And before you say, “New York didn’t invent great Chinese,” in the case of General Tso’s Chicken, it actually did…with legendary chefs at two 1970’s Hunan restaurants claiming they came up with it first.
But regardless of who invented it or when, there are 2 things we do know about restaurant versions of the dish: it’s deep fried chicken coated in a slightly sweet but spicy sauce made of chili, vinegar and garlic and it is insanely fattening. (According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest--the same good folks who ruined movie popcorn for me–a typical restaurant serving of General Tso’s Chicken has as many as 1300 calories, 11 grams of heart stopping saturated fat and 3200 mg of sodium!)
But by re-inventing the dish for a new and healthier age–coating the chicken in a little egg white and cornstarch, ‘fake frying’ it in canola oil spray and serving over skinny stir fried veggies (which are cooked in more broth than oil), it now has better texture, flavor and nutrition than before and, even with a 100 calorie cup of Magic Rice, clocks in at just 300 calories a plate!
So next time you’re craving Chinese, try this skinny-fied version instead. With just a little more than 30 minutes of actual effort, you could be eating it before a delivery guy finds your door!
GENERAL TSO’S SKINNY CHICKEN AND STIR FRIED VEGETABLES
This big family dinner is done in one pan but in two stages, so it’s key to get organized.
By prepping the chicken (5 minutes), chopping the veg (5 minutes), and mixing together the sauce (5 minutes more) ahead of time, once you turn on the stove you’ll be ready to serve in 20 minutes.
And, if you’re keeping an inventory of Magic Rice in the freezer, you can nuke that while doing the rest and won’t have any extra clean up to do!
FOR THE CHICKEN:
1 1/2 lbs boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, sliced into skinny strips or cubed
2 T soy sauce or tamari
2 T egg whites or Eggbeaters
3 T corn starch
1 can sliced water chestnuts
2 c sliced celery
Place the sliced chicken into a bowl, toss well with 2 T soy sauce and 2 T seasoned rice wine vinegar and set aside to marinate. (You can do this step in the morning and let it marinate all day in the fridge if you like.) Because you want the soy and vinegar to deeply penetrate the meat, you won’t add the egg whites and cornstarch until you’re ready to put the chicken in the pan. The water chestnuts and celery will be added after you begin cooking.
Don’t be intimidated by the list of ingredients in the sauce. They’re easy to find in any grocery store and you’ll find tons of uses for them once you have them in your pantry or fridge.
1/3 c chicken broth
3 T soy sauce or tamari
2 T sherry (I use Harvey’s Bristol Cream Sherry for all of my recipes that call for sherry. It’s affordable and far more delicious than anything labeled ‘cooking sherry.’)
1 T seasoned rice wine vinegar
1 T agave nectar or brown sugar
1 T fresh *ginger, minced or grated
1 t sesame oil
*Tip: The easiest and quickest way to peel fresh ginger is to use a small spoon. The skin of ginger is really delicate and using a knife tends to cut off too much flesh. And, if you don’t like mincing, just grate the ginger with a microplane or box grater…it takes 10 seconds at most.
SKINNY STIR FRIED VEGETABLES:
This is just one of the veggie combinations I use depending on what’s fresh at the farmers market. Adjust according to what you can get and what your family likes best. Just make sure you start those that require more cooking time first and keep a bit of broth handy to drizzle in so they’ll cook evenly without scorching.
1 t. toasted sesame oil
1 T minced or grated garlic (optional)
1 T minced or grated ginger (optional)
1 large onion, sliced
1 large red bell pepper, sliced
1/4 c chicken broth
Heat a large non-stick skillet or wok over medium high heat for 30 seconds, drizzle in the sesame oil and heat 30 seconds more. Add the baby broccoli and garlic and ginger (if using) and toss for no more than 2 minutes. You want the garlic to release it’s flavor but not turn brown and bitter.
Add the onions and peppers, toss well and pour in the 1/4 c chicken broth. The steam will be intense four a couple of minutes but will help the baby broccoli stalks tenderize and keep everything else from scorching. Cook 2-3 minutes more until the broth has evaporated completely and the veggies are bright in color and crisp-tender.
Place the pan back over the medium high heat, no need to rinse, and spray really, really well with a cooking oil. (Use a canola spray rather than an olive oil spray. Canola oil won’t burn as quickly.)
While oil is heating, quickly mix the egg whites and cornstarch with the soy and vinegar seasoned chicken.
Pour into the pan and quickly spread it out into an even layer.
Leave it alone for 3-4 minutes. You want the hot oil to brown the chicken on the first side before you stir it. (It’s not the same as deep fried chicken but will give you a sensation of crust when the dish is done.)
Add in the celery and water chestnuts and let cook 5 minutes more, tossing occasionally, until there’s no visible pink bits on the chicken pieces.
Stir in the sauce and let it come to a bubble for 2 minutes more so that the chicken will be completely cooked. Turn OFF the heat, stir, and let sit another 2 minutes so the sauce will thicken a bit more.
(Don’t forget to turn off the heat the last 2 minutes. If you continue to boil it, the chicken will get tough.)
For a 300 calorie meal, place 1 cup of Magic Rice on your plate, add a cup or two of the veggies and 1 cup of the chicken.
PLAY WITH YOUR FOOD
This recipe has so much wiggle room that it’s easy to make it slightly differently every time: You can change the veggies–adding mushrooms or bok choy to the mix–or throw in whole dried chilies with the chicken to make it look more authentic.
Or substitute extra large raw peeled shrimp for chicken. (Just cook the celery and water chestnuts first, add the sauce, then add the shrimp and cook 3 minutes minutes more.)
Once you get this simple technique down, it’ll be easy to make the dish your own!