General Tso's chicken
|General Tso's chicken|
|Place of origin||Multiple claims|
|Main ingredients||Chicken, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, rice vinegar
Shaoxing wine or sherry, sugar, sesame oil, scallions, hot chili peppers, batter
|Variations||Orange chicken (Westernized version)|
|Cookbook:General Tso's chicken General Tso's chicken|
|General Tso's chicken|
|Alternative Chinese name|
General Tso's chicken is a sweet, slightly spicy, deep-fried chicken dish that is popularly served in American Chinese restaurants. The dish is most commonly regarded as a Hunanese dish, although it was unknown in China and other lands home to the Chinese diaspora before it was introduced by chefs returning from the United States.
The dish is named after General Tso Tsung-tang, or Zuo Zongtang, a Qing dynasty general and statesman, although there is no recorded connection to him. The real roots of the dish lie in the post-1949 exodus of chefs to the United States.
Name and origins
The food has been associated with the name of Zuo Zongtang (左宗棠, 1812–1885), a Qing Dynasty general from Hunan. Zuo himself could not have eaten the dish as it is today, and the dish is found neither in Changsha, the capital of Hunan, nor in Xiangyin, the home of General Tso. Moreover, descendants of General Tso still living in Xiangyin, when interviewed, say that they have never heard of such a dish.
There are several stories concerning the origin of the dish. Eileen Yin-Fei Lo states in her book The Chinese Kitchen that the dish originates from a simple Hunan chicken dish, and that the reference to "Zongtang" was not a reference to Zuo Zongtang's given name, but rather a reference to the homonym "zongtang", meaning "ancestral meeting hall." Consistent with this interpretation, the dish name is sometimes (but considerably less commonly) found in Chinese as "Zuo ancestral hall chicken". (Chung tong gai is a transliteration of "ancestral meeting hall chicken" from Cantonese; Zuǒ Zōngtáng jī is the standard name of General Tso's chicken as transliterated from Mandarin.)
The dish or its variants are known by a number of names, including Governor Tso's chicken, General Gau's chicken, General Tao's chicken, General Tsao's chicken, General Tong's chicken, General Tang's chicken, General Cho's chicken, General Chau's chicken, General Joe's Chicken, T.S.O. Chicken, General Ching's chicken, House Chicken, or simply General's Chicken. The linguist Victor Mair, commenting on the various names for the dish and problem of getting them straight, says that he has not seen the spelling "General Zuo's Chicken," that is, using the now standard pinyin romanization, but that he expects to see it soon. 
As documented by Fuchsia Dunlop in the New York Times, one claim is that the recipe was invented by Taiwan-based Hunan cuisine chef Peng Chang-kuei (a.k.a. Peng Jia) (Chinese: 彭長貴; pinyin: Péng Chánggùi), who had been an apprentice of Cao Jingchen's, a famous early 20th-century Chinese chef. Peng was the Nationalist government banquets' chef and fled with Chiang Kai-shek's forces to Taiwan during the Chinese Civil War. There, he continued his career as official chef until 1973, when he moved to New York to open a restaurant. That was where Peng Jia started inventing new dishes and modifying traditional ones; one new dish, General Tso's chicken, was originally prepared without sugar, and subsequently altered to suit the tastes of "non-Hunanese people". The popularity of the dish has now led to it being "adopted" by local Hunanese chefs and food writers, perhaps as an acknowledgment of the dish's unique status, upon which the international reputation of Hunanese cuisine was largely based. Ironically, when Peng Jia opened a restaurant in Hunan in the 1990s introducing General Tso's chicken, the restaurant closed without success because the locals found the dish too sweet.
New York claim
Peng's Restaurant on East 44th Street in New York City claims that it was the first restaurant in the city to serve General Tso's chicken. Since the dish (and cuisine) was new, Chef Peng Jia made it the house specialty in spite of the dish's commonplace ingredients. A review of Peng’s in 1977 mentions that their “General Tso's chicken was a stir-fried masterpiece, sizzling hot both in flavor and temperature”.
New York's Shun Lee Palaces, East (155 E. 55th St.) and West (43 W. 65th St.) also says that it was the first restaurant to serve General Tso's chicken and that it was invented by a Chinese immigrant chef named T. T. Wang in 1972. Michael Tong, owner of New York's Shun Lee Palaces, says, "We opened the first Hunanese restaurant in the whole country, and the four dishes we offered you will see on the menu of practically every Hunanese restaurant in America today. They all copied from us."
The two stories can be somewhat reconciled in that the current General Tso's chicken recipe—where the meat is crispy fried—was introduced by Chef Wang, but as "General Ching's chicken", a name which still has trace appearances on menus on the Internet. However, the name "General Tso's chicken" traces to Chef Peng, who cooked it in a different way.
Traditional basic ingredients include:
- Sauce: soy sauce, rice wine, rice wine vinegar, sugar, cornstarch, dried red chili peppers (whole), garlic, MSG.
- Batter/breading: egg, cornstarch.
- Dish: Broccoli, chicken (cubed).
Outside North America, one notable establishment that serves General Tso's chicken is the Taiwanese restaurant Peng Chang-kuei, which is credited by some sources as the inventor of the dish. Differences between this "original" dish and that commonly encountered in North America are that it is not sweet in flavor, the chicken is cooked with its skin, and soy sauce plays a much more prominent role.
A typical restaurant serving of General Tso's chicken may include up to 1,300 calories, 11 grams of saturated fat and 3,200 milligrams of sodium  as well as exceed 300 mg of cholesterol. This one dish may exceed a person's entire daily recommended sodium intake, half of the recommended caloric intake and 1/3 to 1/2 of the recommended saturated fat limit. One serving will typically be about 4 oz. (approximately 100 grams) of chicken thigh meat which contains 20-30 grams of protein, greater than 30% of the daily recommended niacin needs and over 15% of the recommended B6, phosphorus and zinc needs.
Media related to General Tso's Chicken at Wikimedia Commons
- The Search for General Tso, a 2014 documentary film about the dish and Chinese American culture
- American Chinese cuisine
- Canadian Chinese cuisine
- Sesame chicken
- Orange chicken
- Lemon chicken
- White cut chicken
- Crispy fried chicken
- Pizza effect, the phenomenon of elements of a nation or people's culture being transformed or at least more fully embraced elsewhere, then re-imported back to their culture of origin.
- Dunlop, Fuchsia (February 4, 2007). "Hunan Resources". The New York Times Magazine. Section 6, Page 75. Retrieved 2009-01-09.
- Browning, Michael (April 17, 2002). "Who Was General Tso And Why Are We Eating His Chicken?". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-02-24. Text available at WiredNewYork.com
- Lee, Jennifer (2008). The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food. Twelve Books. ISBN 0-446-58007-4.
- Lo, Eileen Yin-Fei (1999). "Transplanting Chinese Foods in the West". The Chinese Kitchen. calligraphy by San Yan Wong (1st ed.). New York: William Morrow and Company. p. 416. ISBN 0-688-15826-9.
- Victor Mair, "General Tso's chiken," Language Log June 11, 2013
- "The Curious History of General Tso's Chicken", Salon
- Sheraton, Mimi (March 18, 1977). "A Touch of Hunan, A Taste of Italy". The New York Times. New Jersey Weekly section, Page 68. Retrieved 2007-04-26.
- "Chinese Food: A Wok On The Wild Side", Center for Science in the Public Interest
- "Nutritional Information For General Tso's Chicken", Lance Armstrong Foundation
- "Grams of Protein in Chicken - Chicken Thighs", High Protein Foods