Don’t want to hear the backstory? Jump straight to the recipe.
Zuo Zongtang (General Tso) was born in 1812 during the Qing Dynasty in Xiangyin, China. He rose to great power in his life in the military and government. The origins of General Tso’s chicken are disputed, but it was definitely never created or consumed by Zuo Zongtang.
Most people believe that the General Tso’s chicken recipe was created during the 1970s in New York City. There are a lot of people that claim to have invented the recipe for General Tso’s chicken, but the originator is still widely disputed to this day. The 2015 film “The Search for General Tso” is a really great documentary about its origin and the Americanization of Chinese Cuisine.
Chinese Food was the most exotic thing that I ate when I was a kid. It was a rare treat when my Dad would order a huge tray of General Tso’s chicken for the family to share for dinner one night. I was always obsessed with the sticky-sweet-crunchy chicken with rice that always had an under-cooked and unseasoned broccoli floret on the side.
In High School, Chinese Buffets restaurants were a regular meetup place for my group of friends once we all got our driver’s licenses. Groups of us would all go to a local buffet and eat until we were nearly sick. In college, we had some amazing Chinese takeout restaurants near campus. Their lunch specials were always reasonably priced and had a large enough portion to stretch it for lunch and dinner.
I always assumed that there was a magical world of Chinese food out there I could explore further outside of the suburban takeaway restaurants and buffets. After spending time in Hong Kong eating a huge number of delicious and authentic Cantonese dishes I’ve found a love for authentic Chinese food. Now I live in the Washington, DC metro area which has amazing authentic Chinese restaurants. Some of my favorite restaurants in the area are Dim Sums with huge menus of shareable Chinese dishes.
However, I have found a major problem with all of the Chinese restaurants in my area – their General Tso’s is terrible. They make amazing authentic food, but this popular Americanized dish has been completely overlooked. I generally get a sticky sweet sauce that is lacking in flavor on chicken that is soggy and gross. I have been searching for restaurant that sells General Tso’s that is both spicy and crispy for a long time. I think that I have tried all of the restaurants in the area before giving up. I’m in the process of mastering the chicken, but I have the sauce perfected.
You can make a batch of this sauce in about 10 minutes and store it in the fridge for later. I’ve found that it is great on frozen “popcorn chicken”, fried tofu, chicken wings, or even just poured over rice. This recipe also scales very easily. Its base is an equal measure of soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sugar. It is flavored with sauteed scallions and garlic and thickened with a corn starch slurry. You can add chili flakes to your own heat level. The recipe below makes a pretty spicy sauce.
- 6 cloves of garlic
- 2 scallions
- ½ cup soy sauce
- ½ cup rice vinegar
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon chili flakes
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons corn starch
- Slice the scallion. Remove the root and floppy green top. Discard the root and save the green portion for garnish. Slice the white into thin slices.
- Finely mince the garlic. You can also use a grater or garlic press.
- Heat the sesame oil over medium heat and add the sliced scallion whites and minced garlic. Cook until they are soft and aromatic, about 2 minutes.
- Add the soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, and chili flakes. Bring the mixture to a light boil and stir to dissolve the sugar.
- In a separate bowl, mix the corn starch with equal parts cold water. Mix until combined.
- Add the corn starch slurry to the sauce. Cook until thickened, about five minutes.
Serve on chicken, rice, or vegetables. You can achieve classic General Tso’s chicken by using “popcorn chicken” nuggets, served over rice with a side of steamed broccoli. This makes a delicious sauce for chicken wings (increase heat by adding more chili flakes). You can also serve as a sauce for tofu, salmon, or other proteins.
This sauce stores in the refrigerator for 5 days.