GENERAL TSAO’S CHICKEN WINGS

This is a seriously, seriously great General Tsao’s recipe.  I was never a General Tsao’s fan but this, this I can really down a bucket.

The recipe is roughly based on The Mission Chinese Food Cookbook, which I have, as I always do, rendered almost unrecognizable.  Besides sugar and ketchup, almost none of the original ingredients has remained intact (see note at the end of the recipe) but something tells me that it can stand proudly on its own.  The chicken wings are impossibly crispy, and more importantly, stay crispy even if they are hopelessly coated with this fruity, tangy, sweet and spicy sauce under that rich and deep rouge color with an almost jewel-like gloss.  Really, this sauce, a reduction of pomegranate and cranberry juice with a layering of vinegars, chili paste and garlic .  I don’t even care if you did it justice by frying your own batch of crunchy jacket-ed wings.  I mean drench your McNuggets in it for all I care and I guarantee you that you’ll still want to bottle your own.

I don’t have much else to add, especially about the mystical emergence of General Tsao’s chicken in virtually every Chinese restaurant in the US (I mean Netflix has a documentary on it for crying out loud).  When things are looking good, just shut up and wing it.

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GENERAL TSAO’S CHICKEN WINGS

Generously adapted from "General Tsao's veal ribs" in The Mission Chinese Food Cookbook

Ingredients

    GENERAL TSAO'S SAUCE:
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, grated
  • 1 cup (236 grams) red wine vinegar
  • 3/4 cup (178 grams) pomegranate juice
  • 3/4 cup + 2 tbsp (195 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup (88 grams) Chinese white rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup (60 grams) cranberry juice
  • 1/4 cup (60 grams) apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp + 1 tsp (49 grams) sichuan chili bean paste, or salted chili condiment (see note)
  • 2 tsp (15 grams) ketchup
  • 1 tsp honey
  • 2 1/2 tsp tapioca flour + 2 1/2 tsp water (see note)
  • CHICKEN WINGS:
  • 35 oz (1 kg) chicken wings
  • salt and pepper to season
  • 1 cup (110 grams) tapioca flour
  • 1 tbsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • canola oil for frying
  • TO COOK:
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 cup (38 grams) Chinese dried chili
  • 4 shallots, cut into quarters
  • 4 cloves garlic, grated
  • chopped cilantro to garnish

Instructions

  1. TO MAKE THE SAUCE: In a sauce pot over medium heat, add vegetable oil and grated garlic. Cook until fragrant but not browned, then add red wine vinegar, pomegranate juice, granulated sugar, white rice vinegar, cranberry juice, apple cider vinegar, sichuan chili bean paste, ketchup and honey. Bring to a boil and continue to cook for about 1 hour until the mixture is reduced down by a little more than 1/2, and becomes syrupy in consistency. Mix tapioca flour and water until even, then slowly drizzle into the sauce while stirring constantly. Once the mixture is evenly incorporated, cook for another 10 min until thickened. Can be made up to a day before.
  2. TO FRY THE CHICKEN WINGS: Season all sides of the chicken wings with about a heaping 1/2 tsp of salt and a generously dusting of ground white and black pepper. Let marinate for at least 2 hours to 6 hours in the fridge.
  3. Add enough canola oil into a frying-pot until it reaches 2" deep then set over medium-high heat until it comes to 350 F/175 C (or until it bubbles immediately around an inserted wooden chopstick). Meanwhile, whisk tapioca flour, garlic powder, salt, ground white and black pepper together in a large bowl. Drench the wings evenly in the mixture, dusting off any excess and let sit for 6~8 min for the flour to hydrate, then drench again for a second coating (this gives the a really nice and crispy crust). Fry in the oil in small batches until light golden browned (tapioca breading will not get as much color as wheat flour), then set aside on a cooling rack to drain.
  4. TO FINISH COOKING: In a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat, add vegetable oil, dried chili and shallots. Cook until the chili has darkened in color and smells fragrant. Add the grated garlic and cook until fragrant but not browned. Turn the heat down to medium-low. Add the fried chicken wings and the General Tsao's sauce (just enough to coat). Turn and cook until all the wings are nicely coated and hot. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve immediately.

Notes

The original recipe uses hibiscus flower to provide extra colors and flavors to the sauce. I don't have hibiscus flower so instead, I'm using pomegranate juice and cranberry juice. Besides a great deep color, they add a wonderful fruitiness and extra depth to the otherwise boring "sweet and sour" sauce.

Instead of the "salted chili condiment" from the original recipe, I'm using store-bought sichuan's chili bean paste for a more matured and fermented flavour. If you don't have it, or prefer the "salted chili condiment", here's how to make it: Pulse 1 pound of Fresno or jalapeno chili with 1 tbsp kosher salt until coarsely pureed. Let sit in a lidded container in a warm place for 2 days until it resembles wet salsa.

Different from the original recipe, I like to pre-thicken the General Tsao's sauce for two reasons. 1) It makes my life easier. 2) Pre-thickened sauce doesn't wet the wings as much (it just coats them) and thus retains the crispiness much better. And instead of cornstarch or potato starch, I like to use tapioca flour to thicken because it provides a better shine, and doesn't become watery again due to time and stirring.

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