General Tso's chicken
|Alternative names||General Tao Chicken, Zuo Gong Ji|
|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)|
|General Tso's chicken|
|Alternative Chinese name|
General Tso's chicken 左宗棠雞 (pronounced [tswò]) is a sweet deep-fried chicken dish that is served in North American Chinese restaurants invented by the Taiwan-based Hunan cuisine chef Peng Chang-kuei. The dish is named after Zuo Zongtang (also romanized Tso Tsung-t'ang), a Qing dynasty statesman and military leader, although there is no recorded connection to him nor is the dish known in Hunan, Zuo's home province.
Name and origins
The dish has been associated with Zuo Zongtang (Tso Tsung-t'ang) (1812–1885), a Qing dynasty statesman and military leader from Hunan Province, but Zuo could not have eaten the dish or known of it. The dish is found neither in Changsha, the capital of Hunan Province, nor in Xiangyin County, where Zuo was born. Moreover, Zuo's descendants, who are still living in Xiangyin County, 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(宗堂)", meaning "ancestral meeting hall". Consistent with this interpretation, the dish name is sometimes (but considerably less commonly) found in Chinese as 左宗棠雞 (Chung tong gai is transliterated from Jyutping; Zuǒ Zōngtáng jī is transliterated from Hanyu Pinyin).
The dish or its variants are known by a number of variant names, including:
- Governor Tso's chicken, General Tao’s chicken, General Gao's / Gau's chicken, General Mao's chicken, General Tsao's chicken, General Tong's chicken, General Tang's chicken, General T's Chicken, General Cho's chicken, General Chai's chicken, General Joe's Chicken, T.S.O. Chicken, General Ching's chicken, General Jong's Chicken, House Chicken, or simply General's Chicken.
Peng Chang-kuei claim
Fuchsia Dunlop argues that the recipe was invented by Taiwan-based Hunan cuisine chef Peng Chang-kuei,  who had been an apprentice of Cao Jingchen (曹藎臣), a leading early 20th-century Chinese chef. Peng was the Nationalist government's banquet chef and fled with Kuomintang 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. 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 led to it being adopted by local Hunanese chefs and food writers. When Peng opened a restaurant in Hunan in the 1990s introducing General Tso's chicken, the restaurant closed without success, as the locals found the dish too sweet.
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, Peng 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, located at East (155 E. 55th St.) and West (43 W. 65th St.), also claims 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."
It has also been argued that 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 (the identity of its namesake "General Ching" is, however, unclear); whereas the name "General Tso's chicken" can be traced to Chef Peng, who cooked it in a different way.
These competing claims are discussed in the 2014 documentary film The Search for General Tso, which also traces how the history of Chinese immigration into the USA parallels the development of a unique Chinese-American or American Chinese cuisine.
Traditional basic ingredients include:
- Sauce: soy sauce, rice wine, rice-wine vinegar, sugar, cornstarch, dried red chili peppers (whole), garlic.
- Batter / breading: egg, cornstarch.
- Dish: broccoli, chicken dark meat (cubed).
The Taiwanese restaurant Peng Chang-kuei also serves the dish and is credited by some sources as the inventor of the dish. Differences between this Taiwanese dish and that commonly encountered in North America are that it is not sweet in flavor, the chicken is cooked with its skin and that soy sauce plays a much more prominent role.
- American Chinese cuisine
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- Crispy fried chicken
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- Orange 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.
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- The Search for General Tso – a 2014 documentary film about the dish and Chinese American culture
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- 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 978-0-446-58007-6.
- 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.
- "The Curious History of General Tso's Chicken" Archived 2010-01-09 at the Wayback Machine, Salon
- Dunlop (2006).
- 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.
- Everington, Keoni. "Inventor of General Tso's Chicken dies in Taipei at age 98 | Taiwan News". Taiwan News. Retrieved 2 December 2016.
- Grimes, William. "Peng Chang-kuei, Chef Behind General Tso's Chicken, Dies at 98". The New York Times. The New York Times Company. Retrieved 21 February 2021.
- "The Search for General .Tso" (Movie). Ian Cheney. 2014.
References and further reading
- Dunlop, Fuchsia (2006), "The Strange Tale of General Tso's Chicken", in Richard Hosking (ed.), Authenticity in the Kitchen: Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 2005, Oxford Symposium, pp. 165–177, ISBN 978-1-903018-47-7
- "7 Chefs on the Enduring Appeal of General Tso's Chicken," Grub Street (January 8, 2015).
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