General Tso’s chicken

I made one of my wife’s favorite dinners last night–General Tso’s chicken, known and loved by everybody who dines at our house. This was the first serious cooking I’ve done since we moved into our “new” house with the retro kitchen. Quite a challenge!

This is based on Martin Yan’s recipe in The Well-Seasoned Wok, with my own preferences and changes.

¼ c Shao Hsing wine or sake
2 Tbsp dark soy sauce
4 tsp cornstarch

½ c chicken broth
¼ c rice vinegar
¼ c regular soy sauce
3 Tbsp dark soy sauce
3 Tbsp sugar
1½ Tbsp sesame oil

Everything else:
2 lb boneless skinless chicken, cut into 1″ cubes
2 lb firm tofu, cut into 1″ cubes and drained
¼ c peanut oil
5-15 whole dried chiles de arbol (the skinny red ones, about 3″ long)
4 cloves minced garlic
1″ piece of ginger, minced
3 green onions, cut into 1″ pieces
¼-½ tsp red pepper
¾ c roasted unsalted peanuts
2 Tbsp cornstarch dissolved in ¼ c water

Combine all the marinade ingredients and stir until the cornstarch is dissolved. Add the chicken and stir to coat. Marinate for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Combine the sauce ingredients except for the sesame oil. Stir to dissolve the sugar, then add the oil. Set aside.

Heat a wok over highest heat. Add oil and swirl to coat, then add whole chiles and stir-fry until the chiles darken, 10-15 seconds or so. Add the chicken and stir-fry until all sides are white, about 2 minutes. (If the pan goes dry, add a little hot water, not oil!) Add the tofu, garlic, ginger, green onions, crushed red pepper and stir-fry for another minute or two. Stir the sauce again to mix the sugar, then add sauce and peanuts to the wok and stir. Cook until sauce starts to bubble, about another minute. Stir up the cornstarch solution and add a little at a time, until sauce is thickened. Go easy, it may thicken a bit more upon standing.

Serves about 8

This pretty much completely fills a 12″ wok, with a little room for stirring. You can halve the recipe, but it’s kind of a hassle due to the brain-dead measuring system we use in the US, grumble grumble. Go metric!


  • The chicken will be easier to cut if you partially freeze it.
  • Cut up the tofu and put the cubes in a collander in the sink to drain.
  • I normally measure all the sauce ingredients into a 2-cup measuring cup: pour in chicken broth to ½ cup, then add rice vinegar to ¾ cup, etc. Once less thing to wash.
  • If you have some leftover chicken broth from the sauce, substitute it for some of the water when cooking rice. (You are making rice to go along with this, right?)
  • If possible, mince the garlic and ginger right before you add them to the wok to preserve flavor. We have a little bitty food processor that works great for this. During prep, just peel the garlic and ginger and toss the whole chunks in the food processor. After you start cooking the chicken, run the food processor to mince the garlic and ginger. That’s about as freshly minced as you can get, unless you have a sous chef. 😉
  • I rarely use all the cornstarch/water mixture to thicken the sauce. Just add a little at a time until it’s thickened to your liking. It’s better to throw out a bit of cornstarch than to have to frantically mix up some more because you ran short!

I’ve had to tone down this recipe to get my kids to eat it; hence, the lower limit on the spices. But personally I prefer it spicier, with the peppers at the upper limit.

About Jim Vanderveen

I'm a bit of a Renaissance man, with far too many hobbies for my free time! But more important than any hobby is my family. My proudest accomplishment has been raising some great kids! And somehow convincing my wife to put up with me since 1988. ;)
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