Why would a blog dedicated to "Traditional Chinese Recipes" feature General Tao's Chicken, a dish virtually unknown in China? For one thing, one of the minimal definitions of tradition is "an artistic or literary method or style established by an artist, writer, or movement, and subsequently followed by others." General Tso's certainly qualifies on that basis, since this dish is served everywhere in the world by Chinese chefs in Chinese restaurants--everywhere, in fact, except China, and with some surprising degree of consistency. Further, if we think of the mainland as the "go to" authority, consider that General Tso's Chicken was invented in China, by a Chinese chef, and while it faded from view in Mainland China, it made its way from there to Taipei, to the United States, and evolved, as most traditions do, to become the famous dish we know today. (I'd venture to say this may all be a moot point anyway, since the ever-wealthier China absorbs so many cultural trends of the West, so the worldwide popularity of General Tso's Chicken will someday make it as much a traditional dish in China as it is here.)
The history of this dish has been thoroughly described by at least two authors. Fuchsia Dunlop gives an excellent account, and a recipe for the unsweetened Hunanese version, originated by chef Peng Chang-kuei, in her excellent book, Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook. Similarly, Jennifer 8. Lee describes with delicious humor her search for the original General Tso's Chicken in The Fortune Cookie Chronicles.
The attraction of this dish is doubtless in its simplicity of flavor and texture-- the chicken is chewy/crisp on the outside, moist on the inside, all drenched in a dark, spicy, sweet and tangy sauce. The secret to a chewy/crisp exterior is double frying, utilized by Chinese chefs in a number of dishes where crispness of an otherwise moist item is desired.
1 1/4 lb boneless chicken thigh
1 heap Tablespoon minced garlic
1 Tablespoon minced ginger
2 Green onions
4 - 6 chilis, cut into 3/4" lengths (Optional)
1 tsp dark soy
1 Tab light soy
1 Tab Shao Xing wine or dry sherry
1 Tab cornstarch
1 egg white
In a bowl, appx 2/3 cup cornstarch
1/2 tsp baking soda. (The baking soda assists with the Maillard browning reaction which cornstarch is otherwise resistant to)
3/4 cup chicken stock
1 1/2 Tab sugar
1 heap tsp brown sugar
1 TAB rice vinegar
2 TAB light soy
1 tsp dark soy
1 Tab rice wine
Cornstarch slurry (see thickening sauces in Technique)
Sesame oil, slivered red pepper or carrot for garnish
The following can be done ahead of time: wash and trim out tendon and large fat deposits from chicken thigh pieces and cut into chunks approximately 2" square or so. Dry the cut meat; in a bowl, mix very thoroughly with the marinade to evenly coat. In another med large bowl, combine cornstarch and soda and set aside.
Preheat deep fryer to 375º to prepare for the first frying.
Dredge marinated chicken pieces in the cornstarch/soda mixture and shake off extra coating, setting aside these aside until all the chicken is battered. Lower pieces carefully into the 375º oil. Fry approximately 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove to a platter with paper towels or drain rack, separate, and allow to cool.
Meanwhile, mince garlic and ginger. Mince the white portion of the green onion, and chop the green portion separately into 1/8" rings. Prepare the sauce, set aside in a bowl, and prepare cornstarch slurry.
When the fried chicken pieces are completely cool to the touch, you are ready for the 2nd frying, but first you'll make the sauce. As the deep fry oil heats to 375º, heat a wok on med/high, swirl in 2 Tab of peanut oil, and when the oil is hot, add the minced ginger, garlic and onion and stir fry a few seconds. Add the chilies, if using, and then splash in the tablespoon of wine. Add the sauce mixture, and as soon as it begins to boil, slowly add cornstarch slurry while stirring ingredients until the sauce thickens to the desired consistency. If using an electric stove, take the wok off the heat until the burner cools to low before returning; the sauce should remain in the wok on a very low heat while the chicken is fried a second time.
With the deep fry oil at 375º carefully lower the chicken into the oil and cook for another 3 or 4 minutes. Remove with skimmer or bamboo strainer, gently shake off excess oil, and place directly into sauce. This may require two or three dips into the oil. Now toss the chicken in the hot sauce, remove to a serving platter and garnish with sesame oil, green onion shreds, or other garnish.