I don’t remember much about my Dad’s father. We called him Dziadziu (pronounced jah-joo), Polish for grandfather. I have only one memory of him before he died, prior to my third birthday. I was on his lap, in his den. He was sitting in his chair, looking out the window toward the garden center my Dad had built next door. Dziadziu was counting the cars in the small dirt parking lot, so we would know how business was going that day.
I’ve seen the few pictures my family has of him. I’ve sat in the driver’s seat of his John Deere tractor. I have heard him described by his children, but none of it is familiar. The person they are describing is a stranger to me. There is one detail, however, that sticks in my mind. It is bright and real, as if it were my own memory.
Dziadziu, my Mom and Dad have told me, hated when people stuck their knife in the butter before using the peanut butter. He wanted his peanut butter untainted, and felt, as the man of the house, that it was his right, or at least a reasonable concession. So in the pantry there was always a pristine jar of Peter Pan, Dziadziu’s peanut butter.
That is how I see General Tzo’s Chicken. Though we know little of the namesake general, Zuo Zongtang, his name has made this dish – at its best lightly sweet with bright heat, the chicken tender and crisp – an American favorite, and certainly one of mine.
This version keeps things a little healthier, for weeknight eating. It is stir-fried with a cornstarch crust rather than deep-fried in a cornstarch batter, and more balanced in its sweetness than the typical corn syrup-coated takeout,
Pan-fried General Tzo’s Chicken
Sure, this requires a few Asian pantry staples, but don’t let that stop you. Good ol’ regular soy sauce, a little milder, is just fine, and any small, hot, dried chile will get the job done. The rest of the items should be in the international section of your local grocery store. Though traditionally served on it’s own, you can certainly add your favorite green vegetables for a one-pan meal.
- 1 egg, lightly whisked
- 1/2 tsp white pepper
- 4 tbs corn starch
- 6 chicken thighs, boned, skinned and cut in 1” cubes
- 2 tbs dark soy sauce
- 1 tbs rice wine or dry Sherry
- 2 tbs rice wine vinegar
- 2 tbs Hoisin sauce
- 1 tbs sugar
- 1/2 tsp Sriracha or to taste
- 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
- 1/4 cup chicken stock
- 4 tbs peanut or vegetable oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 tbs minced ginger
- 6 dried thai or árbol chiles
- 4 scallions cut in 1” pieces
- Whisk together egg, white pepper and 1 tbs corn starch in a medium bowl. Stir in chicken to coat. Let rest 20 min.
- Spread 2 tbs corn starch on large platter. Remove chicken from egg, shaking off excess liquid. Toss in corn starch.
- Whisk together soy sauce, rice wine, vinegar, Hoisin, sugar, Sriracha, sesame oil, and chicken stock, with remaining 1 tbs cornstarch.
- Warm 2 tbs peanut oil in a 12” skillet over med-high heat. Scatter in 1/2 chicken pieces and sauté, turning once, until golden and cooked through. Reserve. Add 1 tbs peanut oil and cook remaining chicken. Reserve.
- Return skillet to medium-low heat with 1 tbs oil. Add ginger and cook 30 seconds. Add garlic and chiles and cook 1 minute longer. Add chicken to pan. Turn heat to medium-high and cook 1-2 minutes until chicken is warm.
- Re-whisk sauce and add to pan. Cook 1 minute to thicken. Add scallions. Toss through and serve.