General Tso’s chicken recipe with a kick of heat! This popular Chinese dish has crispy fried pieces of white meat tossed in a sticky coating of oyster sauce, hoisin, soy sauce, honey, vinegar, and spicy chili oil.
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It’s no surprise that General Tso’s chicken has amassed a large fan base at Chinese restaurants like Panda Express. Tender pieces of chicken breast are lightly coated and deep fried, then tossed in a savory sauce with a hint of sweetness and spice. The sauce hits all taste profiles, salty, sour, sweet, and spicy. This satisfying meal is better than takeout!
The chicken is mixed with savory ingredients to season the pieces throughout for my homemade version. I use cornstarch to coat the chicken, which yields a crispy crust after deep frying and helps the sticky glaze adhere. I would serve this meal with egg rolls to start since you’ve already got the oil going and a side of lo mein noodles.
What is General Tso’s chicken?
It’s a favorite Chinese take-out item consisting of deep-fried pieces of chicken tossed in a sweet and spicy sauce. It’s always a mystery how particular dishes are actually named. Speculation has it that a 19th-century Chinese General Tso Tsung-t’ang fancied this meal.
Other beliefs are that the recipe originated in the 1950s in Taiwan from a celebrated chef named Peng Chang-kuei. When he immigrated to the United States in the ’70s, he adapted the dish to more American tastes to be sweeter.
I use lean boneless chicken breast cut into about 1-inch pieces in this recipe. This size gives hearty bites that cook quickly when deep-fried. If you prefer dark meat, use chicken thighs with the excess fat trimmed from the surface. Add a layer of seasoning directly to the chicken using salt, pepper, soy sauce, and shaoxing wine. A small amount of this fermented ingredient adds a characteristic Chinese seasoning to the dish.
Cornstarch creates a light, crispy brown crust compared to flour dredging, used in the standard breading procedure. The reason is that the lack of gluten formation makes a more rigid texture. The cornstarch wicks up the moisture from the wet seasonings applied to the chicken, making for an effective coating before adding to the hot oil.
Make the General Tso’s sauce
I use simple pantry ingredients found at most major grocery stores to make the sauce. It combines oyster sauce, chicken broth, Chinese black vinegar, soy sauce, hoisin, chili oil, and cornstarch for thickening.
If you can’t find the vinegar, it’s commonly sold at Asian markets, or you can substitute dry sherry or Mirin Japanese rice wine instead.
Deep frying tips
Shake off the excess cornstarch before adding the coated chicken to the frying oil. This prevents burnt bits. Use a high smoke point oil, like vegetable or peanut oil for deep frying. I use a wok to make it a one-pan dish. It can deep fry and stir-fry all in one place. The chicken is fried at around 350ºF (177ºC) until fully cooked. It only takes a few minutes.
If you don’t want to deep-fry, you can marinate and then stir-fry the chicken in about two tablespoons of vegetable oil until cooked.
Cooking the stir fry
The aromatics like minced garlic, ginger, red chilis, and green onions are briefly stir-fried. The sauce mixture is added, stirred, and simmered until thickened, which happens quickly. The fried chicken is added to the sticky sauce, tossed together, and topped with sesame seeds.
Serve this with
- Vegetarian egg rolls or crab rangoon
- Fried rice
- Steamed white rice or brown rice
- Stir-fried bok choy
- Chow mein or lo mein
General Tso’s chicken sauce is spicier, using chili oil and whole red dried chilies in the dish. It also has a more umami taste, using oyster, soy, and hoisin sauce. Chinese black vinegar adds a unique tanginess. Orange chicken, on the other hand, is more of a sweet and tangy, citrus and soy-based sauce. Both dishes can be coated and fried or simply stir-fried.
It does have a lingering heat. This version contains chili oil and whole red chilis, but you can adjust the spice level to be milder. More chili oil, sliced chiles, or adding red chili flakes or chili paste/sauce can increase the spiciness.
Shaoxing wine is a Chinese variety of wine made by fermenting glutinous rice, yeast, and water. You can use dry sherry or Japanese rice wine like Mirin as a substitute.
To make the dish spicier
Use whole dried red chilis and chili oil to provide a smoother heat experience that doesn’t overpower the dish. Sriracha or chili paste can be substituted, but use half the amount first and adjust to your desired heat level. For a hotter sauce, split the whole dried chilis in half to release more of the hot capsaicin in the flesh. Add some of the seeds for more heat, or you can sprinkle in dried rep pepper flakes.
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General Tso’s Chicken
- 1 ½ pound boneless skinless chicken breasts
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine, optional
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ cup cornstarch
- 2 cups vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 2 teaspoons minced ginger
- 10 dried red chilis
- ¼ cup green onions, 1 ½" long pieces
- ¼ teaspoons white sesame seeds
- Prepare the Chicken – Cut the chicken breast into about 1-inch pieces.
- Season the Meat – In a medium bowl, combine chicken, soy sauce, Shaoxing wine (if using), salt and pepper.
- Coat the Pieces – Toss the seasoned chicken with cornstarch to coat evenly.
- Heat the Oil – In a wok or large skillet, heat 2 cups of vegetable oil over medium-high heat, until it reaches 350°F (177°C).
- Fry the Chicken – Fry in batches. Shake off any excess cornstarch from the chicken. Carefully add it to the oil, frying until golden brown, about 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined sheet pan to drain any excess oil. Repeat with the remaining pieces. Discard the oil from the wok, and carefully wipe with paper towels to clean. If needed, wash and dry the pan.
- Make the Sauce – In a medium bowl, whisk together oyster sauce, honey, vinegar, chicken broth, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, chili oil, and cornstarch. Set aside.
- Make the Stir-fry – Heat a wok over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. Once the oil is hot, add the garlic, ginger, dried chilis, and green onions, and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add the sauce, stir and cook until thickened, 60 to 90 seconds—season with salt, pepper, and chili oil to taste. Add the fried chicken pieces, and stir to coat evenly.
- To Serve – Garnish with sesame seeds and serve hot.
- Stir-fry Method: If you prefer not to deep fry the chicken, then marinate and stir-fry with no additional cornstarch coating. Heat a wok over medium-high heat, add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and cook chicken until no longer pink, 3 minutes. Proceed with cooking the sauce.
- Black Vinegar Substitute: Use rice vinegar.
- Shaoxing Wine Substitute: Dry sherry or Japanese MIrin rice wine.
- Storing: Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
- Reheating: Cover and reheat in a microwave on high heat in 15 to 30-second increments until hot.
Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.
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