Classic General Tso’s chicken is a sweet and spicy mix of ginger and soy-marinated chicken thighs, coated and fried to take-out perfection! If there is a dish we associate with Chinese American food take out, it’s likely to be General Tso’s chicken, according to food blogger & photographer Ksenia Prints of At the Immigrant’s Table. These sweet and sour fried chicken nuggets are so crispy, tasty, and addictive that it’s easy to see why people keep going back to their favorite restaurants and ordering them time after time.
But as with most take-out dishes, making General Tso’s chicken at home is surprisingly easy, not to mention substantially cheaper, tastier, and healthier than ordering the take-out version. So, follow our simple recipe and make your own crackling General Tso’s chicken.
Gather the ingredients for General Tso’s chicken
The ingredients for General Tso’s chicken may seem lengthy, but they’re all typical, easy-to-find ingredients. The cut of chicken we recommend for General Tso’s chicken is chicken thighs. The dark meat of chicken thighs is slightly meatier and more flavorful than white meat chicken breasts. However, if all you have is chicken breasts, that’s totally fine too!
For the chicken batter, all you need is cornstarch, salt, and pepper. Cornstarch is especially important here, as it wraps our General Tso’s chicken nuggets in a crispy, light coating, unlike a heavier, more traditional flour batter. Cornstarch coating is very common in Chinese American recipes, and we are all in favor of it!
Finally, to make the delicious sticky sauce that gives General Tso’s its name, you’ll need rice vinegar, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, sugar, more cornstarch, and water. Do not skip the hoisin! It’s important for the texture and sweetness that ultimately make this dish taste like takeout General Tso’s chicken. Minced ginger, minced garlic, red chili flakes, chopped scallions, and cooked rice complete the at-home takeout package.
Prep the chicken for General Tso’s chicken
The preparation for General Tso’s chicken follows the simple rules of Chinese-American fried chicken: take the pieces of chicken, coat them in cornstarch, deep fry, and then quickly stir fry it all in the sauce.
So let’s start with prepping our chicken. Cut chicken thighs into 1-inch, bite-sized pieces. Transfer chicken pieces to a large bowl.
Add ½ cup cornstarch, salt, and pepper and toss well to coat. It’s important to season your chicken with salt and pepper even though it’ll get more salt and pepper through the sauce. Oftentimes, what separates restaurant cooking from home cooking is that chefs season their foods at every stage of the cooking process. So let’s learn from the professionals and season our batter.
Make the General Tso’s chicken sauce
After frying, General Tso’s chicken nuggets get coated in a yummy, glossy, sticky sauce that is the perfect combination of sweet, spicy, and umami. The sweetness of General Tso’s chicken comes from sugar. The spiciness and bite of the sauce come from rice vinegar and chili flakes, which we will add later. And the savory umami notes are thanks to soy sauce and hoisin sauce. It’s this elusive and all-important taste that gives Asian food its addictive quality.
And the glossy look? That’s all thanks to cornstarch, baby.
In a small bowl, combine rice vinegar, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, water, sugar, and a tablespoon of cornstarch. Whisk together and set aside. This sauce is where the flavor is at, so be careful not to spill it!
Deep fry your chicken
Fill a large, wide-rimmed pan with 2-3 inches of oil. A Dutch Oven or a cast-iron pan would work well here. Use vegetable or canola oil for frying, and never olive oil, as its smoke point is too low and will soon fill your kitchen with an unpleasant (and smoke alarm-inducing) haze. Some people will also use peanut oil, so go ahead if that’s what you have on hand.
Set the pan to medium-high heat and wait until the oil is sufficiently heated through before you add the chicken. You can test the oil’s heat by throwing a small bit of water in there. Properly hot oil should bubble around the drops of water immediately. Just remember to use only a tiny amount, as a large amount of water could cause hot oil to splatter everywhere.
Working in batches, fry a few chicken pieces at a time for 2 minutes per side, turning over once, until all the pieces are golden. Work with tongs, and do not crowd pan, as that can lead to sad, soggy chicken. Transfer the cooked chicken nuggets onto a paper-towel-covered plate or baking sheet.
Cook General Tso’s chicken in sauce
Once all your chicken bites are fried, it’s time to combine our fried chicken with our delicious sauce. When you have finished cooking the chicken, wait for the oil to cool off. Once it’s cool enough to handle, remove most of the oil except one tablespoon. Alternatively, you can also get started with a new pan and add one new tablespoon of oil
Set pan on medium heat. Add garlic, ginger, and chili flakes, then saute for one minute. Add the pre-whisked sauce to the pan, then add fried chicken nuggets to the pan. Stir together until the chicken is well coated. Cook for one minute in the sauce.
Serve General Tso’s chicken with toppings
Voila — your General Tso’s chicken is done! It’s best enjoyed when it’s served piping hot from the pan, so don’t mince words, and let’s get to eating.
Serve General Tso’s chicken immediately, topped with sliced scallions, sprinkled with sesame, and alongside rice. The best rice to serve with Chinese food is jasmine rice, as it’s a lot more fragrant than its long-grain cousins. However, if all you have is regular white rice, that’s going to be delicious as well.
If you’re looking for a beverage to pair with your General Tso’s chicken, we recommend a nice cold Asian beer like Thai Tiger Beer or Japanese Sapporo. Their bitter notes and cold temperatures will pair beautifully with the spicy-sweet flavors of General Tso’s chicken.
Classic General Tso’s chicken is a sweet and spicy takeout classic, coated and fried to perfection! Follow our simple recipe and make your own version at home.
- 1 pound chicken thighs, cut into 1 inch chunks
- ½ cup cornstarch
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons hoisin sauce
- ¼ cup water
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- ½ cup vegetable or canola oil for frying
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger
- ½ teaspoon red chili flakes
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- Sesame seeds
- Chopped scallions
- Cut chicken thighs into 1-inch pieces. Transfer chicken pieces to a large bowl. Add cornstarch, salt, and pepper. Toss well to coat.
- In a small bowl, combine rice vinegar, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, water, sugar, and a tablespoon of cornstarch. Whisk together and set aside.
- Fill a large, wide-rimmed pan with 2-3 inches of oil – a Dutch oven or a cast-iron pan would work well. Set the pan to medium-high heat and wait until the oil is sufficiently heated through (you can test it by throwing a small bit of water in there – the oil should bubble around it immediately).
- Working in batches, fry a few chicken pieces at a time for 2 minutes per side, turning over once, until all the pieces are golden. Do not crowd the pan. Transfer chicken pieces to a plate or baking sheet.
- When done cooking chicken and oil has sufficiently cooled off, remove most of the oil except one tablespoon (or get started with a new pan and add 1 new tablespoon of oil).
- Set pan on medium heat. Add garlic, ginger, and chili flakes, then saute for 1 minute. Add sauce to the pan, followed by the chicken. Stir together until the chicken is well coated. Cook for 1 minute.
- Serve General Tso’s chicken immediately, topped with sliced scallions and alongside rice.