General Tso, To Go at Home

General Tso's Chicken (with peanut garnish)

The new "It" cookbook in the Foodist world seems to be the Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook. A few weeks ago, the NYT magazine ran Fuchsia Dunlop's recipe for General Tso's chicken from the book, and today that same paper's food section published a favorable review by Anne Mendelson.

In addition, one of my favorite new sites, Serious Eats, has a great video clip of the author cooking General Tso's chicken that made me want to run into the kitchen to cook. And writer Michael Ruhlman's blog has a nice step-by-step post about it.

I gave in and bought the book. There are lots of appealing recipes in here that I'm very interested to try, like Bowl-Steamed Eggplant with Winter-Sacrifice Beans and Salted Greens (page 223), Chicken with Ginger (page 130) and the intriguing Smacked Cucumbers (page 62) but I felt I had to give the recipe for General Tso's Chicken a go. Dunlop offers two versions; the more authentically Hunan recipe that I made differs in that it lacks the sugar of the Americanized version.

Maybe it's because I don't live in Manhattan or anywhere near the East coast; I don't have a tendency to order Chinese take-out, and don't really have a benchmark to measure this by. I know, I know, where have I been?

I have to tell you, I probably won't make this recipe again unless I change it a tiny bit, and by that I mean eliminating the deep-frying part. That will make this some other kind of recipe - more along the lines of General Mom's Chicken. Granted, I doubled the recipe to accommodate eight boneless chicken thighs instead of four because we are greedy chicken eaters. But still, it didn't seem worth the effort.

Maybe I should have done this in two separate batches, because when I added the doubled amount of potato starch to the marinade mixture, things "seized up" a bit, and it became less of a batter and more of a dough.

And, if you haven't deep-fried anything for a while, I'll remind you that while it isn't really difficult, it is rather time consuming and messy.

By the time we sat down to eat this, I was a little cranky. And after mixing that preciously deep fried chicken with the sauce, you couldn't even tell how it had been cooked. Why not just stir-fry it?

Meantime, I'll be making further investigations into this cookbook, and I'll keep you posted.

General Tso’s Chicken

Adapted from “The Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook,” by Fuchsia Dunlop; as published in the New York Times Magazine, February 4, 2007

For the sauce:
1 tablespoon double-concentrate tomato paste, mixed with 1 tablespoon water
1⁄2 teaspoon potato flour
1⁄2 teaspoon dark soy sauce
11⁄2 teaspoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
3 tablespoons chicken stock or water
For the chicken:
12 ounces (about 4 to 5) skinless, boneless chicken thighs
1⁄2 teaspoon dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons potato flour
1 quart peanut oil, more as needed
6 to 10 dried red chilies
2 teaspoons finely chopped ginger
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons sesame oil
Scallions, thinly sliced, for garnish.

1. Make the sauce by combining all the ingredients in a small bowl. Set aside.

2. To prepare the chicken, unfold the chicken thighs and lay them on a cutting board. Remove as much of the sinew as possible. (If some parts are very thick, cut them in half horizontally.) Slice a few shallow crosshatches into the meat. Cut each thigh into roughly 1⁄4 -inch slices and place in a large bowl. Add the soy sauces and egg yolk and mix well. Stir in the potato flour and 2 teaspoons peanut oil and set aside. Using scissors, snip the chilies into 3⁄4 -inch pieces, discarding the seeds. Set aside.

3. Pour 3 1⁄2 cups peanut oil into a large wok, or enough oil to rise 1 1⁄2 inches from the bottom. Set over high heat until the oil reaches 350 to 400 degrees. Add half the chicken and fry until crisp and deep gold, 3 to 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to a plate. Repeat with the second batch. Pour the oil into a heatproof container and wipe the wok clean.

4. Place the wok over high heat. Add 2 tablespoons peanut oil. When hot, add the chilies and stir-fry for a few seconds, until they just start to change color. Add the ginger and garlic and stir-fry for a few seconds longer, until fragrant. Add the sauce, stirring as it thickens. Return the chicken to the wok and stir vigorously to coat. Remove from the heat, stir in the sesame oil and top with scallions. Serve with rice. Serves 2 to 3.

Copyright (c) 2007 FamilyStyle Food


Deborah Dowd said...

Almost every Chinese recipe I have ever made (and there are quite a few since Chinese is one of my family's favorites)takes time and is a bit messy. Many of them call for deep-frying then chowing (stir-frying). I often use Jeff Smith's "Ancient Cultures" cookbook as a resource because he features some of the easier recipes that still taste authentic and are delicious (try the "peanut butter and worms" noodles)

I believe that some of these recipes must have been developed in the kitchens of Chinese emperors where there were lots of staff in the kitchens!

Liza said...

Funny you mention it -- I just told S the other day that I thought we should get this cookbook. Now I am wondering about it (not being a big fan of deep frying myself).


Karen said...

You should get it. There aren't too many deep-fried things. The pictures and stories are excellent.

Deborah, oh the things I'd do with some kitchen staff!

Kristen said...

I love homemade Chinese "take out" :) Time consuming it is, but it is often so much better than the real thing.

Brilynn said...

I've been wanting to make this for ages! General tso's isd always one of my Chinatown favourites.