Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Tasty General Tao Chicken

I recently shared a recipe for my dangerously addictive General Tao tofu: it's the quickest (and low-fat) way to get the wonderfully piquant flavor of the famous dish, but everyone once in a while, it's totally worth it to take the time to make the more classic chicken version, which is marinated, deep-fried, then stir-fried in the savory sauce. I usually save it for weekends or vacation days, but I was home-sick for a few days, and when I felt better, I wanted a treat. Now.

General Tao (or General Tso) chicken is known as a classic Chinese dish, but in fact, it was invented in the United-States, after the Chinese diaspora, probably as a variant on a more traditional Hunan recipe and sweetened to accommodate North American palates (Hunan cuisine is very spicy, and General Tao usually has a sweet element to its flavor). There's now hardly any Chinese restaurant in North America that doesn't have this dish on their menu.

I found this recipe on Appetite for China, and adjusted it a little bit (I prefer using chicken breast instead of chicken thighs and I used Sri Racha in my sauce instead of the chili paste listed in the original recipe). Here is the scrumptious result!

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
2 egg whites

1/4 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon Sri Racha sauce
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon cornstarch

1 1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 cups peanut or vegetable oil for frying, plus 1 tablespoon for stir-frying
1/2 to 1 tablespoon chili flakes
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon white sesame seeds, for garnish
Scallions, green parts thinly sliced, for garnish

Prepare the marinade: in a large bowl, combine the soy sauce, rice wine, and egg whites. Coat the chicken in the marinade mixture and let sit for 10 minutes.

In the meantime, prepare the sauce: In a small bowl, combine the chicken stock, tomato paste, sugar, soy sauce, rice vinegar, hoisin sauce, Sri Racha sauce, sesame oil, sugar, and 1 teaspoon of cornstarch. Stir until the sugar and cornstarch are dissolved. Set the sauce aside. It doesn't look like a lot, but the sauce is meant to coat the chicken: if you like your General Tao very saucy, double the sauce recipe.

In a large bowl or deep plate, toss the 1 1/2 cups cornstarch with the salt and pepper. Coat the marinated chicken in the cornstarch and shake off any excess before frying (try to use only one hand for dredging the chicken in the cornstarch: the stuff clumps up and you will need to rinse off the built up a few times). Fill a wok or large, deep skillet with about 1 inch of peanut or vegetable oil; preheat it over medium-high heat, until a piece of garlic dropped in it starts sizzling instantly. Working in 2 or 3 batches, add the chicken cubes and fry until golden brown on the outside and cooked through, about 4 to 5 minutes. If you want your chicken to be crispy, avoid over-crowding your wok (like I did in the picture below... now I know better)!

Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels (I never buy paper towels, so I put the pieces of chicken on a wire grill over a piece of tin foil). Repeat with the rest of the chicken. Drain the oil into a heatproof container and save for discarding.

Wipe the wok to remove any brown bits, but don’t wash. Reheat the wok or skillet over medium-high heat. Add another 1 tablespoon of oil and swirl to coat the base and sides. Add the chili flakes and garlic to the wok and stir-fry until just fragrant, about 20 seconds. Pour in the sauce mixture and stir until thickened, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Return the chicken to the wok and stir well to coat with sauce. Stir-fry until reheated.

Serve garnished with the chopped scallion and sesame seeds, with some jasmine rice and steamed vegetables.

It gets a lot of dishes dirty and it takes good timing to get the chicken, the rice and the veggies all ready at the same time (don't let the fried chicken sit too long: the texture will loose it's crispiness), but it's worth the effort and the cleaning up! With a bit of practice, you can get the chicken to a perfect golden crisp and it will still be tender and chewy inside the batter.

I don't have to tell you that twice-fried chicken is something to be treated as an indulgence, but the cooking technique can also be used (in moderation) with sweet and sour sauce... So freaking good!

Santa Claus (a.k.a. gave me the wonderful "The Chinese Takeout Cookbook", 'cause I have been such a good girl this year, and it is full of amazing recipes! It really is your favorite Chinese take-out's menu made easy! It includes great tips on how to care for your wok, selecting traditional ingredients and making tasty food with no MSG and other horrible additives. If you enjoyed this General Tao, get your hands on a copy!

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