Monday, October 11, 2010

General Tso's Chicken

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.

Serves 2-4


  • 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
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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).
  4. Add the chicken back to the pan. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve over cauliflower rice.


stephthegeek said...

You're a genius! This is definitely a flavour I've been missing too. I really need to pick up some wheat free tamari. I was planning on making some bbq pork egg foo yong again soon so this will be a great addition.

stephthegeek said...

Turned out great, although my chicken didn't get very crispy... I do miss that texture. I used Zevia soda + erythritol, tamari, apple cider vinegar, and subbed arrowroot for the xanthan gum since that's what I had on hand. Served with pork fried cauliflower rice.

Awesome to have Chinese 'takeout' for the first time in months :)

Erica said...

Mmmm yours looks amazing! And yeah it's definitely still not the same kind of crunchiness that you get from batter frying :( I actually originally tried this using an almond meal breading but it came off when I mixed the chicken with the sauce so everything turned into a bowl of mush.

stephthegeek said...

Chris had two platefuls :D I was really excited about the pork fried rice too... so glad I've finally got some wheat free tamari because there's just nothing really that makes up for that ingredient.

Does xanthan gum get more of a clear cornstarch-ish texture? Arrowroot seems to be somewhere in the middle... not floury but not exactly shiny translucent either.

Btw I didn't vote in your poll because I can't decide... I do love just making unabashedly meat/veggie things but there's also a thrill in re-creation :)

Erica said...

Glad your man enjoyed! And yeah xanthan gum gives you a clear result that is a lot more similar to cornstarch (albeit a tad, err, slimier, for lack of a better word). Check out the cranberry sauce recipe on my blog, I added xanthan gum as a thickener (since you don't get the same syrupy consistency that you would with sugar) and you can see in the pic that it didn't cloud the fruit juices. I definitely recommend using a tea ball to sift the xanthan gum evenly over the sauce and mix it in a little at a time because it likes to clump. Another cool advantage that it has over cornstarch is that it doesn't have to be heated to thicken something. Hence why you see it in i.e. protein shake mixes. I've seen the molecular gastronomy crowd exploit this quality as well for foams and fluid-gels; not really my thing but I appreciate it objectively, I'm more likely to use it to emulsify my salad dressing ;)

Anonymous said...

Hey Erica its Joe from MDA. Followed your Movie Night food link there and saw you did General Tso's chicken. My favorite!

Important recipe question (using math principles from 3rd grade if I remember right - see who said this stuff would never come in handy?)

Is it:

#1) 1/4 cup diet orange soda + (1 packet Splenda, OR 1 Tbs honey)


# (1/4 cup diet orange soda + 1 packet Splenda), OR 1 Tbs honey ?

Thanks - Joe (and if you answer this days later please PM me on MDA so I know you posted.

Erica said...

@Joe: It's the second one :) (1/4 cup diet soda + 1 packet Splenda) OR (1 Tbs honey)

Anonymous said...

OK sweet that's what I was hoping. One less ingredient and maybe a bit more primal to go with the honey instead of the diet pop/splenda mix. Rather have the carbs than the chemicals.

I'll post back how it turned out. Thanks. Joe

Joe said...

Hi Erica - Made this tonight and it turned out very tasty. Thank you for the recipe.

Here's a picture of the end result.

I learned two useful things from this recipe. First, cauliflower rice is a great primal substitute for regular rice. I actually like the taste better than regular white rice. So does my teenage daughter. Second, I used xantham gum for the first time and like the way is works. Tasteless but thickens stuff nicely. Expensive but worth it.

Erica said...

Thanks for posting the pic, Joe! I'm always interested to know how these recipes turn out for others. I agree re: xanthan gum, fortunately a little bit goes a long way, so I've had my bag for years and have barely made a dent in it :)

Shining Wit said...

Awesome recipe. I am loving your blog. I deep fried the chicken in peanut oil, using my regular mixture of whey protein, red mill golden flax seed oil, and seasoning. It was delicious!

Thank you for your blog.

Danielle said...

I came across a different general recipe and this was the breading, I think it will follow paleo/GF?low carb and its good!! Get some oil heating on the stove, Beat 1-2 eggs add 1 teaspoon sweetner (I didnt notice this at all so can omit) 1 tablespoon soy alternative, I used aminos. Mix all together, I also threw in garlic, pepper, salt, whatever looked good : ) Have your chicken cut up small, mix into the egg mixture. The next part is a goopy mess but results in amazing chinese breading!! Mix in FAST 1 cup yes cup of cornstarch, you have to mix fast but even if it looks more covered in spots its ok. Works best using your hands, Fry in the oil in 2 batches. till golden, after the second batch is out, Put the 1st batch back in for 2-3 mins till a darker brown. Trust me its amazing breading, Proceed with any sauce, recipe above looks amazing to go with these breaded chicken bites, Hope it was ok to post this.

Danielle said...

I wanted to mention when you mix the cornstarch in do so very fast, don't let it set unmixed it will feel like cement! Enjoy...

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