We’re still plowing through our February Magazine of the Month, America’s Test Kitchen – Best Recipes and Reviews 2008. If you haven’t had a chance to run out and pick up this magazine, it’s available on the stands until the end of April 2009. ATK does not publish their recipes on the website unless you are a paid subscriber and a lot of what’s included in the publication is a must have, so I would strongly suggest you pick this up.
Before choosing the February MoM, Citizen Chef suggested two magazines, both of them America’s Test Kitchen publications. I looked at the first one. It looked great. Then I opened up the Best Of. The first thing I saw was the General Tso’s Chicken, and the MoM was instantly decided. When I have a weak moment and I am not in the mood to cook, I always request Chinese take out, specifically, General Tso’s Chicken.
Photo courtesy of America’s Test Kitchen
Against my better judgment, I’m actually going to share this recipe with everyone. This is one of the better recipes in the magazine, and the reason I’m sharing it is because I don’t make it to spec.
The most daunting aspect of making my own breaded and fried chicken is the whole deep frying process: The breading never comes out right. Taste and texture are soggy, gummy messes of breading and oil.
The test kitchen had this problem, too, and went to work fixing it. And boy, did they ever.
I could have eaten the chicken alone with just a little rice, that’s how good it was. I’ve never made a breaded and fried chicken with such a fantastic texture before, and that’s really what wowed me. The secret to their breading is a cornstarch-flour mixture, with a few teaspoons of the uncooked sauce mixed in for added flavor.
As you can see, I didn’t deep fry mine. I did put a few tablespoons of oil into a frying pan, but tried to cut down on the amount of oil it called for.
What ended up being a little too strong was the sauce. The General Tso’s Chicken I enjoy has a bit of sweetness to it, and the test kitchen went into great detail about how the sauce is usually made, and how their taste testers eventually determined the formula.
Tomato Paste is usually the key ingredient for the dish and provides the sweetness that I prefer. Instead, the recipe substitutes the paste and uses hoisin instead. Thanks to the discourse that accompanies the recipe, I was able to figure out the combination of ingredients that worked best for me. I halved the hoisin and added the paste back in for a dish that was both savory and sweet and disappeared from the table within minutes.
General Tso’s Chicken
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen
Marinade and Sauce
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/4 cup white vinegar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 cups water
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 pounds), cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Coating and Frying
3 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups cornstarch
1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
4 cups vegetable oil
For marinade and sauce:
Whisk hoisin, tomato paste, vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, cornstarch, and water in a bowl. Combine 6 tablespoons of the hoisin/tomato paste mixture and the chicken in a zipper-lock bag; refrigerate 30 minutes.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Cook the garlic, ginger and pepper flakes until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add 2 cups of the hoisin mixture and simmer, whisking constantly, until dark brown and thickened, about 2 minutes. Cover and keep warm.
For coating and frying:
Whisk the egg whites in a shallow dish until foamy. Combine the cornstarch, flour, baking soda, and remaining hoisin/tomato paste mixture in a second shallow dish until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Remove the chicken from the marinade and pat dry with paper towels. Toss half of the chicken with the egg whites until well coated, then dredge the chicken in the cornstarch mixture, pressing to adhere. Transfer the coated chicken to a plate and repeat with the remaining chicken.
Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium high heat. Fry half of the chicken until golden brown, about 3 minutes, turning each piece halfway through cooking. Transfer the chicken to a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat with the remaining chicken.
Warm the sauce over medium-low heat until shimmering, about 1 minute. Add the crisp chicken and toss to coat. Serve.
Overall, the dish is delicious and the texture of the breading is dynamite, but making it is a little cumbersome and takes a lot of ingredients to make. When I’m finished, I’ve made quite a mess and the cooking time is so short that I don’t get a chance to clean it up until after dinner is over. I will make this again because it’s so great, but it’s one of those where I need to be prepared to have a small mess on my hands when I’m done. Even though I really enjoy this and will be making it again, I have to knock it down a few pegs because of the messy factor and because it’s not the healthiest thing to eat. I will eat this periodically, but there are other, more nutritious things to put on the table. Then again, who gives a crap about that? I don’t order General Tso’s to be healthy. I order it because it’s delicious.
Weeknight Cooking Grade: B
Overall Meal Grade: B+