General Tso’s Chicken

For a long time, I didn’t like Asian food. A lot of it was likely due to the fact that they usually put all kinds of good-for-you things in their food (broccoli, onions, peppers and so forth) that I was not willing to eat, and to a large extent am still not willing to eat. It might have also been due to the fact that I often got headache, and subsequent migraines, after eating meals in restaurants that served those items. I did always find something I could eat, though. For example…

When I was growing up, my family often went to a Chinese restaurant that had a buffet after church. My mom and brother *loved* going there. Dad didn’t mind and I was the one who was mostly against it. But, they had food like meatballs, chicken without gobs of spicy Chinese-y sauce, french fries, sweet potato sticks (those were to.die.for!), fruit and more that I could eat without thinking too hard about it. I would sometimes get adventurous and eat something Chinese-y, aside from my staple of sweet and sour chicken on rice. But it was rare.

Fast forward to today and I am in a phase of wanting Chinese and Japanese and other Asian derived foods. However, for the most part (like, 95%+), I make them at home. And I rarely have problems like headaches that turn to migraines, which was my biggest turn-off from the genre of food. (I can always pick out what I don’t like.) Now that I cook these delicious meals at home, I am able to control much more what goes into them — and that helps a lot. It makes me feel better knowing I’m putting better quality food in my body. Granted, it may not be super-healthy, but it is certainly better than had I gone to a restaurant and ordered the same thing…and that makes me feel good.

One of the things that I like to control in my foods is sodium. I find that too much can trigger some issues for me. And sodium is often a key component to Asian dishes. When you ask someone what seasoning they think of when Asian dishes come to mind, “salt” and “spicy” are likely the two most common answers you will get. So, how do I combat this? Low-sodium anything!

From soy sauce…

To teriyaki sauce…

I cut salt out where I can. Of course, my sweet husband just add some right back to his meal. But this helps me out and means that I can enjoy some Asian dishes without feeling like I’ve been hit by a truck afterwards. So, without further ado, let’s get onto the delicious meal I was able to prepare: General Tso’s Chicken!

By far, this Asian dish is the most labor intensive one I have prepared yet (though keep that in context: most only take about 15-20 minutes start to finish). This dish took about 30-40 minutes to prepare and there were more steps than what I was used to for my other Asian dishes. However, all of that being said, it was a *huge* hit! Jon said this was his favorite Asian dish that I have made to date! And that’s quite the compliment, because he really like all of the others as well. Even though the dish has a lot of steps and is labor intensive (comparatively), it is still pretty easy to do. It does require constant attention, though. At a few points, you could walk away for a few minutes but this is not something you mix up and then bake for 30 minutes or an hour. You are actively working with it for the majority of the time. But the end result is so worth it!

Here are the items you will need to complete the task ahead:

{the dish}

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, slice into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 1/2 cups of cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 cups of peanut or vegetable oil for frying, plus 1 tablespoon for stir-frying
  • 8 dried whole red chilis, or 1/4 teaspoon of dried red pepper flakes
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon of white sesame seeds (garnish)
  • scallions, thinly sliced (garnish)

{the marinade}

  • 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of Chinese rice wine or dry sherry (or apple cider vinegar)
  • 2 egg whites

{the sauce}

  • 1/4 cup of chicken stock, or substitute water
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of rice vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
  • 1 teaspoon of hoisin sauce
  • 1 teaspoon of chili paste (or red pepper flakes)
  • 1 teaspoon of sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of cornstarch

Now that your ingredients are gathered, here’s what you need to do:

  • Prepare the marinade: In a large bowl, combine the soy sauce, rice wine (or apple cider vinegar) and egg whites. Coat the chicken to the marinade mixture and let sit for 10 minutes.
  • Prepare the sauce: In a small bowl, combine the chicken stock, tomato paste, sugar, soy sauce, rice vinegar (or apple cider vinegar), hoisin sauce, chili paste (or red pepper flakes) sesame oil, sugar, and 1 teaspoon of cornstarch. Stir until the sugar and cornstarch are dissolved. Set the sauce aside.
  • In a large bowl or deep plate, toss the 1 1/2 cups cornstarch with the salt and pepper. Coat the marinated chicken in the cornstarch and shake off any excess before frying.
  • Heat the 3 cups of peanut or vegetable oil in your wok until it registers 350 degrees on an instant-read oil thermometer. Working in 2 or 3 batches, add the first batch of chicken cubes and fry until golden brown on the outside and cooked through, about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the chicken with a slotten spoon and drain on paper towels. Repeat with the rest of the chicken.
  • Drain the oil into a heatproof container and save for discarding. Wipe the wok with a paper towel to remove any brown bits, but don’t wash.
  • Reheat the wok or skillet over medium-high heat. Add another tablespoon of oil and swirl to coat the base and sides. Add the dried chilis and garlic to the wok and stir-fry until just fragrant, about 20 seconds. Pour in the sauce mixture and stir until thickened, about 1 to 2 minutes.
  • Return the chicken to the wok and stir well to coat with sauce. Transfer the chicken to a serving dish. Garnish with white sesame seeds and scallions. Serve with white rice and vegetables.

That wasn’t too bad, was it? And doesn’t it look so good? And smell even better?? And taste even better than that???

You will notice I have put some different ingredients in parenthesis that you can use as a substitute. Some of the ingredients listed where I found the recipe are ones I don’t have around my house, as I have yet to come across a recipe that needs them, even in my Asian cooking. I did a little research and found some recipe substitutions for items I do have around my kitchen, and hopefully ones you are likely to have, and that is what’s included as a side note for you. I hope you will find that helpful, and not find unusual ingredients a hindrance to experimenting with new recipes.

Let me know what you think of the process, and the recipe. What did you do differently, or how do you think things could be changed to be made easier? Give it a shot and tell me how it goes!


Recipe from Appetite for China