When I was a kid, I dreaded Chinese food take out. I would not even entertain the idea of eating slimy looking noodles and chicken in weird brown sauces out of paper boxes. I didn’t even “like” the rice. (I would say I didn’t like a lot of things that I wouldn’t even try.) If Chinese food was for dinner, I’d opt to make my own food or request a stop at a drive through nearby so I could get some fries instead.
College was when I actually started trying new things. Yeah, I spent about 18 years of my life freaked out by food, always having a plan B in my the back of mind when going out to eat or to friend’s houses. One time very early on in college, a group of us were at a friend’s family home for the weekend and his parents said “Let’s order Chinese!” Oh crap. This wasn’t my house where I could make my own food, I hardly knew the parents at this point. In fact, none of my friends that day knew I had never actually eaten Chinese food.
They passed around the menu, everyone took a look and wrote down their order. I purposefully avoided it until everyone else was done so I could study what they picked. I had no clue what half of the items were. General Tso’s chicken seems to be a popular pick, the menu decribing it as a spicy chicken dish with white rice. OK, that didn’t seem too scary.
The food was delivered, put out on the table, and I had no idea what was what. I waited quietly until someone handed me a small box full of chicken and broccoli, in a weird brown sauce (of course) and told me it was my order. I watched and copied my friends, spooning some rice on my plate first then added some of my General Tso chicken on top. Well, here goes nothing.
WHAT WAS WRONG WITH ME? I had spent years avoiding this! Delicious, spicy, sweet, sticky… did I say delicious? I am pretty sure I told my hosts that day it was the best Chinese take out I’d ever had, a little inside joke with myself.
Now, 10+ years later, I have tried a lot of different dishes, but if it’s a new take out place, I always start by checking out their take on General Tso (or Gau, or whatever they happen to call it) chicken. Every restaurant has their own spin on it, so I decided to give it a shot at home. Since it’s the first letter of my name, here’s what I am dubbing my General L’s Chicken:
- 1lb boneless chicken thighs
- 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp low sodium soy sauce
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 1-2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (divided)
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp cornstarch
- 1 1/2 Tbsp fresh grated ginger
- 1 Tbsp minced garlic
- 1/2 cup chicken stock
- 3 Tbsp rice vinegar
- 1 Tbsp hoisin sauce
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 3 green onions, sliced thin
- vegetable or canola oil for frying
- salt & pepper to season
- Trim excess fat from the chicken thighs if needed and cut into 1-2 inch pieces. Season with a dash salt & pepper.
- Combine 1/4 cup soy sauce, sesame oil, 1 tsp of red pepper flakes and the egg to make a marinade. Add the chicken, tossing to coat and refrigerate for 2 hours to overnight.
- In a deep pan or pot heat vegetable oil to 350 degrees. Combine flour, cornstarch and a dash of salt and pepper in a bowl. Dredge the marinated chicken in the flour mixture and pan fry them in batches. Place on a paper towel to drain excess oil.
- Put a Tbsp of oil in a wok or skillet over medium low heat. Add the ginger, garlic and a 1/2 tsp of red pepper flakes. (Add a whole tsp if you like it spicy.) Simmer for a minute until fragrant.
- Pour in the chicken stock, 2 Tbsps soy sauce, vinegar, hoisin sauce and sugar, stirring to combine. Let it simmer for a minute. Add 2 Tbsp cornstarch and continue to stir and cook for another minute or so until the sauce thickens.
- Turn the heat to low and add the fried chicken pieces and the sliced green onions to the sauce. Toss to coat. Serve immediately over your choice of rice.
I’ve seen lots of recipes for this type of dish that have a million different ingredients, so I tried to keep mine as simple as I could without compromising the flavors. It worked, because my husband and I inhaled this.
I also think I nailed the texture of the fried chicken pieces. Mixing the flour and cornstarch kept it light, but it still had that slight crunch that stood up to the thick sauce. Actually, the sauce was so thick and wonderfully sticky, there was hardly any left in my wok! It grabbed onto those chicken pieces and wouldn’t let go.
You could use chicken breast for this recipe as well. I like using chicken thighs in dishes like this because, frankly, it’s cheaper and when you have such a bold sauce, it doesn’t really matter what the vehicle for it is. I also opted for green onion to add that fresh veggie element because I’m just not a fan of broccoli. Hey, I have gotten past a lot, but that doesn’t mean I’m not still a little picky.
Next time you are thinking about ordering take out, remember it’s not too hard to make it for yourself. I’ll be thinking about what other menu items I can try to recreate in my own kitchen. Until next time, have a great weekend everyone!