Today I found myself thinking of Hong Kong. I lived in this city longer than any other place in my adult life. It was where I called home for most of my roaring 20s. It was where I grew into an adult, blossomed as a writer, and found real, make-you-smile-when-no-you-think-no-one-is-looking, love.
But before all of that happened, life in Hong Kong was very different for me. Equally enchanting. But oh so very different.
Once upon a time, in the Mid-Levels district of Hong Kong, I was single, shared a flat with two expats who were also in their roaring stage, and together with a few other friends, rocked the booze-blanketed streets of that former British colony like no other. The work week blended into the weekend like a perfectly mixed sangria. I was young. I was eager to enjoy what the city had to offer. And thankfully, I had a functioning liver. We lived large. We drank larger. And at end of a long, memory-impaired weekend, we ate like Kings.
Every Monday we would gather around my dinner table and have a homemade meal by yours truly.
Amid the chaos that was Hong Kong, this was our slow down and recharge evening. Nothing reminds you better that there is life outside what many refer to as “a college party but with income” like a family style dinner.
General Tso’s chicken was a popular request. And yes, I do note the irony of serving an American-born Chinese dish in Hong Kong, where access to China’s regionally ethnic dishes are plentiful. Oh the shame!
I’ve tried many different recipes for this candy-like chicken dish. This one by Serious Eats is my favorite. I’ve followed this recipe closely, making only a few modifications to appease my husband’s “not-too-sweet” preference for his main dishes. He’s a savory man, what can I say.
The recipes comes in three parts – the marinade, which should be made several hours in advance – the sauce, and finally the dry coating for the chicken. First up – the marinade. The key ingredients in this marinade are the vodka and whisked egg white. As was heard many a times in Hong Kong’s Lan Kwai Fong bar district, “Don’t skimp on the booze, man.” And also make sure the egg whites are frothy and light. Next – the sauce. This is a fantastic combination of my favorite flavors, including ginger, sesame oil, soy sauce, garlic, red peppers, scallions, and of course, sugar. These are my go-to ingredients for many of my dishes. The world opens up pretty wide when you let these guys in. This is also where you want to make sure you are getting your desired level of sweetness. Start out with half of what the recipe calls for, and gradually add until it reaches your liking. This is my iron-clad rule when cooking with sugar. Sweetness varies from person to person. Be cautious when finding yours.
Once you have everything mixed and the chicken has been sitting in the marinade for a good chunk of time, it’s time to pull out the wok (or non-stick pan) and get to work. Mix the dry ingredients together, coat your marinated chicken, and get ready to fry. Pour several lugs of oil in your wok, heat to medium-high, shake the excess flour from the chicken, and carefully place them in. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to give your chicken some breathing room and privacy. Don’t smash them in all together, and don’t check on them every 10 seconds. Let them sit and brown in peace. For a 1 inch piece of chicken you need about 2 minutes per side.
Once the chicken has browned, remove from wok, place on a paper towel to drain, and repeat until all pieces are cooked. Give the wok a full wipe, then add fresh oil on medium heat and toss in the whites of the green onions and red chilies. Cook for a few minutes. Give the sauce mixture a good stir (especially at the bottom of the bowl), and pour into the wok. Cook, stirring, until sauce thickens, about 1-2 minutes. Add chicken, stir well, and cook for another minute. Just looking at this picture makes me seriously hungry. By now, you should be ready to eat. Sprinkle with green onions and toasted sesame seeds. Serve with steamed rice, chop sticks if you know how to use them, and one very large smile. See. You’re smiling right now. Am I right? That’s what candy does to you. Happy days, folks.
Ingredients for Marinade
- 1 egg white
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons 80-proof vodka
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 3 tablespoons corn starch
- 3-4 chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch pieces
Ingredients for the Sauce:
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1/4 cup (60ml) chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon each white & brown sugar (adjust to your liking).
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon corn starch
- 2 teaspoons peanut, vegetable, or canola oil
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic (about 2 medium cloves)
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger (about 1-inch piece)
- 2 small red chilies
- 2 green onions, sliced, greens and whites divided
Ingredients for Dry Mixture:
- 1/2 cup (62 grams) flour
- 1/2 cup (55 grams) corn starch
- 1/2 tsp salt
- To make marinade: Beat egg white in a large bowl until light and foamy. Add soy sauce, vodka and vinegar and combine. Add baking soda and corn starch and whisk to combine. Add chicken, coat well, cover with plastic wrap and keep in fridge for 30 minutes to several hours.
- To make sauce: In a small bowl, mix together soy sauce, vinegar, chicken stock, sugar, sesame oil, oil, garlic, ginger and cornstarch. Stir until cornstarch is fully dissolved. Set aside.
- Combine flour, cornstarch and salt in a large bowl.
- Stir chicken marinade well, then strain to remove excess liquid. Coat chicken in dry coat, pressing dry mixture into each chicken to ensure every piece is thoroughly coated.
- Put several lugs of oil into wok/pan on medium-high heat (alternatively, use a deep fryer).
- Carefully lower chicken into hot oil and cook until crispy, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to a plate lined with paper towels.
- Add 1 tbsp oil to wok on medium-high heat, then add whites of the green onions and red chilies. Cook for about 3 minutes. Give the sauce a good stir (especially at the bottom) and add to skillet. Cook, stirring, until sauce thickens, about 1 minute.
- Add chicken back into pan, stir well and let cook for another minute or so until chicken is well coated.
- Add green scallion segments and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds. Serve with steamed rice.
*For original recipe by Serious Eats click here.