by Eric Wharton
My Recipe Book, constantly being added to
In any man who dies, there dies with him his first snow and kiss and fight. Not just people die, but worlds die in them.
― General Tso
No, I've never been to China, so this wasn't something regional I picked up. Nor did anyone give it to me. It's just my wife and I's favorite Chinese dish and so I thought I would throw it in. I can practically guarantee this recipe is a watered down, Americanized version, but whatever. This tastes good.
The first questions that always come up are: Who in the world was this General Tso and how do you pronounce his name anyway? General Tso is actually Zuo Zongtang (Americanized to Tso Tsung-t'ang), a Qing dynasty statesman and military leader who lived from 1812-1885. This dish was supposedly named for him, but there is no recorded connection to him nor is the dish known in Hunan, Zuo's home province. Zuo's descendants, who are still living in Xiangyin County where he was born, when interviewed, say that they have never heard of such a dish. Go figure.
In the book The Chinese Kitchen by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo, she states that the dish originates from a simple Hunan chicken dish and that the reference to Zongtang was not a reference to Zuo Zongtang's given name, but rather a reference to the homonym zongtang, which means "ancestral meeting hall."
Consistent with this interpretation is a chef named Peng Chang-kuei, who fled to Taiwan during the Chinese Civil War and then moved to New York in 1973 to open a restaurant. That was where Peng started inventing new dishes and modifying traditional ones. Peng had been the Nationalist government's banquet chef before the Chinese Civil War, which ties in somewhat with the meaning of the name.
However, this is disputed by New York's Shun Lee Palaces, which say it was invented by a Chinese immigrant chef named T. T. Wang in 1972. Rather than depending on my limited research, I would suggest the 2014 documentary film called The Search for General Tso to resolve the issue.
Oh, and it's pronounced "tswò" ... as if that's any help.
2 lb skinless chicken tenders
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup bread crumbs
3 large eggs, beaten
11/2 cup chicken broth (1 can)
6 tbsp rice vinegar
4 tbsp soy sauce
3 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp hoisin sauce
3 tsp sriracha sauce*
2 tbsp corn starch
2 tbsp water
2 tsp sesame oil
— sesame seeds
* This is where the heat comes from. I use 1 tsp for my wife's delicate plate. I'd probably be satisfied with 2 tsp, but for those that want to bring the heat, make it 3.
Preheat oven to 450˚F.
Cut chicken into 2-inch chunks. Beat eggs and dredge chicken pieces in flour, egg, and bread crumbs. Place each piece on a large cooking tray. Bake in oven for 13-15 minutes, until chicken is cooked through and coating is a golden brown.
While chicken is cooking, put all other ingredients except for cornstarch, water, sesame oil, and sesame seeds in a medium-size pot and bring to a gentle boil. Mix the cornstarch and water and stir. Slowly add this mixture while stirring the sauce. It should thicken fairly quickly. Cook for a minute until mixture is well bended and remove from heat.
Remove chicken pieces from oven and place in a bowl. Pour sauce over chicken and toss, adding sesame oil and sesame seeds as you do so. Transfer chicken pieces to a plate and serve.
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