sherry whine and chicken broth and mix well by shaking the ziptop bag. Heat Sesame oil in a wok ( to around 390 degrees) , add dried red chilies. Stir fry for a few seconds. Stir in the sauce mixture. Cook till the sauce condenses (thickens). Avoid lumps and stir to prevent the sauce from turning gooey and extremely thick. Throw in pieces of chicken (previously prepared) into the sauce. Cook till you get a “close to gravy” consistency. Serve HOT with brown rice.
Tips: I opt to choose white meat chicken thighs to dark meat chicken or chicken breasts, to avoid high absorption of oil on frying. For ease of cleaning and lesser mess I prefer using zip top bags for marinating/mixing. Bowls/ Jars serve as ideal substitutes. For the scent of orange, give it a flavor of the orange glaze by using Orange juice. Store bought White wine could be used in place of Sherry Wine. To make General Tso’s chicken less sweeter and salty, go easy on the sugar and use low sodium chicken broth. Fresh minced garlic and ginger are certainly more aromatic than powdered versions. For a delightful entrée serve with fried rice or brown rice. Cook brown rice in chicken broth to enhance its nutty flavor.
Most Important Chow Tip for General Tso’s chicken:
No matter what time of the day it is eaten, General Tso’s chicken must be served hot to avoid the gooey taste due to the corn starch. Add a little water while re-heating (preferably in a wok and not microwave) if the sauce is too thick.