As a chef who spent most of his 50 year career as a chef in America, my dad's made General Tso's Chicken thousands of times.
If you’re not familiar with General Tso’s Chicken, it’s an extremely popular menu item in Chinese American restaurants but fairly unheard of in mainland China.
The original recipe was invented by renowned chef Peng Chang Kuei in Taiwan in the 1960s, who named it General Tso’s Chicken as an homage to his Hunanese heritage and their beloved general Zuo Zongtang.
When done properly, General Tso’s Chicken is an incredibly delicious dish that’s crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.
Chef Peng’s original recipe is more in line with the intense spices, tanginess, and savory flavors of Hunanese cuisine, and in America, Chinese chefs added sugar to the recipe to appeal to a more western customer base.
This recipe is more true to the Chinese American method, with a sweeter taste profile.
Who was General Tso?
Zuo Zongtang was a beloved statesman and military leader in the Qing Dynasty. He was known to be brilliant and always victorious in battle, and was instrumental in keeping China together and keeping peasant rebellions at bay.
A Hunanese icon, his legacy is still celebrated all across Hunan Province today, inspiring Peng Chang Kuei to name a dish after him almost a century after his death.
He had a fierce love of his country, and emphasized the importance of preserving Chinese tradition and culture. (Ironically, one of the most popular Chinese American dishes was named after him.)
We’ll talk about this more later, but there’s a really poignant documentary called “The Search for General Tso” that explains not only the origins of how this iconic dish became its own billion dollar industry, but the struggles of Chinese immigrants fighting to survive and thrive in America.