General Tso's Chicken (左宗棠鸡)

Learn my dad's easy, delicious recipe for this Chinese American classic!

Prep Time
15 min
Total Time
35 min
Yields
4 servings

A Recipe by Daddy Lau

My dad's been cooking Chinese food for over 50 years - as a kid fending for himself in Guangzhou, as the head chef of his own restaurant, and as a loving father in our home.

Hopefully, by learning this recipe, you'll get to experience some of the delicious joy we felt growing up eating his food!

- Randy

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. 

Flavor Profile

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.

Ingredients

Weight: US
oz
g
Volume: US
cup
mL
Servings
4
    Main Ingredients
  • 10 oz chicken breast
  • ginger (

    a few slices, minced

    )
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 4 pieces dried chili peppers (

    to taste - use any amount you'd like

    )
  • 1 oz red bell pepper
  • corn oil (

    for deep frying

    )
  • Chicken Marinade
  • 0.50 tsp salt
  • 0.50 egg (

    other half used in batter

    )
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 0.50 tbsp water
  • Fried Chicken Batter
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 0.50 egg
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 5 tbsp water (

    may need more to get the right consistency

    )
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Sauce
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tsp dark soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp vinegar
  • 1 tbsp ketchup
  • 0.50 tsp white pepper
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • Optional Garnish
  • broccoli
  • tomatoes

On Oils & Smoke Points

You should generally avoid olive oil for anything that involves higher heat. 

This is because olive oil has what’s called a lower smoke point, which is the temperature at which the oil stops shimmering or rippling and starts smoking. 

Smoking oil isn’t always a problem and sometimes even desired for getting that perfect “Wok Hei” in your stir fry, but it’s a sign that the oil is breaking down, which can release burnt or bitter flavors or even harmful free radicals.

Here’s a chart that highlights the smoke points of a few of the most common cooking oils. 

There are a few other factors that go into selecting oils like whether they’re neutral or flavored, refined or unrefined. 

Most cooking oil is created by extracting and compressing seeds and nuts, and oils that are “unrefined”, “raw”, or “virgin” are usually bottled almost immediately. They generally have more nutrients but a lower smoke point and shorter shelf life. Refined oils go through more processing for a higher smoke point, longer shelf life, and a more neutral flavor.

It’s not totally true that you should avoid olive oil, since you can buy either refined or unrefined varieties. But for simplicity’s sake, for frying, you generally want to use neutral, refined oils like vegetable oil, refined olive oil, or corn oil. 

Finding Asian Ingredients

Some of these ingredients are hard to find in a typical grocery store.

If you don't live near an Asian market, most or all of what my dad uses in this recipe can be found on Amazon:​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​

I've also included some other Chinese kitchen essentials, used in many of my dad's other recipes.

These links are affiliate links, which means that if you use our links to purchase these ingredients, Amazon pays my family a small amount for the sale - at no extra cost to you. If you use these links, we really appreciate the support!

Other Supplies + Tools

You'll need a good wok, which provides a ton of versatility for the classic Chinese cooking methods: steaming, stir frying, deep frying, and etc.

You may want an instant read thermometer to help you get precise with how you're deep frying. Here are two great options:

We'll cut up our chicken breast (10 oz) (thighs are fine too) into bite-sized pieces.

Afterwards, place the chicken in a bowl along with salt (0.50 tsp), egg (0.50) (beat and save half for later), cornstarch (1 tbsp), and water (0.50 tbsp).

Mix and massage for about a minute to help the chicken absorb the marinade, and set it aside while we continue preparing our dish.

We'll prepare the following:

  • garlic (2 cloves) - crush with a knife and mince
  • ginger () - cut into slices, strips, and mince
  • red bell pepper (1 oz) - cut into strips
  • broccoli () (optional) - cut a few pieces of broccoli + cook with your method of choice
  • tomato (optional) - cut a few slices

From my understanding, a lot of Chinese American restaurants like to plate General Tso's Chicken on a bed of broccoli, so feel free to do the same.

To a different bowl, we’ll add:

  • flour (3 tbsp)
  • cornstarch (1 tbsp)
  • the remaining half of the beaten egg (0.50) 
  • baking powder (1 tsp)
  • water (5 tbsp) - we might need to add more as we mix. 
  • olive oil (1 tbsp) - add last, after mixing for a minute. This helps the chicken turn out more shiny and helps to prevent the batter from clumping together.

Mix the ingredients (minus the olive oil) for about a minute. Add the olive oil, and continue mixing and maybe adding 1/2 tbsp of water at a time until we get the consistency we want.

It's hard to put in writing, but my dad demonstrated what the right consistency looks like in our recipe video.

Using corn oil (or another high smoke point, neutral flavored, refined oil), fill a wok or pan up to 1.5 to 2 inches deep.

We’ll be frying our chicken twice. For the first fry, we’re looking to heat our oil to around 300°F (149°C), and then 350 - 400°F (176-204°C) for the second frying.

In the video, my dad explains a few ways to tell if the oil is hot enough:

  • Dropping some batter into the oil. It should start sizzling and float to the top immediately, but it shouldn't turn golden brown instantly.
  • Dropping something with high water content (like a slice of red bell pepper) into the oil. It should start sizzling immediately.

Another easy way to monitor the temperature is to get an Instant Read Thermometer, which allows you to set a temperature probe in the oil and know exactly what temperature it’s at. Here are some of my favorite options.

As our oil heats up, we’ll prepare our all-important sauce by mixing 

  • light soy sauce (2 tbsp)
  • dark soy sauce (1 tsp)
  • sugar (2 tbsp)
  • vinegar (1 tbsp)
  • ketchup (1 tbsp)
  • white pepper (0.50 tsp)

Make sure to taste it and adjust if necessary :)

After our chicken is done frying, we’ll also be cooking the sauce with dried chili peppers (4 pieces), our minced garlic and ginger, as well as cornstarch (1 tsp), water (2 tbsp), and sesame oil

Mix the chicken with the batter, making sure each piece is evenly coated.

Fry #1 - cooking the chicken
~10 minutes @ 300°F (149°C)

Once the oil is hot enough, using chopsticks, GENTLY (we don't want hot oil splashing on us) transfer each piece of chicken into the oil. Going slow also helps prevent the chicken from clumping together, which we don't want.

Gently stir, and wait for the chicken to start turning golden brown. Then, using a strainer ladle, transfer the chicken out of the oil into a bowl.

Wait for the oil to reheat.

Fry #2 - GETTING THAT CRISP
~1-2 minutes @ 350 - 400°F (176 - 204°C)

Carefully pour the chicken back into the wok. You might notice that my dad just pours everything in, but uses the ladle as a stopper to slow down the chicken to prevent splashing.

Once it's done, use the ladle to transfer the chicken out of the wok.

You'll probably want to taste the chicken at this point. (Heh heh.)

The last step is to create the sauce.

We’ll scoop some of the frying oil into a new pan. Let the pan heat up for 1 to 2 minutes until the oil is shimmering, or forming ripples.

Then we’ll cook...

  • Our dried chili peppers (4 pieces) for about 10-15 seconds.
  • Our minced garlic and ginger for 20-30 seconds to release the aromas and flavors. 
  • Next, we’ll pour our sauce mix from earlier and stir around for another 20-30 seconds. 
  • Then, we’ll thicken the sauce with a cornstarch slurry made of cornstarch (1 tsp) and water (0.50 tbsp). Stir for 20-30 seconds.
  • Add the bell peppers and sesame oil (1 tsp), and stir and cook for another 30 seconds. 
  • You can adjust the thickness of the sauce to your liking by adding either more cornstarch (thicker) or more water (thinner). 

Add and stir the chicken around to evenly coat it in the sauce.

Transfer the chicken out of the pan onto a plate, and ideally, into your belly immediately.

You should be eating this ASAP to enjoy the chicken at its peak crunchy, tenderness.

As I mentioned earlier, a common way to plate this is on a bed of (cooked) broccoli, so you can try that if you like :) This also goes really well with rice!

Summary

General Tso's Chicken (左宗棠鸡)
Learn my dad's easy, delicious recipe for this Chinese American classic!
  • Prep Time: 15 min
  • Total Time: 35 min
  • Yield: 4 servings
    Main Ingredients
  • 10 oz chicken breast
  • ginger (

    a few slices, minced

    )
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 4 pieces dried chili peppers (

    to taste - use any amount you'd like

    )
  • 1 oz red bell pepper
  • corn oil (

    for deep frying

    )
  • Chicken Marinade
  • 0.50 tsp salt
  • 0.50 egg (

    other half used in batter

    )
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 0.50 tbsp water
  • Fried Chicken Batter
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 0.50 egg
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 5 tbsp water (

    may need more to get the right consistency

    )
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • Sauce
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tsp dark soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp vinegar
  • 1 tbsp ketchup
  • 0.50 tsp white pepper
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • Optional Garnish
  • broccoli
  • tomatoes
Step 1 - Prepare chicken↑ Jump to details

We'll cut up our chicken breast (10 oz) (thighs are fine too) into bite-sized pieces.

Afterwards, place the chicken in a bowl along with salt (0.50 tsp), egg (0.50) (beat and save half for later), cornstarch (1 tbsp), and water (0.50 tbsp).

Mix and massage for about a minute to help the chicken absorb the marinade, and set it aside while we continue preparing our dish.

Step 2 - Chop ingredients↑ Jump to details

We'll prepare the following:

  • garlic (2 cloves) - crush with a knife and mince
  • ginger () - cut into slices, strips, and mince
  • red bell pepper (1 oz) - cut into strips
  • broccoli () (optional) - cut a few pieces of broccoli + cook with your method of choice
  • tomato (optional) - cut a few slices

From my understanding, a lot of Chinese American restaurants like to plate General Tso's Chicken on a bed of broccoli, so feel free to do the same.

Step 3 - Create fried chicken batter↑ Jump to details

To a different bowl, we’ll add:

  • flour (3 tbsp)
  • cornstarch (1 tbsp)
  • the remaining half of the beaten egg (0.50) 
  • baking powder (1 tsp)
  • water (5 tbsp) - we might need to add more as we mix. 
  • olive oil (1 tbsp) - add last, after mixing for a minute. This helps the chicken turn out more shiny and helps to prevent the batter from clumping together.

Mix the ingredients (minus the olive oil) for about a minute. Add the olive oil, and continue mixing and maybe adding 1/2 tbsp of water at a time until we get the consistency we want.

It's hard to put in writing, but my dad demonstrated what the right consistency looks like in our recipe video.

Step 4 - Heat up oil for frying↑ Jump to details

Using corn oil (or another high smoke point, neutral flavored, refined oil), fill a wok or pan up to 1.5 to 2 inches deep.

We’ll be frying our chicken twice. For the first fry, we’re looking to heat our oil to around 300°F (149°C), and then 350 - 400°F (176-204°C) for the second frying.

In the video, my dad explains a few ways to tell if the oil is hot enough:

  • Dropping some batter into the oil. It should start sizzling immediately, but it shouldn't turn golden brown instantly.
  • Dropping something with high water content (like a slice of red bell pepper) into the oil. It should start sizzling immediately.

Another easy way to monitor the temperature is to get an Instant Read Thermometer, which allows you to set a temperature probe in the oil and know exactly what temperature it’s at.

Step 5 - Create sauce↑ Jump to details

As our oil heats up, we’ll prepare our all-important sauce by mixing 

  • light soy sauce (2 tbsp)
  • dark soy sauce (1 tsp)
  • sugar (2 tbsp)
  • vinegar (1 tbsp)
  • ketchup (1 tbsp)
  • white pepper (0.50 tsp)

Make sure to taste it and adjust if necessary :)

After our chicken is done frying, we’ll also be cooking the sauce with dried chili peppers (4 pieces), our minced garlic and ginger, as well as cornstarch (1 tsp), water (2 tbsp), and sesame oil

Step 6 - Fry chicken, twice↑ Jump to details

Mix the chicken with the batter, making sure each piece is evenly coated.

Fry #1 - cooking the chicken
~10 minutes @ 300°F (149°C)

Once the oil is hot enough, using chopsticks, GENTLY (we don't want hot oil splashing on us) transfer each piece of chicken into the oil. Going slow also helps prevent the chicken from clumping together, which we don't want.

Gently stir, and wait for the chicken to start turning golden brown. Then, using a strainer ladle, transfer the chicken out of the oil into a bowl.

Wait for the oil to reheat.

Fry #2 - GETTING THAT CRISP
~1-2 minutes @ 350 - 400°F (176 - 204°C)

Carefully pour the chicken back into the wok. You might notice that my dad just pours everything in, but uses the ladle as a stopper to slow down the chicken to prevent splashing.

Once it's done, use the ladle to transfer the chicken out of the wok.

Step 7 - Cook sauce & mix with chicken↑ Jump to details

The last step is to create the sauce.

We’ll scoop some of the frying oil into a new pan. Let the pan heat up for 1 to 2 minutes until the oil is shimmering, or forming ripples.

Then we’ll cook...

  • Our dried chili peppers (4 pieces) for about 10-15 seconds.
  • Our minced garlic and ginger for 20-30 seconds to release the aromas and flavors. 
  • Next, we’ll pour our sauce mix from earlier and stir around for another 20-30 seconds. 
  • Then, we’ll thicken the sauce with a cornstarch slurry made of cornstarch (1 tsp) and water (0.50 tbsp). Stir for 20-30 seconds.
  • Add the bell peppers and sesame oil (1 tsp), and stir and cook for another 30 seconds. 
  • You can adjust the thickness of the sauce to your liking by adding either more cornstarch (thicker) or more water (thinner). 

Add and stir the chicken around to evenly coat it in the sauce.

Step 8 - Plate & call the family over!↑ Jump to details

Transfer the chicken out of the pan onto a plate, and ideally, into your belly immediately.

You should be eating this ASAP to enjoy the chicken at its peak crunchy, tenderness.

As I mentioned earlier, a common way to plate this is on a bed of (cooked) broccoli, so you can try that if you like :) This also goes really well with rice!

Step 9 - Take pictures
Whip out your camera (1). Begin taking photos (1,000,000). Pick your favorites!
Step 10 - Share and tag us on Instagram @madewithlau #madewithlau!
Did you have fun making this recipe? We'd love to see & hear about it. (Especially my dad. He would be THRILLED!)

On Discrimination & "Authentic" Chinese Food

After watching "The Search for General Tso", I felt compelled to reflect and share my thoughts.

The documentary does a beautiful job telling the stories and struggles of Chinese immigrants fighting to survive in America, and it also stirs a lot of thoughts on what it means for Chinese food to be“authentic”.

Additional recommended reading/watching:

Enjoy!

Now, hopefully, you can create your own memories with this dish with your loved ones.

Also, I cordially invite you to eat with us and learn more about the dish, Chinese culture, and hang out with our adorable son. We get into a lot of detail on my parents' life in China and the best tips on how to perfect this recipe.

Cheers, and thanks for cooking with us!

Feel free to comment below if you have any questions about the recipe.

Watch on YouTube

About Made With Lau

We started Made With Lau to honor and share the legacy of our wonderful parents, Jenny and Chung Sun Lau.

Our hope is that these posts give you (and our future generations) a glimpse into how great they are!