28 July 2015

General Tso's chicken - a real crowd pleaser!

Now this is one recipe that I should have blogged a long time ago, as I've made it countless times since I discovered it on La Table de Nana.  As you may have guessed from the name, it sounds as though it should be of Chinese origin and to quote Wikipedia, "General Tso's chicken is a sweet, slightly spicy, deep-fried chicken dish that is popularly served in most Chinese and Asian themed American restaurants. The dish is most commonly regarded as a Hunanese dish.  The dish is named after General Tso Tsung-tang, or Zuo Zongtang, a Qing dynasty general and statesman, although there is no recorded connection to him".  So now you know.

I have to first deny all knowledge of deep frying my chicken.  You would have to pay me quite a lot to get me to deep fry anything, these days.   Not just from the health point of view, but um ~koff-blush~ I'm actually scared of deep frying.  I know.  I write a food blog and I'm scared of deep frying.  What can I tell you?  I think all those Public Information Films about the dangers of chip pan fires back in the seventies are still playing out in my head.

As a consequence, after velveting the chicken I just heat up a tablespoonful of oil in a wok and shallow fry to my heart's content.  The chicken still gets lovely and golden and I don't have a nervous conniption.  It's all good.

Served with coconut rice
The combination of goodies in the sauce is just an inspired thing.  Each contributes something to the final flavour(s) and it just wouldn't be right without any one of the ingredients.  Mind you, I do have to say that I don't use fresh ginger - as was recommended by the original recipe.  Both hubby and myself react badly to fresh ginger these days, whereas if I use ground (powdered) ginger, we're fine.  Yes, the flavour is slightly different, but we still get the ginger kick and flavour - so I'm not arguing.  I put the small amount of ginger into the sauce, where it incorporates nicely.

Something I would recommend highly to you - and yes, it could almost be construed as a Cook's Tip, is to invest in some authentic soy sauce.  If you can get them, both light soy and dark soy, as the difference in flavour to the small amounts of Blue Dragon, or even Kikkoman, is just incredible.  Once I'd invested in a large bottle of both, I wouldn't ever go back to "Westernised" soy sauce.  It's just a whole different ball game and you'll find you use far less as the flavour is so much more intense.

Cooked together with sliced green pepper
Okay, so while we're doing the tips, you absolutely must have everything chopped before you start.  This recipe moves so quickly once you begin cooking, that you definitely don't have time to leisurely chop a half a dozen spring onions.  It's a case of grab it and cook it so you need to have everything ready!

Oh, and it is nice to keep a certain amount of chopped green onion back for sprinkling over the top once served.  It definitely helps the dish to look fresh and tasty.  Unfortunately, I can't cope with raw spring (or green) onion, so I restrict myself to some toasted sesame seeds.

Served with a spring roll and some prawn crackers
Son and heir consistently finds the texture of the velveted chicken a surprise and requires reassurance that it is the cooking process, not the chicken, that has made it feel that way on the tongue.  As if I'd feed him dodgy chicken!  *tut*  The very idea.

Hubby and I, however, just love the recipe.  I've cooked it with toasted sesame seeds and without, with a sliced green pepper or mushrooms and without - in all sorts of incarnations - and we've loved them all.

As a super-quick meal to cook, you really can't do better than General Tso's chicken.  It's almost one of my favourite "bung it in the wok in order and serve" recipes.  If it wasn't for the fact that you cook the chicken first, then reserve it for later, it'd qualify.  But then, it's just another bowl to wash up and what's another bowl when dinner tastes so good?

GENERAL TSO'S CHICKEN    (serves 3-4)

Ingredients :

½ cup soft brown sugar
3 tbsp hoisin sauce
3 tbsp rice wine vinegar
3 tbsp tomato ketchup
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 flat teaspoonful of powdered ginger
a good pinch of dried red chili flakes (optional)
½ cup water
3-4 tablespoons cornstarch
500g boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp sesame oil
6-8 spring onions chopped
toasted sesame seeds (optional).

Method :

If you are intending on using toasted sesame seeds as garnish, now is the time to toast them.  Heat up your wok or frying pan and place the seeds in dry.  Keep an eye on them, as once they start to toast it happens quickly!  Once nicely brown and toasty, decant into a ramekin to use later.

Next, mix the brown sugar, hoisin sauce, rice wine vinegar, tomato ketchup, soy sauce, ginger powder, chili flakes (if you're using them, which I recommend you do!) and water together in a bowl.  This is your sauce, so set aside - but within reach!

Dredge the chicken chunks in the cornstarch and shake off any excess.

Heat the pan again and add the olive oil.  Cook the chicken in the olive oil briskly on a high heat until golden brown on at least two sides.  Remove the chicken and retain in a warm place.

Add a little more olive oil if necessary, plus the sesame oil and green onions (and any other veggies you might have thought to include). Cook until softened, then add the sauce and quickly bring to a boil.

Allow the mix to boil gently for as long as it takes for it to thicken slightly, then add the chicken and coat with sauce.  Reduce the heat and simmer until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce has reduced to a glossy, syrupy consistency.

Serve with white rice, garnished with the toasted sesame seeds and some raw spring onion pieces.

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