I love authentic Chinese food. I grew up on Long Island, and every so often my dad would take me to Flushing, Queens and we'd order things like baked oysters with fermented black bean sauce, or we'd get a dim sum brunch which included chicken feet. However, that does not diminish my love for good fast-food Chinese takeout. This recipe is not designed to be authentic (the original Hunan recipe is hot and sour with no sugar). It's sweet, tangy, and salty; closer to what you'd find in a takeout box.
A couple months ago, I saw a recipe for a chicken marinade which used Diet 7-Up as an ingredient. This got me thinking -- deep breath now -- that diet orange soda would be perfect in a Chinese fast-food-style sauce. No one will guess that it's there, but it adds that missing flavor that I couldn't seem to replicate with typical household ingredients. I also thickened the sauce with xanthan gum.
Instead of a batter made from flour or cornstarch, I thought about chicken francaise and how it is battered with a beaten egg. It's not the same as a crunchy batter but I was still very happy with the results.
GENERAL TSO'S CHICKEN
- 1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into small cubes (don't substitute chicken breast, the texture will be all wrong)
- 1 egg, beaten
- 6 tsp soy sauce or tamari, divided
- 2 tsp dark sesame oil
- 1 bunch scallions (about 5), white and light green parts only, cut into 2" lengths
- 2 tsp freshly grated or minced ginger
- 3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
- 6 dried hot peppers
- 1.5 Tbs tomato paste, mixed with 1 Tbs water
- 1/4 cup diet orange soda + 1 packet Splenda, OR 1 Tbs honey
- 2 tsp rice vinegar (or cider vinegar if you're really strict about avoiding grains)
- 3 Tbs chicken broth or water
- 1/2 tsp xanthan gum
- Oil for cooking (I used coconut oil)
- White sesame seeds, for garnish
- Combine the beaten egg, sesame oil, and 2 tsp soy sauce. Set the chicken in a bowl of the egg mixture and let it marinate. Meanwhile, combine the tomato paste, honey or orange soda + Splenda, rice vinegar, chicken broth, and remaining 4 tsp soy sauce.
- Heat 1-2 Tbs oil over high heat in a large, deep skillet. Cook the chicken in a single layer, shaking it off slightly as you transfer it to the pan. Turn it occasionally and continue until cooked through and crispy on the outside. Set aside and cover to keep warm.
- Add the scallions to the pan and cook until the outside is starting to blister. Add the garlic, ginger, and dried hot peppers, turn down the heat to medium, and stir-fry for a minute. Add the sauce ingredients and bring to a boil, scraping the bottom of the pan. Cook for a minute then whisk in the xanthan gum. Sprinkle the xanthan gum evenly over the top to prevent clumping (protip: use a tea strainer to do this).
- Add the chicken back to the pan. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve over cauliflower rice.