Raise your hand if ordering Chinese takeout brings you a boatload of comfort.
This is typically the part where the writer says something like, “I don’t know what it is about Chinese food, but blah blah blah…” But I’m not going to lie to you. We just met.
I do know why I want to order seventeen boxes of takeout as often as possible. Asian cuisine hits on all of the taste bud factors, and to me, that makes it one of the most craveable cuisines.
Spicy? Sweet? Salty? Citrusy? Crunchy? Tangy? Yup. I love Chinese food in particular, because it’s all of the above.
But since the point of this article is to ultimately get you in the kitchen whipping up your own dinner, let’s touch on some of the reasons that takeout (as cozy as it may be) sometimes leads you down a disappointing path:
First and foremost, when you’re producing your own meals, you have complete control over what ends up on your plate. Cutting calories and lightening up ingredients by baking instead of frying is great and all, but I also want to talk about flavor.
More often than not, I find that when I order takeout from my favorite hole-in-the-wall delivery joint, there’s not much differentiation between the dishes.
I always go for chicken, and what I’ve discovered is that no matter what sauce I opt for it to be doused in, it pretty much ends up tasting the same.
It’s almost always deep fried, with a depressing ratio of breading to meat, and the liquid concoction it’s saturated in is predominantly sweet with very few other significant notes of flavor.
If I find more than four sesame seeds, I consider myself lucky.
That’s why I’m a big proponent of taking things into your own “pans.” (Not a misspelling – totally a pun.)
When it comes to Asian fare, I can’t get enough of the major staples of the cuisine, wherever it originates from. In Chinese cooking, I adore the zesty ginger, sharp garlic, and tongue-sizzling chilies.
So, when I’m cooking up a classic like General Tso’s at home, I have to make sure the sauce is to my standards. And this recipe does not disappoint.
You could probably call it quits after marrying the sticky honey, salty soy, and fiery chili garlic paste. But the addition of fresh ginger gives the mixture an addictive aromatic zing that also happens to be good for your tummy.
Solid as the sauce is, the preparation of the chicken is what you’ll want to pat yourself on the back for.
I wanted a coating for my chicken that would create deep crevices where sticky bits of sauce could desperately cling and hold on for dear life. Mission accomplished.
Panko (airy and fine Japanese breadcrumbs) would have gotten the job done, but that wasn’t good enough for me.
When it came to producing the crispiest baked chicken in all of the land, cornflakes swooped in and took first prize.
Not only are these crackly, toasty morsels mild in flavor – making them ideal for soaking in sauce – they’re delicate enough to manifest the “crisp” I was looking for.
Crunch vs. crisp. It’s a thing, guys. Trust me.
I set up a traditional breading station: flour, eggs, breading, sheet tray. When you make yourself an organized assembly line, you avoid the chaotic moment where you’re holding a beautifully encrusted nugget and realize it doesn’t have a home.
I know what you’re thinking…
How is breaded-and-baked chicken possibly going to hold up (and taste the same) as something that’s deliciously deep-fried?
I get it. I was on your side, until I made this recipe with my very own eyes.
Well, with my hands. You definitely don’t want to put chili garlic sauce in your eyes.
Thanks to super-high heat, a generous spray of cooking oil, and flipping each piece of cornflake-covered chicken halfway through, I achieved that golden-brown perfection that I was almost certain couldn’t be mimicked in the oven.
As if the sweet-and-tangy Tso’s sauce isn’t mouthwatering enough, I sprinkle the hot chicken with oniony scallions, nutty sesame seeds, and fresh red chilies (which, P.S. are not for the faint of heart).
I prefer to keep my General Tso’s accompaniments somewhat traditional with steamed broccoli (try it pressure cooked!) and white rice or sesame noodles, but sometimes I swap in brown rice white, for an extra nod to health.
To bring myself back down to Earth (because, let’s face it, I’m a beer girl), I cut the harsh spice of the chilies with an ice cold, malty Japanese brew.
At least I finished my broccoli?Print
Lightened Up General Tso’s Chicken
- Total Time: 45 minutes
- Yield: 4 servings 1x
When a craving for crunchy Chinese chicken hits but you’re looking to lighten up, make this sweet and spicy baked General Tso’s.
- 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 2-inch chunks
- 1 teaspoon coarse salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- Nonstick cooking spray
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 4 large eggs, beaten
- 4 cups crushed cornflakes
- 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
- 3 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons chili garlic sauce
- 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons cold water
- 1 fresh Thai red chili (like a Bird’s Eye), thinly sliced into rings
- 4 scallions, white and light green parts thinly sliced
- 2 teaspoons black or white sesame seeds (or a combination of both)
- Steamed broccoli and brown rice, for serving (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 450°F.
- Season the chicken with salt and pepper.
- Set up an assembly line of three bowls with a foil-covered baking sheet at the end sprayed with the nonstick cooking spray. Fill the first bowl with the flour, the middle one with the eggs, and the last with the crushed cornflakes.
- Dip a few pieces of the chicken at a time into the flour, then the egg, and then the cornflakes, pressing lightly so that the coating really sticks. Place the coated chicken pieces on the baking sheet, and generously spray with cooking oil.
- Bake 12-14 minutes, flipping each piece once halfway through, until the chicken’s crust is lightly golden all over.
- While the chicken is baking, whisk together the chicken broth, soy sauce, chili garlic sauce, rice vinegar, honey, and ginger in a medium saucepot over medium-high heat.
- In a small separate bowl, whisk cornstarch with cold water. When the sauce comes to a simmer, add the slurry mixture, whisking as you pour. Stir until the sauce thickens, about 1 minute, and then remove from heat.
- Transfer the cooked chicken to a large bowl and add the sauce, chilies, sesame seeds, and scallions while tossing to coat.
- Transfer to a plate with the brown rice and broccoli or your choice of sides, and serve immediately.
- Prep Time: 30 minutes
- Cook Time: 15 minutes
- Category: Chicken
- Method: Baking, Stovetop
- Cuisine: Chinese
Keywords: General Tso, General Tso's Chicken, Chinese food, Chinese takeout
Cooking By the Numbers…
Step 1 – Season
Preheat the oven to 450°F.
Generously season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper.
Step 2 – Set Up Your Breading Assembly Line
Set up an assembly line with three bowls in a row, and a foil-covered baking sheet at the end.
Fill the first bowl with the flour, the second with the beaten egg, and the last one with the crushed cornflakes.
Step 3 – Bread the Poultry
Using one hand for wet ingredients and the other for dry, dip the chicken (a few pieces at a time) first into the flour–shaking of the excess.
Next, dip the chicken into the egg, tossing to coat. Lastly, dip the chicken into the cornflakes–pressing lightly so that the coating sticks.
Place the coated chicken pieces on the baking sheet, and generously spray with the cooking spray.
Step 4 – Bake
Bake the chicken, flipping each piece once halfway through, until the crust is lightly golden all over.
Step 5 – Make the Sauce
In a medium saucepot, whisk together the chicken broth, soy sauce, chili garlic sauce, rice vinegar, honey, and ginger.
In a small separate bowl, make a cornstarch slurry by whisking the cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of cold water.
When the General Tso’s sauce comes to a simmer, add the cornstarch slurry, whisking as you pour. Stir until the sauce thickens and then remove the pot from the heat.
Step 6 – Toss the Chicken with the Sauce
Place the chicken in a large bowl and add the chilies, sesame seeds, and scallions. Pour in the sauce and toss to coat.
Transfer the chicken to a plate with the brown rice and broccoli, and serve immediately.
Not a fan of steamed veggies? Use our go-to recipe for roasted broccoli. It’ll add so much more flavor and pizazz!
Impeccably Crunchy Chicken That’s Baked, Not Fried? Yes, Please.
When that hankering hits for something crispy, baking typically won’t cut it. But that’s not the case here.
I suddenly see cornflakes in a new light, and it’s not the sun rising over my cereal.
When I pulled these golden chicken morsels out of the oven, I couldn’t stop thinking about the potential for even more sauce possibilities. These fried chicken nuggets are made to handle anything you can throw at them (or on them).
For more takeout-style recipes you can make at home, get a load of these:
- Gluten-Free Veggie-Packed Pad Thai with Seared Tofu
- One-Pan Chicken and Shrimp Lo Mein
- Sweet and Sour Pork
- Easy Sausage Fried Rice with Garlic and Ginger
- Slow Cooker Chicken Teriyaki
- Mongolian Beef
- 15-Minute Chow Mein
- Grilled Chicken Yakitori
- Shrimp Pad Thai
If you could revamp your most beloved Chinese takeout dish, what spin would you put on it? Share your thoughts below. And don’t forget to give this recipe a five-star rating if you loved it!
Photos by Fanny Slater, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on January 15, 2012. Last updated: February 1, 2022 at 10:03 am.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Fanny Slater
Fanny Slater is a home-taught food enthusiast based in Wilmington, North Carolina who won the “Rachael Ray Show” Great American Cookbook Competition in 2014, and published her cookbook “Orange, Lavender & Figs” in 2016. Fanny is a food and beverage writer, recipe developer, and social media influencer. She was a co-host on the Food Network series “Kitchen Sink,” was featured on Cooking Channel’s longtime popular series “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and continues to appear regularly on the “Rachael Ray Show.”