Last year, The Angry Chef and I left Boston and migrated North, to the beautiful seaside city of Salem, Massachusetts.
We love everything about living in Salem. The sense of community. The (growing) number of our old friends who live there. The shops and the restaurants. The whole general good vibe of the place. And, of course, Halloween.
You’re going to laugh, but the only thing we miss about living in Boston is our favorite Chinese place in Southie.
We would go almost every week. The staff all knew us. (We’d walk in and Eva, the hostess, would hug me, give me a pinch, and tell me that I was getting too skinny.).
We’d order pretty much the same thing every time (horrible practice for a food blogger, I know). For me, it was an egg roll, wonton soup with plush, homemade dumplings, and spicy basil pork fried rice. For The Angry Chef, a big plate of crisp crab rangoons, juicy chicken on a stick, and General Gau’s chicken with loads of steamed white rice.
And of course, a scorpion bowl, that fruity tropical concoction that makes you want to jump in the bowl and splash around.
Since we moved, we don’t get down there nearly as often as we’d like. So, a few months back, I figured I’d try to make some General Gau’s chicken at home.
Sacrilege, I know, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try. My first attempt was good enough that I decided to work on the recipe. And the final result is the recipe in this post.
What is General Gau’s Chicken?
I realized that, for something I nibbled on every week, I knew relatively little about the dish.
General Gau’s chicken, often called General Tso’s chicken, is chicken that’s been battered and fried, then coated in a fragrant, orange-y ginger sauce that’s spicy, tangy, sweet, and hot all at the same time.
It’s also one of those things that no two Chinese places seem to make exactly the same.
As it turns out, it was invented by chef Peng Chang-kuei in the 1950s. While it’s not an ancient Hunanese recipe by a long shot, it does feature Hunan flavors: hot, salty, and sweet.
Peng is actually responsible for helping to popularize Hunanese food in the U.S., when officials from the United Nations (namely Secretary of State Henry Kissenger) started to frequent his restaurant on 44th Street in New York. He sweetened the recipe to suit American tastes.
The rest, as they say, is history. Read the whole story here.
Dear Food Police: I am not a Chinese chef
I’m the first to admit it: This is General Gau’s chicken, Mouse-House style. It’s not necessarily 100% authentic, but it’s really, really good.
I also break all sorts of rules with this recipe.
I used breast meat, not thigh. I crowded the pan when I fried.
I used (*shudder*) Triple Sec. etc. And it came out great. Once you get the general idea of how to make this, you can modify it to fit your taste.
It’s a great approximation of the flavors of a good restaurant Gau—and it’s easy enough that you can make it on a weeknight.
Good enough for me.
A few notes on ingredients
This chicken gets a triple shot of orange flavor from orange juice, orange zest, and Triple Sec.
Now, the Triple Sec serves two purposes: to add orange flavor and to sweeten the dish. So, if you substitute in another type of liquor, you’ll need to increase the amount of sugar a little.
My recipe below has a good balance of spice and sweetness, leaning towards the sweet side. If that’s not your thing, cut out the sugar or omit it completely. You’ll need to monkey around with the sauce recipe a little to finetune it to your particular tastes.
General Gau’s Chicken, Mouse-House Style
1 1/2 lbs. chicken breast
2 Tbls. garlic powder
2 Tbls. powdered ginger
1/4 cup flour
canola oil, for frying
3/4 cup flour
1/4 cup light soy sauce
1/3 cup Triple Sec
2 Tbls. sugar
3 Tbls. rice wine vinegar
2 1/2 Tbls. fresh ginger, grated
1 Tbls. Aleppo chili flakes
1 large orange, juice and zest
Fresh green onion, sliced
Serve with steamed white rice (jasmine or basmati are really good).
Feeds about 4
Prep the chicken
Grab your chicken. I used chicken tenders. You can definitely use whole chicken breast. Get whatever’s on sale, because you’re just going to chop it up. If you prefer dark meat, use skinless chicken thighs.
Cut the chicken into small-ish pieces.
Toss them into a gallon-sized zip-top bag or a large bowl.
Toss in the ginger and garlic powder.
Seal the bag and toss to coat.
Toss in the flour. Toss to coat again. (You’re doing this in two steps to make sure the seasoning sticks to the chicken, and doesn’t get lost in any excess flour.) Set that aside for a sec.
Crack the eggs into a medium-sized bowl. Beat them ’til they’re scrambled to bits.
Put 3/4 of a cup of flour on a large plate or bowl.
You’re ready to start breading the chicken. Set out a clean plate for the chicken once it’s dipped and floured.
Take a piece of chicken.
Drop it into the beaten egg and coat it on all sides quickly.
Then drop it onto the plate of flour. Toss to coat.
Put the battered chicken on your clean plate. Repeat with the rest of the chicken until it’s all coated.
Set the chicken aside for a minute while you make the sauce and heat the oil.
Make the sauce
Put the soy sauce, Triple Sec, and sugar in a bowl.
And the rice wine vinegar. I like Marukan brand.
It comes in seasoned (with sugar, etc.) and unseasoned. Use the unseasoned for this recipe so you don’t throw off the balance of sweetness.
Toss in the fresh grated ginger and chili flakes. (I used Aleppo chili flakes. You can order them from Penzey’s.)
Add the orange zest.
Squeeze in the juice.
Whisk it up.
Give it a taste. Adjust the seasoning if you like, adding a little more soy to make it saltier, or sugar to make it sweeter. This is the basic flavor of the dish, so be sure you’re happy with it.
Set it aside while you fry the chicken.
Fry the chicken
Now, I will tell you: This is absolutely, 100% the WRONG way to fry almost everything. All conventional wisdom about frying tells you not to crowd the pan, because it will lower the temperature of the oil to the point where it will absorb into the chicken, and leave you with a greasy, soggy mess.
For some reason, this works for me. My chicken isn’t greasy and is nice and crunchy on the outside. I think it’s because the chicken is cut into small enough pieces that they cook really quickly. If you like, however, feel free to fry your chicken in batches. I do it this way because it saves me time. (The shallow frying also saves me oil.)
Pour about a quarter inch of canola oil in a large, flat-bottomed pan. You could use peanut, too, though that’s usually more expensive.
Set it on the stove over high heat for a few minutes, until the surface of the oil starts to shimmer. While you’re waiting, set a plate next to the stove to catch the chicken when it’s cooked.
When the oil is hot enough, add the chicken to the pan carefully. Fry for a few minutes on one side.
When the chicken is golden brown and crunchy on the bottom, flip it all over. This happens pretty quickly, so don’t walk away from the stove. Keep the heat on high.
When the bottom is equally golden brown and crunchy, remove the chicken from the pan with a spider or large, slotted spoon.
Transfer the cooked chicken to your waiting plate.
(See? Not greasy!)
Sauce and toss the chicken
Pour out most the oil and add the chicken back to the pan. (Or, if you’d rather let the oil cool before you dispose of it, use a different, clean pan.)
Turn the heat on medium-high, and pour the sauce over the chicken.
Stir to coat. The sauce should start to bubble up rapidly, so keep tossing it. Do this gently, so you don’t knock the coating off the chicken.
Toss like this until the sauce thickens and reduces to the consistency of warm jam.
It should be thick enough that you can see the bottom of the pan as you stir.
Serve & enjoy!
Serve over steamed white rice, sprinkled with sliced green onion, sesame seeds, and a pinch of chili flakes.