My typical Chinese takeout option is General Tso’s chicken. Crispy fried chicken under a sweet and slightly spicy sauce? Yes, please. Today I’m going to show you how I make it and turn it into a sandwich.
The history of this dish has more to do with the American palate than food from actual China. A brief history of General Tso’s Chicken from the Smithsonian tells us that the backstory of General Tso’s chicken has some interesting drama. A Chinese chef named Peng Chang-kuei moved to Taiwan and at his restaurant there he invented General Tso’s chicken which was not at all like what we are familiar with today. In the 1970s a New York chef (Tsung Ting Wang) visited Taiwan and got the inspiration to make a similar dish that was more tailored to the American palate. Years later, the inventor of the dish ended up opening a restaurant in NYC where he had to change the flavors in his original dish to be closer to the one that was already popular in the States.
That Smithsonian post also mentions an entertaining documentary about General Tso’s chicken that I watched a couple of years ago. The documentary is called: The Search for General Tso (currently not free anywhere, but it was worth the $3.99 rental for me). If you want to learn more about the history of General Tso’s chicken and need something to watch, I’d recommend it.
If you’ve never ordered and enjoyed General Tso’s chicken, it’s bite-sized pieces of chicken breast or thigh meat that has been fried crispy and coated in a sweet and spicy sauce. Often General Tso’s will appear on the menu with a little pepper 🌶 beside its name, denoting the spice. Most of the time the General Tso’s that I receive from my delivery driver has very little heat and spice. Don’t worry, my recipe down below is pretty spicy but there’s also a very easy method to adjust the spice level.
Today we’re going to turn General Tso’s chicken into a fantastic chicken sandwich. Let’s get down to business.
Once again I used my soft potato bun for most of these sandwiches. I’ve been testing my recipe for the past few weeks and this seemed like another good chance to put it to use. But another good recipe I’ve used in the past that would be a great option for this sandwich (that I didn’t think of until later) would be King Arthur’s Japanese Milk Bread Rolls. The technique used in this recipe leads to an unbelievably soft and squishy bun and would work well with the sauced up fried chicken.
But as I said, my potato bun recipe is the one that I used. I did sprinkle sesame seeds on most of them and to do that, you need an egg wash made of one whole egg and a tablespoon of water whisked thoroughly. Just prior to baking your buns, paint each one with your egg wash and then sprinkle as many sesame seeds as your heart desires on top. Take into account that some of your seeds will end up falling off.
If you end up sesame seed-ing your buns, do not baste them with melted butter after coming out of the oven like my recipe states for plain potato buns.
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Sometimes we make General Tso’s chicken with breast pieces and sometimes with thigh pieces. I think thigh meat in general (GENERAL – get it) is better for this recipe but my wife prefers white meat, so that’s when I use breast.
The chicken is fried in a mixture of corn starch and all purpose flour and this blend makes it light and crunchy.
If you’ve ordered any of the fried chicken based options at your local Chinese takeout restaurant, you know that it tastes best to eat as soon as you can. Leftover Chinese chicken dishes are still good, but if the chicken was originally fried, there’s going to be no crunch at all left when you reheat it.
One way around this would be to fry your chicken pieces and then only sauce the amount you want to eat for that meal. If you have leftovers, you can refrigerate the chicken pieces and the leftover sauce separately and then bring them back up to temperature and sauce when you’re ready to eat your leftovers.
Here’s some chicken fresh out of the frying oil. You can see that it has a very thin and light coating and it is very crispy right out of the frying pan.
Heat warning: there are dried red chilis in this sauce. This is why there’s typically a little red chili icon beside 🌶 General Tso’s chicken on your local takeout menu.
As you can imagine, the dried red chilis can be really spicy. There are a couple of things you can do to reduce the heat here and the first one is pretty obvious: use less dried red chilis. The second option to reduce the spice would be to break the chilis and remove and discard as many seeds as possible before adding them to the sauce.
All those seeds become little heat bombs which are fantastic or fantastically bad depending on your heat tolerance and/or enjoyment.
My experience with the spice level of this recipe is that if you’re eating the General Tso inside of a bun, you can handle a lot more heat than you could if you’re just eating it plain or on top of rice. The bun really goes a long way to reduce the spiciness for me.
Here’s the recipe we use for General Tso’s chicken at our house. This is a solid recipe that we enjoy with or without sandwiching.
And here we go. I made sure to have thinly sliced green onion and sesame seeds for garnishing each sandwich.
Sometimes I used sesame seed buns and sometimes not. These are all from the same potato bun recipes as above (because I tried to do a bunch of testing on the recipe). The round ones I shaped like normal potato buns for burgers and the longer ones I rolled out into about 5 inch long buns.
The below sandwich was a whole boneless skinless chicken thigh that I marinaded and flour coated just like my recipe for normal General Tso’s and then I fried whole. I think this worked just fine, but to be fair, it wasn’t any better than a sandwich made with a bunch of small fried chicken bites like the other sandwiches.
I wouldn’t necessarily suggest trying this because it made little difference. Just make the normal General Tso recipe with the bite size pieces of fried chicken and make your sandwich that way.
Make General Tso’s chicken
Just do it. Even if you don’t end up sandwiching it, this is a good recipe and in my experience it’s better than most of what I can get via delivery or takeout at my house. Watch out for the spice if you’re sensitive to that, but you can easily control the spicing with the amount of peppers you choose to use. Check back next week when I am possibly revisiting a classic or maybe doing something weird again.