Easy General Tso’s Chicken
on Jan 31, 2021, Updated Jan 12, 2024
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In this homemade version of a Chinese restaurant favorite, crispy nuggets of moist chicken are glazed in a slightly sweet, slightly spicy, and immensely flavorful sauce.
General Tso’s Chicken is one of those dishes that grace many an American Chinese food restaurant and one of those dishes it’s hard not to order. Often, it’s deep fried, and — while irresistible — not the kind of thing you can justify eating too often. This recipe incorporates all of the flavors that make this dish so seductive, but it’s a much lighter version. Also, sautéing the chicken instead of deep frying it makes it an easier version of General Tso’s to prepare at home.
There are some dishes that are true representations of what is eaten in any of the hundreds of provinces of China, and there are some dishes that have really come to be in American Chinese restaurants. This dish is the latter, but while it’s not an authentic Chinese dish, it’s inarguably delicious and certainly adored in the U.S. and beyond.
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General Tso’s Chicken: In this homemade version of a Chinese restaurant favorite crispy sauteed nuggets of moist chicken are glazed in a slightly sweet, slightly spicy, and immensely flavorful sauce.Tweet This
General Tso’s Cooking Tips
- I use chicken thighs, which is what is usually used in the restaurant version of this dish. Thighs are moister and more flavorful than chicken breasts, but you can use chicken breasts if you prefer. The cooking time will be slightly shorter for white meat (breasts) vs. dark meat (thighs), so keep that in mind.
- The chicken is tossed with cornstarch before it’s cooked, which allows it to form a nice crispy crust on the outside. It also helps to thicken the sauce when the cooked chicken is returned to the pan at the end; two advantages for the price of one ingredient.
- You’ll want to cook the chicken in two batches so as not to crowd the chicken in the pan. Make sure the pieces are separated from one another, and while you don’t have to brown all of the sides, do brown the chicken as much as possible without overcooking it.
Sauce for General Tso’s Chicken
The sauce that coats the chunks of lightly pan-fried chicken is a bit sweet, a bit spicy, and immensely flavorful. Garlic, ginger, and sesame oil mingle with the soy sauce, brown sugar, and vinegar to create a glaze that clings nicely to the chicken. The short cooking time needed to thicken up and heat the sauce allows the nuggets of chicken to remain crispy, which is part of the appeal of this dish.
General Tso’s Chicken Ingredients
- Chicken broth – Using less sodium broth allows you to control the recipe’s salt.
- Soy sauce – Soy sauce can be very salty, so again, less sodium is preferred.
- Brown sugar – Either light or dark brown sugar works.
- Vinegar – Rice vinegar is a classic choice, but you can also use cider vinegar.
- Ginger – Fresh ginger always makes a stir-fry just a little better.
- Red pepper flakes – Gives this recipe its signature kick. If you want your sauce a bit spicier, add an extra pinch or even go with a squirt of hot sauce, like Sriracha, in the sauce.
- Cornstarch – Thickens the sauce and coats the chicken.
- Chicken thighs – While thigh meat is juicier and more flavorful, chicken breasts will work.
- Oil – Use a neutrally flavored oil with a high smoke point, like vegetable or canola.
- Garlic – Finely minced garlic is a signature ingredient in many stir-fry recipes.
- Scallions – Another favorite addition to stir-fries.
- Toasted sesame seeds – Optional, but adds a nice finishing touch to the dish.
- Cooked rice – Serving General Tso’s Chicken over a bed of rice means that you can enjoy every bit of the flavorful sauce.
How to Make General Tso’s Chicken
- Make the sauce: In a small bowl, whisk together broth, brown sugar, vinegar, sesame oil, ginger, and red pepper.
- Coat the chicken: Pour the cornstarch, salt, and pepper into a large bowl and stir. Add the chicken and toss to coat well.
- Stir-fry the chicken: Heat half the oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add half the chicken in a single layer, and cook without stirring for 3 minutes, until the bottom is brown. Turn the chicken and cook until the other side is brown. Repeat until the chicken is cooked through and brown on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Transfer to a plate the cook the second batch of chicken the same way.
- Add aromatics and cook: Return all of the chicken to the pan, and stir in the garlic and scallions. Whisk the sauce again before pouring it into the pan. Stir-fry, stirring frequently, until the sauce thickens and coats the chicken, about 1 minute.
- Serve: Serve over rice and sprinkle sesame seeds over top, if desired.
I can only imagine that the waitstaff in a Chinese restaurant that serves this dish has heard it all! First, the spelling…General Tso’s Chicken is the most common way you’ll see it spelled, but Tsao, Tsau, and even Gau are not uncommon.
The short answer about pronunciation from a spin around the internet and a confab with my friend Katie Chin, who is Chinese-American AND a chef, is that you pronounce it like “so” (silent t). But, as I write this, I am sure others will disagree.
General Tso’s chicken tends to be a bit sweeter and hotter than sesame chicken, which (as the name suggests) has a pronounced sesame flavor. I use a bit of sesame oil and suggest garnishing with toasted sesame seeds in this General Tso’s chicken recipe, so there is still sesame going on, but it’s not the predominant flavor.
Kung Pao chicken is a Sichuan Chinese dish featuring pan-fried chicken with scallions, peanuts, and a spicy red chili pepper sauce. General Tso’s is usually deep fried and covered with a thick syrup and fairly sweet sauce. In this recipe, the chicken is pan-fried or sautéed instead of deep-fried, and the sauce is on the lighter side, not overly sweet or syrupy.
What to Serve With General Tso’s Chicken
More Chicken Stir-Fry Recipes
- Chicken Stir-Fry with Peanuts
- Chicken, Broccoli, and Sugar Snap Pea Stir-Fry
- Chicken and Spinach Stir-Fry with Ginger and Oyster Sauce
- Healthy Orange Chicken
- Chicken Yaki Udon
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Easy General Tso’s Chicken
- ¼ cup chicken broth (preferably cup less sodium)
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce (preferably less-sodium)
- 3 tablespoons light or dark brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons rice or cider vinegar
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- ¼ cup cornstarch
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs (cut into 1-inch pieces; see Note)
- 4 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil (divided)
- 1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
- 4 scallions (white and green parts; trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces)
- Toasted sesame seeds (optional)
- Hot cooked rice (to serve; optional)
- In a small bowl, whisk together the broth, soy sauce, brown sugar, vinegar, sesame oil, ginger, and red pepper flakes. Set aside
- Place the cornstarch in a large bowl and stir in the salt and pepper. Add the chicken and toss to coat well.
- Heat half of the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add half the chicken, making sure it is in a single layer, and cook without stirring for 3 minutes, until the bottom is browned. Turn the chicken (tongs are best for this) and let sit in the pan so that the other side browns. Repeat until the chicken is cooked through and browned on as many sides as possible; not all of the sides need to brown, about 10 minutes in all. Transfer to a plate. Add the rest of the oil and cook the rest of the chicken the same way. Add the second batch of the chicken to the first batch on the plate, and pour off any excess oil from the pan.
- Return the cooked chicken to the pan and stir in the garlic and the scallions. Whisk the sauce again to blend and pour it into the pan. Cook, stirring frequently until the sauce thickens and coasts all of the chicken, about 1 minute. Serve the chicken over the rice, sprinkled with sesame seeds if desired.