General Tso’s Chicken brings your favorite takeout to the table with ingredients you can control. Tender fried chicken and a sweet-savory sauce that’s fast to assemble makes for a simple dinner that’s ready in 30 minutes or so.Jump to Recipe
I’m southern. And I like fried chicken. And…it turns out I like it tossed in a finger-licking sauce that Colonel Sanders had absolutely nothing to do with.
General Tso’s Chicken is so popular, you might as well save yourself a few bucks and the DoorDash tip and make it at home. PLUS…you know me…control the ingredients so you can control how well you feel.
This is the key.
Key points to know
- Takes about 30 minutes to make.
- Be sure to chop, measure and mix all ingredients before beginning. It comes together fast!
- You can swap chicken thighs for breast meat.
- Leftovers store well in the fridge but don’t freeze well.
- Healthier swaps: Refined coconut oil for frying, arrowroot for cornstarch, Tamari for soy sauce, honey or coconut sugar for brown sugar.
What’s the history of General Tso’s Chicken?
The origins of General Tso’s Chicken is a little murky. While it’s commonly associated with Hunan cuisine, there’s no definitive proof of its Chinese roots. Some theories suggest it was invented in Taiwan or even the United States.
Regardless of its origins, its popularity is undeniable and it’s doggone good so who really cares?
What ingredients are in General Tso’s Chicken?
Hoisin – Hoisin sauce adds a sweet and savory depth to the dish, balancing the spicy elements in General Tso’s Chicken; you can find it in the Asian section of most grocery stores.
Water/Stock/broth – We’re using water here but you can also go with chicken stock or broth for a deeper flavor. Make your own and keep it in the freezer like I do, or grab a quality boxed version. I like Kettle and Fire’s new chicken broth or Pacific Foods.
Ginger – Fresh ginger adds a zesty, aromatic note to the dish. Look for firm, unblemished ginger roots in the produce section. Scrape off the skin with a spoon and grate it finely on a box grater or zester.
Garlic – Garlic adds a wonderful depth and aroma here. I suggest using fresh garlic and not jarred.
Chili flakes – The chili flakes work with the chili paste to give General Tso’s chicken a wonderfully balanced, complex kick of heat.
Soy sauce – Soy sauce comes in to provide a deep, salty umami flavor to the dish. You could use liquid aminos instead if you’d like or Tamari for gluten free.
Brown sugar – For just a hint of sweetness, but coconut sugar or honey could also work here.
Cornstarch – Cornstarch is used to coat the chicken, allowing it to brown up nicely in the pan. The cornstarch also works to thicken the sauce. I prefer an organic one to avoid the GMO corn that’s usually used to make it. You can also swap in arrowroot starch if you have that on hand for something grain free.
Chicken thighs or tenders – Thighs are more forgiving when fried and won’t dry out if you over cook them. Get whatever type you like, but I prefer something air chilled to avoid the chlorine bath that makes chicken mushy and tough.
Regional optional ingredient: Sambal oelek chili paste – Sambal oelek chili paste provides the heat and bold chili flavor that gives General Tso’s Chicken its signature kick. Not all General Tsos chicken recipes have chili paste, but you are welcome to add it.
General Tso’s vs. Orange Chicken
General Tso’s Chicken is typically spicier and includes more savory elements, while orange chicken has a sweeter, citrusy flavor profile.
How to make General Tso’s Chicken step by step
- Coat chicken in cornstarch and let it sit while you make the sauce.
- Mix the sauce ingredients and set aside–you won’t have time to do this later.
- Sautee the chicken in oil for 4-5 minutes per side until cooked through. Make sure the chicken stays in a single layer. Cook the chicken batches if needed so it gets nicely browned.
- Wipe out the chicken skillet and add the sauce. Simmer gently until thick enough to make a trail in the sauce when a spoon goes through.
- Add the chicken back in, toss, garnish and serve.
Tips for frying the chicken
Achieving the perfect crispy texture for your chicken really makes this dish. Here are some tips to help you get there.
- Oil depth. Shallow fry your chicken in oil. You don’t need it to cover the chicken–you don’t even need it halfway up the chicken. But you do need enough in the pan to help it get nicely browned on all surfaces in contact with the pan.
- Oil choice. I like to use refined coconut oil here. It has a high enough smoke point and is much less inflammatory than other options. You can use vegetable oil if you choose to.
- Don’t crowd the pan. Attempting to fry too many pieces of chicken at once can cause the oil to cool down quickly and, thus, fail to fry the chicken properly. The chicken will steam instead of fry and likely become rubbery.
- Heat matters. You want to keep your oil up at 350-375°F. You can use a candy thermometer or even an electric skillet if you would like to get the oil temperature right.
- Use the right pan. It’s best to use a heavy-bottomed skillet. They distribute heat more evenly so that you don’t find yourself with any overly hot or overly cool patches of oil. Cast iron or stainless steel is great if you feel confident with those.
How to store leftovers
If you find yourself with leftovers, allow them to cool completely before sealing them in an airtight container and storing them in the fridge for 3-5 days.
Can General Tso’s Chicken be frozen?
Not really. Fried chicken doesn’t thaw well. It gets oily and soggy when it thaws.
What to serve with General Tso’s chicken
To balance out the richness of General Tso’s Chicken, it is recommended to pair it with some fresh vegetables. Steamed broccoli, carrots, and snow peas are great options that not only add color to the dish but also provide a healthy balance to the meal.
For those who prefer a bit more flavor, try stir-frying the vegetables with some garlic and ginger. This will add a savory taste to the vegetables that will complement the spiciness of the chicken.
Overall, General Tso’s Chicken can be paired with a variety of sides, but it is important to keep the flavors balanced. Add a mild rice, cauliflower rice or noodles and fresh vegetables.
Other recipes to try
Feeling inspired to make some more awesome, flavorful dishes from scratch? Here come a few of my other favorites.
General Tsos Chicken
- 1.5 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs cut into 1 inch pieces
- 1/2 cup cornstarch plus an extra 1 1/2 tablespoons for the sauce
- 1/2 cup flavorless oil I use avocado but vegetable oil works
- 2 teaspoons ginger minced or grated
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1/4 cup soy sauce tamari for gluten free
- 1/4 cup Hoisin sauce
- 3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar coconut sugar could substitute
- 3/4 cup water
- pinch red pepper flakes optional
- 2 tablespoons chopped green onions optional
- 1 teaspoon sesame seeds optional
- Cut the chicken into 1-inch pieces. Add the chicken and ½ cup cornstarch to a large bowl. Toss the chicken with the cornstarch until fully coated. Remove the chicken from the cornstarch, shaking off the excess.
- Whisk together the soy sauce, hoisin sauce, rice vinegar, brown sugar, water and remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch until the sauce is smooth and no lumps remain. Set aside.
- Add the oil to a 9 inch or larger skillet over high heat. Make sure you add enough oil to fully coat the bottom of the pan, you may need a little more or a little less than called for in the recipe, depending on the size of your pan.
- When the oil is hot, add the chicken. Make sure the chicken is in a single layer, with all pieces touching the pan. You may need to cook the chicken in two batches. Fry the chicken for 4-5 minutes per side, until fully cooked through. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside.
- Wipe out the skillet and turn the heat down to medium. Add an additional teaspoon of oil to the skillet with the minced garlic and ginger. Cook 30 seconds.
- Pour the sauce mixture into the skillet with the ginger and garlic, and add a pinch of red pepper flakes. Stir the sauce for 4-5 minutes, until it thickens. The sauce is thick enough when you can trace a trail in it with a spoon.
- Return the chicken to the pan and coat it in the sauce. Top with green onions and sesame seeds.