Tuesday, April 10, 2007

General Tsao

Maybe I should just accept that for all the cheap newspapers and beer you can get in Upper Virginia, the Chinese food here just stinks. Maybe that's what's rotten in Denmark.

I stopped by China King on my way to visit my father earlier tonight with the thought of grabbing some General Tsao's Chicken as a treat for him. He previously mentioned liking the stuff.

For those of you who don't regularly engage the cuisine of China, here's a representative recipe for the dish, just to give you a sense:

GENERAL TSAO'S CHICKEN
Marinade:
3 tablespoons Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
l 1/2 tablespoons oyster flavored sauce
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
Combine marinade ingredients in a non-metallic bowl or ziploc bag. Submerge washed chicken in marinade covering all portions.

Allow to stand for 20 to 30 minutes, turning occasionally.

Sauce:
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons cooking oil
6 small dried red chilies
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
2 green onions, cut into 1-inch lengths
1/2 teaspoon crushed dried red chilies
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch, dissolved in water
1/4 cup peanuts, coarsely chopped
Mix sauce ingredients well in a small bowl.
Place a wok over high heat and add oil, swirling to coat sides. Stir-fry the chilies for 30 seconds. Add chicken and cook two minutes. Stir in garlic, ginger, green onions, and crushed chilies; cook for one minute.

Pour in sauce and stir fry for one minute.

In a cup, combine cornstarch with 1 tablespoon cold water and stir until smooth. Pour slowly into the wok and cook until sauce bubbles and thickens.

Serve chicken garnished with a sprinkling of peanuts.


I might add some broccoli to help achieve my 5-9 servings a day goal, and maybe more onions. But otherwise, this is fine. It is supposed to look, roughly, like this:



(Note the broccoli)

The idea is for the chunks of fried chicken to be coated in a sauce that's spicy, sweet and sharp (from the vinegar), all at the same time. For a Chinese chef, this, I can assure you, ain't brain surgery.

The point, in fact, is that General Tsao's Chicken is one of the basic Chinese-to-go recipes that every--EVERY--low to medium range Chinese restaurant should be able to do. (It reminds me of that line about pizza: Even bad pizza is pretty good--something like that.) The fact that China King can't muster the requisite whatever to churn some of this stuff out dumbfounds me. China King, by the way, was the place where I had previously had the worst cold noodles with sesame sauce in my life.

So, you're saying, why didn't he learn his lesson the first time?

Because every Chinese restaurant should be able to prepare a satisfactory version of this dish. Because I couldn't find another Chinese restaurant in Leesburg. Because I have faith in my fellow man, despite every indication that such faith is without foundation.

These would only be some of the reasons.

The waitstaff is also uniformly, startlingly beautiful. And while under ordinary circumstances that just might be enough (see: Elmo), these are hardly ordinary circumstances.

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