Chinese takeout is Ben’s guilty pleasure food, and his dish of choice is General Tso Chicken. Today’s homemade version is every bit as sweet, sticky, and irresistible as the one in the carton, with a healthy twist so you can enjoy it guilt-free!
General Tso chicken is a popular Chinese-American dish.
It was invented in America (not China) and consists of pieces of chicken that are battered, fried, and tossed in a thick, sticky, spicy sauce, served over steamed rice.
Whenever Ben picked up crispy General Tso chicken (usually an indicator he’d had a rough day at the office), I was always tempted by its smell, but I never could get past how greasy the chicken was or the cloying amount of sugar made my stomach feel icky 10 minutes later.
Through the years, I’ve worked on perfecting my General Tso’s recipe to make it more nutritious, while still satisfying that sweet and savory takeout fix.
- The General Tso sauce calls for a more reasonable amount of sugar and easy ingredients you likely already have on hand, especially if you regularly cook stir fry recipes.
- To create that quintessential breaded outside, I toss the chicken in cornstarch and lightly pan fry it to create a “crust.”
- The crust also helps the sauce thickly adhere to the outsides of the chicken pieces (one of the yummiest reasons to eat General Tso’s).
Up until today, I’d only used my “Tso sauce” for meatless variations (General Tso Chickpeas; General Tso Tofu), but there is something about those breaded bites of chicken that reminds me of my days spent cruising the shopping mall and stopping in the food court for takeout.
How to Make General Tso Chicken
Traditional General Tso’s sauce is made of soy sauce, hoisin, sugar, rice vinegar, and cornstarch to thicken it.
Since hoisin already contains sugar, it can quickly become too sweet.
Instead, I make my healthy General Tso chicken recipe without sugar, using a moderate amount of honey or maple syrup instead.
To give the sauce more nuance, I add a little bit of sesame oil for nuttiness and chili garlic sauce for heat.
- Chicken. The sauce deliciously clings to each bite-sized piece of the chicken. Chicken is a protein-packed crowd-pleaser, making it a fantastic base for this healthy recipe.
- Tso Marinade. A combination of soy sauce, chili garlic sauce, sesame oil, honey or maple syrup, and baking soda. It’s salty, sweet, nutty, and a little spicy. The baking soda is a trick restaurants use to tenderize the chicken.
- Soy Sauce. Bursting with umami goodness, soy sauce adds crucial flavor to the sauce. I used low-sodium soy sauce to keep the sauce from becoming too salty.
- Hoisin Sauce. Hoisin sauce is key to the General Tso sauce’s scrumptious, thick, and slightly sweet flavor. Think of it as Asian barbecue sauce.
- Ginger. With mild peppery and sweet notes, ginger adds zippy freshness.
- Chili Garlic Sauce. A little sweet and a little spicy.
For a General Tso chicken spicy version, up the amount of chili garlic sauce (the recipe as written has a moderate kick). If you prefer a 100% non-spicy General Tso chicken recipe, you can use only 1 or 2 teaspoons.
- Rice Vinegar. A light, mild way to add critical acidity.
- Cornstarch. Helps make the sauce addictively luscious and thick and the outsides of the chicken crispy.
- Sesame Oil. Adds a touch of nuttiness to the sauce. This ingredient will make your cooking better!
- Vegetables. To make this a complete meal, serve your General Tso chicken with stir fry veggies. I use a frozen mixture, which makes things quick and easy.
- Add the chicken to a bowl with the marinade ingredients. Let sit for at least 15 minutes. Whisk the sauce ingredients together in a separate bowl.
- Stir the cornstarch into the chicken.
- Stir fry the chicken.
- Remove the chicken while you stir fry the vegetables (if using), then return the chicken to the pan.
- Pour in the sauce and cook to thicken. Garnish and DIG IN!
- To Store. Refrigerate leftover chicken stir fry in an airtight storage container for up to 3 days.
- To Reheat. Rewarm leftovers in a skillet on the stovetop over medium-low heat or in the microwave.
- To Freeze. Freeze chicken and vegetables in an airtight freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
Meal Prep Tip
Up to 1 day in advance, cut the chicken and add it to a bowl with the marinade. Cover and refrigerate until you’re ready to finish the recipe.
Turn leftover General Tso chicken into a filling for lettuce wraps (inspired by my delicious Asian Lettuce Wraps).
Recommended Tools to Make this Recipe
- Wok. Perfect for making General Tso chicken at home.
- Mixing Bowls. Great for mixing sauce ingredients and marinating the chicken.
- Measuring Spoons. For recipes with lots of ingredients to measure, these double-sided spoons are the best.
This healthy General Tso chicken recipe is all of the pleasure and none of the guilt!
Frequently Asked Questions
General Tso chicken was named after General Tso Tsung-t’ang, a Chinese general from the 19th century. It is believed that he enjoyed the sweet and savory combination that is a hallmark of this dish.
General Tso chicken and orange chicken share many similarities, but the difference between the two lies in the main flavors of the sauce. General Tso chicken sauce uses chili as a base, and orange chicken sauce relies on orange for its signature flavor. Orange chicken is also generally less spicy than General Tso chicken. For a recipe, check out my Healthy Orange Chicken and Crockpot Orange Chicken.
While this recipe is gluten free as written, some brands of soy sauce, hoisin, chili garlic sauce, and rice vinegar can contain gluten. I recommend inspecting the ingredients in each of these items to ensure they’re all gluten free.
FOR THE CHICKEN:
- 1 pound chicken tenders or chicken breast cut into bite-sized pieces
- 3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
- 1 1/2 teaspoons chili-garlic sauce Sambal Oelek
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon honey or pure maple syrup
- 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 5 large green onions or 7 small green onions white parts (bulbs) removed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1 bunch)
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
FOR THE SAUCE:
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 1/2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce plus additional to taste
- 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
- 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
- 1 to 2 tablespoons chili garlic sauce Sambal Oelek; the more you add, the spicier the chicken
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
FOR THE STIR FRY VEGGIES (OPTIONAL if you’d like to add a side serving):
- 1 tablespoon canola or grapeseed oil
- 12 ounces chopped vegetables I use a frozen stir fry medley
Place the chicken in a medium bowl. Top with the soy sauce, chili-garlic sauce, sesame oil, honey, and baking soda. Let sit 15 minutes or refrigerate for up to 1 day.
While the chicken rests, whisk together the sauce ingredients until smoothly combined: water, soy sauce, hoisin, ginger, chili garlic sauce, rice vinegar, cornstarch, and sesame oil.
Cook the chicken: Heat the canola in a wok or large skillet over medium high. Sprinkle the 3 tablespoons cornstarch over the chicken. Stir to evenly coat, using a spoon to separate the pieces and ensure each is nicely coated.
Once the oil is hot, with a large spoon, add the chicken to the pan a few pieces at a time, distributing it in an even layer (discard any remaining marinade). Cook on the first side until golden, about 1 minute. With tongs, flip and cook on the remaining sides, stirring periodically, until the chicken is deeply golden on all sides and completely cooked through, about 3 minutes more.
If you will be cooking the vegetables: Remove the chicken to a plate. With a paper towel, carefully wipe out the pan. Heat the canola oil and stir fry the veggies until crisp tender, about 4 minutes. Return the chicken to the pan.
Add ¾ of the green onion to the pan and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Pour in the sauce, tossing to coat the chicken evenly. Let cook 1 to 2 minutes more, tossing constantly, until the sauce is thickened and deliciously sticky. Stir in 1/2 tablespoon sesame seeds. Sprinkle the remaining green onion and sesame seeds over the top. Serve hot with rice, quinoa, or cauliflower rice, as desired.
- TO STORE: Refrigerate chicken in an airtight storage container for up to 3 days. Store any rice separately from the chicken and vegetables.
- TO REHEAT: Rewarm leftovers in a skillet on the stovetop over medium-low heat or in the microwave.
- TO FREEZE: Freeze chicken and vegetables in an airtight freezer-safe storage container for up to 3 months. Let thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating.
Serving: 1(of 4), without vegetables or riceCalories: 285kcalCarbohydrates: 21gProtein: 26gFat: 10gSaturated Fat: 1gPolyunsaturated Fat: 3gMonounsaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 1gCholesterol: 73mgPotassium: 575mgFiber: 2gSugar: 9gVitamin A: 346IUVitamin C: 7mgCalcium: 55mgIron: 2mg
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