It's the Hmmm factor that gets me sucked into watching The Antiques Roadshow. I love the people standing in snaking lines waiting to see if their great-uncle Leopold's violin really is a Stradaverius (not), if the stool they bought at a garage sale for $10 is worth more than that (yes, by several thousand dollars), or if the painting they found stashed in the back of the attic is really a lost Van Gogh (not).
There are such interesting items that people bring out to have evaluated - an chest of antique dental tools, an ornately carved folding table, or a Civil War era cloth doll. Usually there is a story attached to the items, indicating their age and provenance. I love the part where the antique dealer tells what he's found out about the piece, including historical tidbits about the time, and then breaking the news to the owner about the worth of the item. Shocked, overjoyed, or crestfallen, each face is priceless.
If there were a culinary Antiques Roadshow, one dish that definitely would need to have it's bona fides inspected would be General Tso's chicken. It's a staple on the menu at almost every Chinese restaurant, but one wonders, "Who was General Tso? What was it with him and chicken? And if he was a great general, why did he have time to hang out in the kitchen inventing new dishes?" The answer, as I found here, is that there was a real General Tso, but he had nothing to do with the dish bearing his name. It's the invention of a New York chef in the early 1970's, and it was so popular that it's been endlessly copied.
I knew this dish couldn't be authentic because I have all the ingredients in my pantry and it's easy, although time-consuming, to make. But it does relieve the angst I have about making a dish from another culture. Am I doing it right? Is it authentic? Well, this dish is authentically American, so I can honor General Tso with pride!
(Note: before you charge into the kitchen to make this, note that it takes a LOT of vegetable oil and cornstarch. Be sure you have enough before beginning.)
General Tso’s Chicken
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup water
1-1/2 tsp minced ginger
1-1/2 tsp minced garlic
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark soy sauce
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup cooking sherry
1 1/2 cup hot chicken broth
3 lbs. chicken thigh meat, deboned and cut into chunks
1/4 cup dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 cup cornstarch
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cup sliced green onions
16 Small Hot Dried Peppers
To make Sauce, mix cornstarch and water together. Add garlic, ginger, sugar, soy sauce, vinegar and wine. Then add broth and stir til sugar dissolves. Refrgerate till needed. This can be done ahead of time.
In separate bowl mix chicken, soy sauce and pepper. Stir in egg. Add conrstarch until chicken is coated evenly. Add oil to help separate chicken pieces. Divide chicken in small quantities and deep-fry at 350° F. until crispy and light brown. Do not overcook; watch temp, stir fry or meat will toughen. Drain on rack, then remove to paper towels.
Place a small amount of oil in wok and heat til just hot. Add onions and peppers and stir-fry briefly (peppers will give off acrid smoke... be careful). Stir sauce; add to wok. Add chicken and cook just til sauce thickens. Add water or water/cornstarch if needed.
Discard red peppers, or warn your diners not to eat them.
This amount will fill two large platters and serves 6-8. Serve with white or brown steamed rice.
Makes 8 Servings