This is the recipe that everyone always asks me for. It’s also the one recurring dish that finds its way into most of our buffet dinner parties – and it’s always the first to disappear as well. Our guests have given the dish names of their own: sticky chicken, General Tso chicken, and “that yummy chicken”.
I first sampled General Tao chicken in 1996 in a gritty little restaurant in Montreal’s Chinatown. Love at first bite, I tell you. After that, I embarked on a mission of trial and error – and this lovely recipe is the result! Marinated chunks of juicy chicken fried in a light and crispy batter and then tossed in a sticky, slightly sweet and slightly spicy sauce.
So, here it is: the recipe for my most popular dish.
General Tao Chicken
This recipe has many steps but is relatively straightforward – and the end result is worth it! It serves 4 people; but is easily doubled or tripled. Serve with rice and stir-fried vegetables. For a healthier version, stir fry the chicken pieces without battering them and top with the sauce.
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup cornstarch (cornflour)
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 cup low-sodium or light soy sauce
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 3 tablespoons sesame oil
- 2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thigh meat – cubed
- oil, for deep frying
Mix everything except the chicken meat in a large bowl. The batter will be thin. After a minute, it will foam up slightly and be light. Toss the chicken in the batter. Cover it with cling film and put in the refrigerator to chill for at least 10 minutes (and up to 1 hour).
Heat the oil until almost smoking (or up to the highest setting on your deep fryer). Drop the pieces of battered chicken into the hot oil one at a time. Do this very gently. Do not crowd the deep fryer (or pan) or the chicken will not crisp up. You may have to fry the chicken in batches.
Preheat the oven to its lowest setting (175 F or gas mark 1/2). Remove the chicken from the oil when cooked through and dark golden brown (about 5-7 minutes). Drain off the excess oil. Spread the pieces on a pan covered in paper towels. Place the chicken in the oven to keep warm while you finish frying the chicken and make the sauce.
- 4 teaspoons cornstarch (cornflour)
- 1/3 cup soy sauce
- 4 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
- 1/3 cup rice vinegar
- 1/3 cup water
- 1/4 cup finely peeled and grated fresh ginger (you can use jarred minced ginger)
- 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon sambal oelek, siracha or other hot sauce
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1/3 cup water
- 1 cup sugar (and 2 tablespoons water)
- 3 green onions (spring onions), thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
Whisk the cornstarch, soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, water, ginger, garlic, hot sauce, paprika and water together in a bowl. Set aside.
Heat (on high heat) the sugar and 2 tablespoons of water in a large, deep skillet. Watch it carefully. It will bubble. After 7-10 minutes, it will start to caramelize and turn brown. When the sugar starts to turn golden, quickly pour in the other whisked sauce ingredients and continue to whisk until the sauce is smooth. Clumps of sugar may stick to the whisk, but these will melt off after a few minutes.
Continue cooking and whisking until the sauce is smooth, translucent and thick.
Carefully add the cooked chicken to the mixture. Add the green onions and sesame seeds. Turn carefully to coat with the sauce. Serve hot!
This is best served immediately because the chicken pieces only remain crisp for a little while once they are drenched in the sauce. However, it still tastes great when served as part of a buffet line. And of course, it makes for great left overs!