Living in downtown (University and Dundas) Toronto is like living on the moon: It is grey, the concrete makes it rock-like, and there’s very little in the way of atmosphere. This is not to say that there’s no cachet. Indeed, I relish the neighbourhoods that add spice to the otherwise uninteresting corporate epicentre. One of those neighbourhoods is Chinatown, where I got the General Tso Chicken
spices and inspiration for this well loved staple of Chinese cooking: General Tso Chicken.

This dish is also known as General Tsao, General Taso, General Toa, General Cho, General Gau, General Ching, General Kung and General Tseng (according to Eileen Yin-Fei Lo in The Chinese Kitchen, at 416). No matter what it’s called, it is rightly a popular addition to any Chinese restaurant’s menu and a crackerjack head turner at a dinner party. The versions I have here is adapted from Fuchsia Dunlop’s incredibly second oeuvre, Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province – a book I highly recommend for anyone interesting in Chinese cooking, culture, folklore and foodlore. Here’s what you’ll need to make her “Changsha version”

INGREDIENTS

Peanut oil for deep/shallow frying

Bowl 1 (chicken and marinade)
12oz. of boned chicken thigh, skin on, and chopped into bite sized morcels
2 teaspoons of soy sauce (dark or light, but if you’re using dark try cutting it with ½ tablespoon of water or chicken stock)
4 tablespoons of potato flour (rice flour will do in a pinch)
1 egg yolk

Bowl 2 (chillies)
8 dried red chillies, seeds removed and chopped up (roughly should do the trick)

Bowl 3 (ginger)
1½ tablespoons of ginger, chopped finely

Bowl 4 (tomato paste)
1 tablespoon of tomato paste

Bowl 5 (sauce)
2 teaspoons of soy sauce (dark or light, it’s as you like)
3½ tablespoon of stock
2 teaspoons of Chinkiang vinegar (if you’re unable to find this type of vinegar, you can cheat and use balsamic vinegar)
2 teaspoons of white sugar
½ teaspoon of potato flour

Bowl 6 (scallions)
3 scallions (green part only) sliced

1. First, mix together the ingredients of your marinade (bowl 1) and put in your chicken to soak up all the lovely flavour.

2. While you chicken is enjoying its bath, put enough peanut oil in a sturdy pot and heat it up to 180-200C (350-400F). (NB: I usually find that this requires too much expensive peanut oil, so I actually heat up a baby finger’s-worth of peanut oil in a frying pan and shallow fry the chicken. It doesn’t seem to mind.)

3. While your peanut oil is heating up, you can prepare your bowls of goods.

4. Once the oil is at the appropriate temperature, take your chicken out of the marinade and deep fry it until golden and crispy. Set it aside. (NB: My cheater’s shortcut of shallow frying in a frying pan, of course, affects the crispiness of the chicken as it reduces the oil temperature, so I try to split the difference and do small batches at a time).

Now, for the big show.

5. Put in 1-2 tablespoons of oil in your frying pan/wok and heat on medium-high heat. Add your chopped dried chillies (Bowl 2) and stir-fry for 30-45 seconds, making sure they don’t burn.

6. Next, add your ginger (Bowl 3) to the frying pan/wok and stir fry for about 1 minute or just long enough for the ginger to begin to release its delicious fragrance. Again, be careful not to burn it.

7. Add your tomato paste (Bowl 4)

8. Now, add your sauce (Bowl 5) to the frying pan/wok and mix it up, combining all the ingredients. Add your deep/shallow fried chicken and coat it well with the sauce. Throw in the scallions, mix them into your sauce, and then turn out the mixture into a bowl. Serve immediately.

This is really a great dish, and leftovers (a rare occurrence in my house, I assure you) can be used for a great lunch bento. This is truly a fabulous recipe, and so simple you’ll wonder why you haven’t made it before.

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