Updated: May 17
I've spoken before about my un-ironic love for Americanized Chinese food. High on my list of favorites is General Tso’s Chicken. Rather, I should say, I really love good General Tso’s. This is one of those dishes that run the gamut from spectacular to complete garbage. Have you ever had the bad stuff, the way too sweet stuff with the soggy chicken and thick, gloppy sauce? It’s disgusting.
Chicken is a much more forgiving protein in dishes like this than fish. I knew that if I was going to give the General a Bait 2 Plate makeover, I needed to hit a couple aspects of the dish just right.
First of all, it couldn’t be too sweet. While white fish is fairly versatile, it doesn’t pair well with cloyingly sweet. Still, some sweetness is an important part of this dish. A bit of experimentation showed me that the trick here was striking the correct balance between the sugar, wine, and vinegar.
Next, I needed to have the fish crispy. This is a tricky one, because it’s cut up in small pieces, and therefore cooks very quickly. Plus it’s then being coated in sauce, and that can ruin a lightly crisp coating right there. The fix here was to use vodka as the main liquid in the batter. Alcohol is more volatile than water, and evaporates much more quickly in the fryer. Using the vodka, along with a technique that is described in the recipe below, to make the dry coating a little bit crumbly, left me with fish that was not only crispy at the finish, but stayed crispy for a while.
Finally, you want to make sure you have the right side dishes with this. Rice is a must. It can be white or brown, fluffy or sticky, as you like best. Broccoli is the standard, but I really like snow peas with it as well. Feel free to use either or both. I tried tossing the side vegetables in the sauce along with the fish, but I felt that made the whole dish taste too monochromatic. I prefer to steam or sauté the veggies on the side, and let them act as a counterpoint to the sauce.
General Tso’s Ling Cod
Dry mix 1/2 cup all purpose flour 1/2 cup corn starch 1/2 tsp baking powder 1 tsp salt Thoroughly combine ingredients in a medium sized mixing bowl, and set aside.
Marinade 2 egg whites 2 Tbs soy sauce 2 Tbs rice wine like Shaoxing wine, or you can use any dry white wine in a pinch 1/2 cup vodka 1/4 cup corn starch 1 tsp baking soda 1 lb ling cod filet (or any firm, white fish) cut into 1″ chunks Combine the wet ingredients together in a mixing bowl. Whisk in the corn starch & baking soda. Here’s a little optional trick that will help you get an extra bit of crunchiness to your fish. Take 2 tablespoons of your marinade, and drizzle it into your dry mix. Then mix it in with your fingers. You’ll end up with little crumb bits in the dry mix, and these will add an extra touch of texture to your finished dish.
Add the fish chunks to the remaining marinade. It doesn’t need to marinade long, 10-20 minutes is fine. Just stir it occasionally, as the corn starch will tend to settle to the bottom as it sits.
Sauce 2 Tbs sesame oil 1 Tbs olive oil 3 cloves of garlic, chopped 8-12 small dried red chilies, seeds & stems removed *optional* 1-1/2 Tbs minced or grated fresh ginger 1/2 cup rice wine, preferably Shaoxing wine 1/2 cup rice or white wine vinegar 1/3 cup soy sauce 2/3 cup seafood broth or chicken broth 1/4 cup sugar 1 tsp fish sauce 2 Tbs corn starch 1 tsp finely grated lemon zest 3 green onions, cut in 1 inch pieces. Separate the firm, pale, lower pieces from the softer top pieces Put the oils, garlic, chilies, and ginger in a cold sauté pan, and place it over medium-low heat. Whisk the wine, vinegar, soy sauce, broth, sugar, fish sauce, corn starch, and lemon zest together in a bowl. Be sure to mix thoroughly so that no lumps of corn starch remain. Let the ginger/garlic/chili mixture slowly come to a sizzling sauté and become fragrant. Do not let it brown. Give the liquid mix one more stir (remember, raw corn starch will settle to the bottom in cold liquids) and add it to the sauté pan.
Add in the firm pieces of the green onion. Turn the heat up to medium, and let it come to a low simmer and thicken, stirring constantly. The sauce will become translucent, and thicken very suddenly, so pay attention here.
Remove the sauce from the heat, but keep it warm until ready to serve.
Frying and finishing Frying oil, I like using peanut oil for this, heated to 350° White rice Broccoli and/or snow peas, steamed or sautéed along with the remaining green onion pieces
Remove the cod pieces from the marinade, and toss them in the dry mix, coating each piece thoroughly. Deep fry the fish in batches until golden & crispy: about 2 – 2 1/2 minutes each batch.
Drain them on paper towels. Notice that pebbly texture they have? That comes from adding that little bit of marinade to the dry mix. It gives them greater surface area, and that means they’ll fry up crisper, and stay crisp longer.
Check the sauce before you add in the fish. It should be about the consistency of maple syrup. It needs to be thick enough to coat the fish evenly but not too heavily. Thin it down with a little hot broth or water if you need to. Toss the fried fish in the sauce, evenly coating each piece. Serve over rice, and garnished/accompanied with the vegetables.