Creating recipes isn't a pastime—it's a passion. And a lot of fun.

The rules are few: Use 99% fresh ingredients (or thereabouts); make the dish simple but flavorful; make the dish flavorful but simple; be creative, not silly.

With this blog, I want to share new recipes, along with tips on ingredients and preparation, and, hopefully, show new cooks (and non-cooks) the pleasure in setting the table with a delicious homemade meal. The Briny Lemon is about fresh, simple, flavorful ingredients and easy cooking methods that help you bring the best to your family table. Your comments are welcome!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Easy, Lighter General Tso's Chicken

That sticky, crunchy, spicy, glistening chicken dish we enjoy at Chinese restaurants in the United States is virtually unknown in Hunan, China, although we call it our most popular Hunan dish. General Tso's Chicken was actually created in America, some say by Taiwanese chefs who opened Hunan restaurants in New York in the 1970s.

Regardless of the exact origin, the American-Chinese dish we call General Tso's (or Tsuo's, Tzo's, or Tao's) Chicken typically is made with sizable chunks of boneless chicken coated with a thick cornstarch slurry and deep-fried for crispy texture on the outside and tender meat inside. Stir-fried accompaniments often include broccoli, onions, carrots, and whole dried chiles.

Here, I lightened the dish by using less oil and adding more vegetables than you usually see on your plate in a restaurant (or in your take-out Styrofoam box). More vegetables means less meat is needed to serve four people, only one pound of boneless, skinless chicken breast here.

I cooked the chicken in a wok in only one-half cup of peanut oil. Since the pieces are not deep-fried, they don’t get that crunchy outer texture that traditional General Tso's has. However, they still turn golden brown, and the sauce provides a thick, glazed finish.

Note: It’s key to cook the chicken pieces in batches. Crowding the pan makes the meat sit there and steam rather than fry at a high temperature and turn golden.

A note about the chiles: The dried chiles are left whole to add a little spice and flavor to the dish, and eating them is optional. Bird pepper or Thai chiles are commonly used. I didn’t have those, so I used small chiles de arbol. If you want to remove the seeds, simply make a slit down the length of one side and shake them out.

And a tip about the ginger: Peel it, cut it lengthwise in half, then cut each half crosswise into very thin slices:

 Serves 4


For the Sauce
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup rice vinegar
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
For the Chicken
  • 1/2 cup peanut oil, plus 1 tbsp
  • 2/3 cup cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 2-inch chunks
  • 8 small whole dried chilies
  • 4 scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 medium peeled carrots, cut into thin diagonal slices
  • 3 oz small snap peas (halved, if long)
  • steamed white rice, for serving
Vegetables and Chiles

For the Sauce 
  1. Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk well to combine. Re-whisk just before using.
Combined Sauce Ingredients
For the Chicken
  1. Heat 1/2 cup of peanut oil in a wok (or deep skillet) until very hot (350° F.).
  2. Combine the cornstarch, soy sauce, and egg in a bowl to form a slightly thick slurry. Add the chicken, turning to coat.
Slurry for the Chicken 
Chicken in the Slurry
  1. Remove a few pieces of chicken, letting excess slurry drip off. Add to the oil and fry until golden and just cooked through, turning once, 6-7 minutes total. Remove and drain on paper towels.
  2. Repeat with the remainder of the chicken. Wipe out the wok.
Chicken Beginning to Fry 
Chicken after Turning 
Fried Chicken Pieces
  1. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of peanut oil to the wok and add the dried chiles, carrots, scallions, and peas. Stir-fry 3 minutes.
  2. Re-whisk the sauce and add to the wok. Cook until thick and bubbly, about 3 minutes.
  3. Add the cooked chicken to the wok and cook until glistening and hot throughout, 1-2 minutes.
Vegetables Beginning to Stir-Fry 
Sauce Added
Sauce Beginning to Thicken 
Cooked Chicken and Vegetables
Divide the chicken and vegetables among 4 shallow bowls and spoon steamed rice alongside.

Easy, Lighter General Tso's Chicken


  1. Looks Wonderful! Thanks for the step-by-step pictures...that really helps :)

  2. Thanks, Lisa! Yes, my husband has gotten used to waiting patiently for his dinner…while I photograph it.