I have a guilty pleasure and it’s takeout Chinese food. Give me ALL the deep fried meats coated in sweet and glossy sauces. I love orange chicken, sweet and sour pork, honey garlic anything… and especially General Tso’s chicken. It’s tangy, sweet, crispy, and good.
What is General Tso’s Chicken
General Tso’s chicken is crispy, deep-fried chicken tossed in a sweet and tart sticky sauce that has just a bit of spice. Its origins are murky at best and no one is quite sure who created it, but everyone agrees that General Tso’s chicken is named after Zuo Zongtang, a military leader from the Qing dynasty who had most definitely not tasted the chicken that’s named after him. What we do know is that General Tso’s chicken is uniquely Chinese-American and incredibly delicious.
How to make General Tso’s Chicken
This is one of the easiest Chinese dishes you’ll ever make:
- Marinate: In a large bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the chicken coating until light and frothy. Toss in the chicken pieces and let sit at room temperature.
- Batter: Place 1 cup of cornstarch in a bowl. Spoon out 2 tablespoons of the chicken coating and whisk into the cornstarch to form small clumps. These will add extra crispy bits to your chicken. Working in batches: throughly coat several pieces of chicken in the cornstarch, and shake off the excess.
- Fry: Fry these however you like! See the sections below on air fryer vs oven baked vs deep fry. Deep fry will always produce the best results, but more often than not, we grab the air fryer for its ease and healthiness.
- Sauce: Once all of your chicken is done and resting in the oven, make the sauce. Add the sauce ingredients and cook, stirring, until the sauce comes to a boil and starts to thicken. Remove from heat, then add the chicken.
- Enjoy: Toss throughly to coat and enjoy immediately.
Ingredients for General Tso’s Chicken
Most of the ingredients for General Tso’s chicken are fairly pedestrian items you’ll find in your pantry/fridge: chicken thighs, egg whites, soy sauce, corn starch, sugar, white vinegar, garlic, and ginger.
There are a couple of ingredients that you might not have on hand but will make your General Tso’s chicken taste just like take out:
Shaoxing wine is the secret ingredient that makes Chinese food taste like Chinese food. You might think it’s MSG that you’re tasting, but that can’t quite put your finger on it flavor is actually Shaoxing wine: it’s lightly sweet, nutty, earthy, and complex. It’s definitely worth it to get a bottle! Read more about Shaoxing wine here.
White pepper doesn’t taste like black pepper at all. It’s delicate and floral, with a hint of heat. White pepper is brighter and sharper, which is surprising because white pepper is exactly the same berry as black pepper. They’re both grown on the same pepper plant, but white pepper is black pepper with the outer layers soaked off. White pepper is essential in Chinese cooking, adding a earthy, floral heat. Unlike with black pepper, where you should always buy whole peppercorns, it’s best to get ground white pepper because its higher moisture makes it a little harder to grind – and you probably don’t have a spare grinder anyway?
Toasted sesame oil
Toasted sesame oil is pretty common these days and for good reason. It adds a huge amount of toasty nutty aromatic flavor. Toasted sesame oil is made from toasted sesame seeds and our favorite is Kadoya, which comes in that iconic yellow topped bottle.
Chinese chili flakes
Chinese chili flakes might not be as common as the ubiquitous red pepper flakes that you see in shakers at Italian restaurants, but I feel like they are starting to become more and more popular. These flakes are bright red and have hardly any seeds, which are made from whole toasted, fried Sichuan peppers. They’re nutty and toasty with a bright red color and just the right amount of heat. They are my absolute favorite chili flakes of all time.
What should I do with the extra egg yolks?
This recipe uses a classic Chinese deep fry coating that only uses egg whites, which leaves you with a couple of extra egg yolks. You can:
Deep Fried vs Air Fried vs Oven Baked
This recipe will work all three ways: deep fried, air fried, or oven baked. If you have the time, deep fried is going to be your best bet, but air frying and oven baking is less work and healthier too!
If you’re air-frying or oven baking, you’ll need to spray the egg white-cornstarch coated chicken with some oil. We use a simple oil mister bottle that we fill with grapeseed oil; you can also use cooking spray. Make sure there’s a good coating of oil on the chicken so it browns evenly, otherwise the chicken won’t be as golden as deep frying.
Air fryer General Tso’s chicken
Lightly oil or use cooking spray on the air fryer basket. Place the coated pieces of chicken in the basket, with at least 1/4” of space in between pieces. Lightly spray the tops of the chicken with cooking spray. Cook at 400°F for 5 minutes, then flip and lightly spray with extra cooking spray. Cook for 5 more minutes at 400°F. If your pieces of chicken are large, you might need an extra minute or two. Let the chicken cool for 5 minutes, then air fry for an extra 5 minutes at 400°F to crisp it up. Add to the sauce and toss to coat.
Oven baked General Tso’s chicken
Heat the oven to 450°F. Generously oil or use cooking spray to fully coat a wire rack in a foil lined baking sheet. Place the coated pieces of chicken on the rack, with at least 1/4” of space in between pieces. Lightly spray the tops of the chicken with oil or cooking spray. Bake for 20 minutes, then flip, lightly coat with extra oil/cooking spray and bake for an extra 5 minutes. The pieces of chicken should be golden brown, crispy, and cooked through. Add to the pan with the sauce and toss to coat.
What to serve with General Tso’s Chicken
This is a fairly easy recipe to make, but it takes a little bit of commitment because you’re frying up tiny pieces of chicken. The good news is that you get to eat all of the tiny pieces of fried chicken coated in a sweet-soy glaze!
Happy General Tso-ing!
General Tso’s Chicken Recipe
Better than takeout: crispy, tangy, sweet, and absolutely addictive.
- 2 egg whites preferably from large eggs
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp white pepper
- 1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs cubed into 1″ pieces
- 1 cup cornstarch
General Tso’s Sauce
- 1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- 1/2 cup chicken stock no sodium preferred
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp vinegar white preferred
- 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
- 1 tbsp ginger minced
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1/4 tsp chili flakes Chinese preferred, optional
In a large bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the chicken coating until light and frothy. Toss in the chicken pieces and let sit at room temperature. Set up a cooling rack over a baking sheet lined with paper towels and heat up 1-2 inches of oil in a high-sided, heavy bottomed pot over medium high heat until oil reaches 350°F. Preheat your oven to its lowest setting.
While the oil is heating up, place 1 cup of cornstarch in a bowl. Spoon out 2 tablespoons of the chicken coating and whisk into the cornstarch to form small clumps. These will add extra crispy bits to your chicken. Working in batches: throughly coat several pieces of chicken in the cornstarch, shake off the excess, then gently add the chicken to the hot oil. Deep fry each batch until golden brown and crispy (about 5-6 minutes) flipping as needed. Drain the chicken on your prepared rack and keep warm in the oven.
Once all of your chicken is done and resting in the oven, make the sauce: whisk together 1 tablespoon of Shaoxing wine with 1 tablespoon of cornstarch until smooth, then whisk in the chicken stock, soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, and toasted sesame oil. In a large skillet, heat up a bit of oil over medium heat and stir fry the garlic, ginger, and chili (if using) until soft but not brown, 2-3 minutes. Add the sauce ingredients and cook, stirring, until the sauce comes to a boil and starts to thicken.
Remove from heat, then add the chicken and toss. Toss throughly to coat and enjoy immediately.
General Tso’s Chicken Recipe
Amount Per Serving
Calories from Fat 117
% Daily Value*
Saturated Fat 3.4g21%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.