The Best General Tso's Chicken

General Tso's chicken, with an extra-crisp coating that stays crisp even when coated in a glossy sauce that balances sweet, savory, and tart elements. [Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

If the British can proudly call Chicken Tikka Masala their national dish, then surely it's time that General Tso got his chicken in our national spotlight. Everybody knows the candy-sweet take-out joint version, but I firmly believe that it has the potential to be so much more than that. How great would a homemade version of General Tso's, with a flavor that shows some real complexity and a texture that takes that crisp-crust-juicy-center balance to the extreme be?

Our version does just that.

Why this recipe works:

  • A balanced sauce has plenty of vinegary kick to balance out the cloying sweetness that most restaurant versions have.
  • Cooking the aromatics for the sauce at a lower temperature lets their flavors develop without having to superheat your wok or skillet.
  • We add vodka to our chicken coating. Its higher volatility and ability to inhibit gluten formation leaves you with a superior crisp crust.
  • Adding some of our marinade to our dry coating mixture creates little nuggets of coating that cling to the chicken pieces, adding more surface area for extra crunch.

Note: Shaoxing wine can be found in most Asian markets. If unavailable, dry sherry can be used in its place. If you can't find boneless skinless chicken thighs, you can debone them yourself using this guide. If you can't find whole dried chilies, substitute with 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes.

About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.

Every recipe we publish is tested, tasted, and Serious Eats-approved by our staff. Never miss a recipe again by following @SeriousRecipes on Twitter!

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The Best General Tso's Chicken

About This Recipe

Yield:Serves 4 to 6
Special equipment:Wok or Dutch oven for deep frying
This recipe appears in: The Food Lab: Bringing Home General Tso's Chicken
Rated:

Ingredients

  • For the Marinade:
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine (see note above)
  • 2 tablespoons 80-proof vodka
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 tablespoons corn starch
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch chunks
  • For the Dry Coating
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • For the Sauce:
  • 3 tablespoons dark soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine (see note above)
  • 2 tablespoons Chinese rice vinegar or distilled white vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons homemade or store-bought low-sodium chicken stock
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon roasted sesame seed oil
  • 1 tablespoon corn starch
  • 2 teaspoons peanut, vegetable, or canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic (about 2 medium cloves)
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger (about one 1-inch piece)
  • 2 teaspoons minced scallion bottoms (about 1 scallion), plus 6 to 8 scallions, white parts only, cut into 1-inch lengths
  • 8 small dried red Chinese or Arbol chilies (see note above)
  • To Finish:
  • 1 1/2 quarts peanut, vegetable, or canola oil for deep frying
  • Steamed white rice for serving

Procedures

  1. 1

    For the Marinade: Beat egg whites in a large bowl until broken down and lightly foamy. Add soy sauce, wine, and vodka and whisk to combine. Set aside half of marinade in a small bowl. Add baking soda and corn starch to the large bowl and whisk to combine. Add chicken tp large bowl and turn with fingers to coat thoroughly. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

  2. 2

    For the Dry Coat: Combine flour, corn starch, baking powder, and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Whisk until homogenous. Add reserved marinade and whisk until mixture has coarse, mealy clumps. Set aside.

  3. 3

    For the Sauce: Combine soy sauce, wine, vinegar, chicken stock, sugar, sesame seed oil, and cornstarch in a small bowl and stir with a fork until cornstarch is dissolved and no lumps remain. Set aside.

  4. 4

    Combine oil, garlic, ginger, minced scallions, and red chilies in a large skillet and place over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until vegetables are aromatic and soft, but not browned, about 3 minutes. Stir sauce mixture and add to skillet, making sure to scrape out and sugar or starch that has sunk to the bottom. Cook, stirring, until sauce boils and thickens, about 1 minute. Add scallion segments. Transfer sauce to a bowl to stop cooking, but don't wipe out skillet.

  5. 5

    To Finish: Heat 1 1/2 quarts peanut, vegetable, or canola oil in a large wok or Dutch oven to 350°F and adjust flame to maintain temperature.

  6. 6

    Working one piece at a time, transfer chicken from marinade to dry coat mixture, tossing in between each addition to coat chicken. When all chicken is added to dry coat, toss with hands, pressing dry mixture onto chicken so it adheres, and making sure that every piece is coated thoroughly.

  7. 7

    Lift chicken one piece at a time, shake off excess coating, and carefully lower into hot oil (do not drop it). Once all chicken is added, cook, agitating with long chopsticks or a metal spider, and adjusting flame to maintain a temperature of 325 to 375°F, until chicken is cooked through and very crispy, about 4 minutes. Transfer chicken to a paper towel-lined bowl to drain.

  8. 8

    Add chicken to empty skillet and return sauce to skillet. Toss chicken, folding it with a rubber spatula until all pieces are thoroughly coated. Serve immediately with white rice.

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