Ah General Tso. The Military Mastermind who made enemies kneel before him and his chicken empire. Oh wait…none of that is true. What is true is that General Tso was in fact a general his name was, Zuo Zongtang or if you prefer the Romanized Tso Tsung-tang. He was a Qing Dynasty general and statesman. How this delicious chicken dish actually relates to him gets a little Murky. Some say it’s to pay homage to the general, while others say that some form of it originated from Hunan where the General was from. Either way from what I gathered, actual Chinese people in China have no F’ing clue what this chicken is because it’s pretty much an entirely Chinese American dish created to satisfy American customers. This damn dish is so popular there even is a movie about it!
Now this is where I come in. General Tso’s chicken was my brother and I’s favorite dish growing up. When we were just two little overweight fatties, we would have to order two servings of the dish just to avoid a fist fight between us. I would literally sneak down in the middle of the night to spite eat this dish just so he couldn’t have any. Yes the life of a pre-teen fatty is a stressful one ladies and gentleman. Food Anxiety is REAL!
This dish really was a big inspiration for me growing up to learning how to cook fried chicken. Why? Because the fatty inside of me just wanted to be able to make this whenever I wanted! The sweet and crunchy combination was so perfect and unlike anything I had ever tried before. I can eat it cold or hot, doesn’t matter everything about General Tso’s chicken is perfect. That is. Until. You realize it’s quite possibly the worst thing you can eat for your health.
One serving of it typically has at least 1300 calories and gobs and gobs of sodium. This is not that kind of recipe. If you do want to make it at home and i’ll probably make it myself at some point, go here to try.
What I did try to recreate here is a healthy take on the General’s chicken. That means no frying and no sugary sauces. I can hear the collective groans now, and those of you who read this for food porn I apologize. But realistically, how many of you are actually going to make a deep fried chicken thigh dish? This is something you can actually use.
I made a homemade spicy plum sauce from sugar plums I had left over from the fall. I was inspired by Julia Childs to remove the thigh bone out of the leg/thigh combo so there would be no bone interrupting my eating. After both sides of the chicken was crispy, I baked it more in the oven on a low heat to make sure the skin was ultra crispy, and then I added coats upon coats of the sauce. I topped it with some healthy bok choy and red onions that cooked with the excess juices of the chicken and some of the sauce.
Homemade Plum Sauce
5 sugar plums, pitted
2 tbsp sugar,
1 cup water
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tsp. Red Chilli Paste
2 Chicken Legs with Thighs Attached
3 Tbsp. Peanut Oil
First make your sauce, depit all the sugar plums and cut them in half. Add them to a sauce pan with your sugar and water. Cook these down until you get a nice red liquid going. As the sauce thickens, add your fish sauce, soy sauce, and chilli paste. Reduce till the sauce has a thick consistency but not so thick that it’s unmanageable. This can be frozen if you make too much. Set the sauce aside.
De-bone the thigh bone from chicken leg and thigh and brush on some peanut oil and soy sauce onto the chicken. Let it sit for 30 minutes at room temperature. Pour 2 Tbsp. of Peanut Oil into a cast iron skillet and allow it to heat up so it’s almost smoking.
Now place the chicken skin side down onto the pan. Let it cook for 3-5 minutes, you’ll know it’s cooked properly because you can easily move it off the pan. If it’s not cooked it will stick. Just make sure you don’t burn it. Brown each sides, now transfer it to a oven set a 320. Cook the chicken so that the skin puffs up and becomes crispy. Once the skin is crispy looking, start adding your sauce with a brush. You could add more, I chose for a light coating rather than a heavy coating. You have to be careful not to burn your sauce as a sugar sauce can burn easily. After about 20 minutes of letting the chicken cook while intermittently adding the sauce coating remove from the oven.
With the excess juices that have come from the chicken and your extra sauce, add your washed bok choy and red onions to the pan (with the chicken removed). Cook them for about 5 minutes so that the bok choy softens slightly, it should still be a bright green. Don’t overcook it.
Serve with the chicken and enjoy!