If I had a signature dish, this’d be it. The General and I have a long history.

My hometown of Spokane, Washington, was not exactly a culinary melting pot in the Mid ’80s. While there were several Chinese restaurants, they were essentially interchangeable having gotten most of their menu items from Leann Chin’s book (the best of this group, the Tungloon Garden, is still in business and still makes the best bulgogi to be found outside a Korean eatery). Then along came the China Best, our first “high class” Chinese restaurant, and on their menu was an item called “General Tso’s Chicken”.

This was a big deal for us. General Tso’s work was pretty much unknown in Eastern Washington and the China Best rose to fame very quickly on its strength. Quite honestly, it’s hands down the best General Tso’s I’ve ever eaten anywhere…and I’ve lived in two cities with Chinatowns.

The history of General Tso and his Chicken (which is really about as Chinese as the Hamburger is German) makes for interesting reading. When I want to make people laugh at my history nerdiness I call it “General Tso’s Taiping-Quelling Ever-Victorious Chicken.

Sadly, the China Best is no more, but they did have the decency to reveal their General Tso’s recipe in Spokane Cooks! Northwest, which is like a snapshot of the Spokane restaurant scene in the ’80s. I carried it on an index card all the way through college and grad school, and I now present it here, updated and tweaked:

General Tso’s Taiping-Quelling Ever-Victorious Chicken (China Best Style)

  • 4 skinless boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite size pieces
  • 4 scallions, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp chopped garlic
  • 1/2 tsp chopped ginger
  • 2 tbs soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon shaoxing rice wine (find at Asian market or substitute dry sherry if desperate)
  • 1 tbs chinkiang vinegar (this is a dark, strong vinegar you can also find at your Asian market. You can try white vinegar, but the taste won’t be anything near the same)
  • 1 tsp chili sauce (use more or less depending on your heat tolerance)
  • 1 small handful dried hot chili peppers (these are for color and are optional)
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbs sugar
  • 10 tbs cooking oil (peanut preferred)
  • 1 tsp sesame oil

Marinade:

  • 4 tbs soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp shaoxing rice wine
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper

Mix marinade ingredients, and marinate chicken pieces for 1 hour. Heat 8 tbs cooking oil in a wok or heavy saute pan and stir-fry marinated chicken for 8-10 minutes. Remove from wok, set aside, and clean wok for next step.

Add 2 tbs oil to clean wok. Add garlic and ginger and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the soy sauce, rice wine, vinegar, chili sauce, dried chilies, salt, pepper, sugar, and scallions and stir fry for another minute or so, until the scallions just begin to change color. Add chicken back into wok and mix with sauce. Remove from heat and sprinkle on sesame oil before serving.

One nice thing about this recipe is that the chicken isn’t deep-fried first so you can at least pretend it’s healthy to your friends. I was actually completely unaware that General Tso’s is normally breaded until I went off to college in Milwaukee….and the first time I ordered it I thought I’d gotten Sweet and Sour Chicken accidentally instead. The Chinese restaurant people had a good long laugh when i went back to complain.

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