General Tso’s Tofu

Is there really any more quintessential Chinese takeout than General Tso’s?

Sesame may be a close second, but I’d give the top prize to General Tso’s. There is just something so undeniably well-rounded, approachable, and enjoyable about it. It is neither too sweet, too spicy; not too much of anything.

As I’ve mentioned before, General Tso’s is a member of what I call the elite five, what I see as the most popular dishes in the American Chinese cuisine scene; General Tso’sSesameOrange, Mongolian, and Kung Pao. The American versions I reference are rather different from their Chinese versions, if they even exist. Many of those changes have been made to suit American palates, with most dishes containing less spice and more sweetness. As such, any “Chinese” cuisine on here is in reality “American Chinese” unless otherwise noted.

What makes General Tso’s unique is, as I mentioned, its well-roundedness. It is slightly sweet, slightly spicy, and typically has a thick, reddish-brown sauce. That rich sauce is typically made from soy sauce, hoisin sauce, vinegar, sugar, garlic, ginger, and dried red chili peppers. It may seem like a lot, but if you cook asian food regularly, these will quickly become staples and tend to have a decent shelf life.

As far as vegetables, it’s pretty simple; just broccoli, perhaps red bell pepper if you feel like adding that in. And of course, served over a hot bed of sticky white rice.

If you want it quick, just get some pressed extra firm tofu, slice it up, sauté it in some oil to brown it up, add the veggies and cook to your desired tenderness, add the sauce and cook until warm and serve. But, if you really want perfection and have the time to do it, make the tofu like I have in my ______ tofu recipe. It adds some flavor to the tofu and helps to soak up a bit more of the sauce.

General Tso’s Tofu

Though the ingredient list looks a little long, any kitchen even half-well stocked will find regular use of these items. The recipe is relatively easy to put together, does not require a lot of skill, and produces an end result that is indistinguishable from the finest of Chinese takeout restaurants. This is great for meal prep.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Chinese
Servings 4

Ingredients
  

Fried Tofu

  • 2 blocks extra firm tofu 14 oz size, drained or pressed
  • cup all-purpose flour
  • cup cornstarch
  • 2-3 tbsp avocado oil or similar for frying
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper

Sauce

  • ¼ cup soy sauce for a less salty version (which I prefer) use low sodium soy sauce
  • ¼ cup vinegar
  • ¼ cup water
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tbsp hoisin sauce
  • 2 tsp garlic
  • 2 tsp ginger
  • dried red chili peppers optional
  • 1 red bell pepper sliced into ¼" by 2" strips

Instructions
 

Pepper Prep

  • With a large knife, remove the top of the bell pepper. Remove seed pod. With the top removed, slice bell pepper into sections. Cut around any ribbing, and cut into long strips ¼" wide. After all is cut into strips, slice in half perpendicularly.
    1 red bell pepper
  • Set aside for later.

Sauce Prep

  • In a 2 cup (or larger) measuring cup (or bowl) combine all sauce ingredients and whisk together.
    It is not necessary to make a slurry with the cornstarch as many recipes may have you do.
    I've listed them in such an order as to minimize the number of measuring implements (and cleanup) needed. If you use a measuring cup with ¼ cup gradations on the side, you can get away with just using that and a 1 tbsp measure.
    ¼ cup soy sauce, ¼ cup vinegar, ¼ cup water, 3 tbsp sugar, 1 tbsp cornstarch, 1 tbsp sesame oil, 1 tbsp hoisin sauce, 2 tsp garlic, 2 tsp ginger

Tofu Prep

  • Remove all excess water from the tofu. Cut lengthwise into three large "patties", and then press each one between paper towels. Reassemble them as they came into the original block shape, and then cut into quarters both ways.
    This will produce 96 nuggets between the two blocks. This doesn't have to be exact, but it will give you a good finished size of nuggets.
    2 blocks extra firm tofu
  • Mix the flour, cornstarch, salt and pepper together in a medium bowl.
    ⅓ cup all-purpose flour, ⅓ cup cornstarch, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp pepper
  • After ensuring the tofu is slightly moist but not dripping, take a handful of nuggets and toss in the breading mixture.
    Be careful not to drop them in, as cornstarch is very fine and can make a big mess on the counter.
  • Pick the nuggets up and gently roll in your hand like you would dice to remove any excess breading mixture from them.
    Set them aside on a dry plate until all are finished.

Cooking Tofu

  • Heat a medium to large skillet or sauté pan over medium heat. Add 2-3 tbsp avocado oil or similar oil with high smoke point.
    2-3 tbsp avocado oil
  • Carefully add half the tofu, taking care not to drop them in the oil, instead placing them where the oil has not pooled. After they are in, you can gently shake the pan to ensure they become coated in oil, or use a heat-safe spatula to spread them around.
  • Sauté the tofu, turning regularly to avoid burning. The tofu is done when it turns a light straw to golden brown color.
  • Take the tofu out and place on a heat-safe plate with a couple layers of paper towels to absorb any excess oil.

Final Assembly

  • Add 1 tbsp oil to the pan, still over medium-high heat, and carefully add the peppers to avoid splattering. With a splatter screen, shake the pan to spread peppers and oil around. Sauté until peppers begin to soften.
  • Add tofu back into pan and incorporate peppers into mix.
  • Whisk the sauce one last time to ensure it is well mixed, and then slowly pour over skillet. As the cornstarch rises above 206º fahrenheit the sauce will begin to thicken immediately.
  • Reduce heat to medium-low and continue to use spatula to turn over every minute or so for five to eight minutes, or as necessary to reduce sauce to a nice sticky coating.
  • Remove from heat and serve immediately over white rice or steamed vegetables.
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