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General Tso's Chicken is a Chinese American and Chinese Canadian dish often associated with Hunan cuisine of China. Though the name of a dish may reference a specific general in China, possibly the 19th century Zuo Zongtang, most food historians conclude this dish was invented in the US because it is not commonly served in China. The legend surrounding the chicken and its connection to Zuo Zongtang is still fun to know. According to various sources the wife of the general created the dish for him after a great battle, and the dish then became a favorite. Unfortunately, this truly appears a legend since the descendants of the general express no familiarity with this spicy dish.
Actually General Tso's Chicken may have been invented in New York City. The restaurant Peng’s Restaurant claims to be the first to have served it. According to Peng’s, this dish is a fairly new invention, created in 1972 by T. T. Wang. An alternate story is that the dish was invented in Taiwan.
The basic ingredients of General Tso's Chicken are dark chicken meat, shallots, white wine or rice vinegar, hot peppers and spices like garlic and ginger. The chicken is breaded and deep fried than coated with a sauce made of tangy opposites like garlic, peppers, sometimes wine or sherry, and ginger. The dish has a spicy, sweet and sour taste that is a favorite of many restaurant goers. Ingredients can vary depending on the restaurant preparing the chicken. Emphasis may be more on spiciness than contrast in sweet and sour flavors.
The dish is very similar to other dishes like Szechuan beef and chicken. Pieces of meat in Szechuan beef are also deep-fried and mixed with a sauce, green onions or shallots, and hot peppers. General Tso's Chicken may contain more sauce, though this too depends upon the restaurant or chef’s preference.
You can eat General Tso's Chicken as a main dish, and it is excellent served over rice. It may be listed on a menu, but some Chinese American and Chinese Canadian restaurants make it as a special or have it listed as a highlighted and frequently slightly more expensive dish. Given that it is no more labor intensive to prepare and has relatively inexpensive ingredients, the extra cost isn’t truly justified. Some people vary the dish deep-frying white meat chicken or chicken tenders instead, and these typically are a little more expensive than pieces of dark meat.
Despite General Tso's Chicken appearing to be Chinese, I'm actually quite surprised that it's not commonly served in China. Honestly though, I've noticed this with a lot of "Chinese" cuisines and dishes I've seen. It's almost as if Americans made it themselves. This is why I stay away from Panda Express, ha ha. From what I've heard, it's not even authentic food, and it's completely Americanized.