General Tso's Chicken Wings
We may have just ended the "most wonderful time of the year" for most folks, but for me, that period is just beginning because January is wing month! For those just tuning into the Meatwave, I dedicate the beginning of each new year to one of my all time favorite foods—chicken wings—and we're now nearly twenty five recipes deep and I have no intention of quitting developing new wing recipes anytime soon. To get us started off on a high note (well, they're all high notes, but this one is particular ear piercing) I present to you General Tso's chicken wings.
Like many Americans, I really love General Tso's chicken. I love it so much that even regular family outings to the Chinese restaurant couldn't satisfy my desire for it when growing up and I demanded it more often. Only problem was that in keeping a kosher household, we couldn't order it in, but one night my Mom gave into my wants and made it from scratch and deemed the dish too demanding to make again. That experience planted in my head that General Tso's was difficult and not worth the effort for home cooking, and this wing recipe represents my first crack at cooking this ubiquitous Chinese-American classic myself.
As with a lot of cooking, what others may perceive as burdensome, I find no fault in and this recipe was actually pretty simple in my mind. Since I hadn't made General Tso's sauce previously, I relied on trusty Kenji to guide me to something that would taste on the money on the first shot, and his sauce recipe really didn't include anything that required a trip to a specialty market—except for Shaoxing wine, which can be substituted with dry sherry.
After mixing the liquids together with some cornstarch, the sauce was then assembled by sautéing garlic, ginger, scallions, and small dried red chilies until everything was softened, but not browned.
Then the mixture of sugar, chicken stock, soy sauce, wine, rice vinegar, hoisin, and cornstarch was added in a brought to a boil. Thanks to the cornstarch, once it really got bubbling, the sauce thickened into its classic syrupy consistancy in about a minute. After letting it cool I gave it a taste and flavor was spot on.
To be fair, it probably wasn't the sauce that was a semi-arduous undertaking for my Mother, but rather the frying. The good news here though is that these wings are grilled, and yes, they're still damn crispy. That crunch is a required part of the General Tso's experience (if you've every had soggy General Tso's, you know how disappointing that can be) and I got it here in a large part by both coating the chicken in baking powder and then letting it air dry in the fridge overnight. The baking powder is a little trick that helps achieve a more textured and delicate skin, while the drying process removes surface moisture, facilitating quicker and better exterior crisping.
The chicken does need a long stint over indirect heat to get the ideal crunchy skin though, but thanks to the high fat content in wings, this can be done while keeping the meat tender and moist at the same time. I've found 40 to 45 minutes over indirect high heat is the right timing for the skins to become perfectly crunchy and blistered without drying out the meat.
Once I had gotten these wings to that point, I transferred them to a large bowl, added in the sauce, and tossed to coat. That sauce clung beautifully to the wings, creating a familiar thick, glossy coating that got my mouth watering.
I added a little sprinkling of scallions after plating and then served. There was nothing about these wings I didn't love. The sauce first coated my tongue with its unique sweet and salty flavor profile that was deeply savory and mildly spicy. Added to that was a sharp garlic and ginger backed with a mild vinegar tang and sweet, complex hoisin. All of these upfront great tastes gave way to chicken skin that retained its ideal crunch even after being drenched in sauce, followed by juicy meat. They were everything I love about General Tso's chicken in my even more beloved wing format, making this recipe up there as one of my all time favorites and the best way I can think of to start of a new year and new wing month.
General Tso's Chicken Wings
- Yield 4-6 servings
- Prep 15 Minutes
- Inactive 8 Hours
- Cook 45 Minutes
- Total 9 Hours
- For the Sauce
- 4 tablespoons sugar
- 3 tablespoons low-sodium chicken stock
- 3 tablespoons dark soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
- 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon roasted sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons vegetable or canola oil
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic (about 2 medium cloves)
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger (about one 1-inch piece)
- 2 teaspoons minced scallion bottoms (about 1 scallion), plus 6 to 8 scallions, white parts cut into 1-inch segments, green parts thinly sliced
- 8 small dried red Chinese or Arbol chilies
- For the Wings
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon white pepper
- 3 pounds chicken wings, cut into drumettes and flats
- To make the sauce: Whisk together sugar, chicken stock, dark soy sauce, wine, rice vinegar, hoisin sauce, cornstarch, and sesame oil in a small bowl until smooth. Set aside.
- Place oil garlic, ginger, minced scallions, and chilies in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and vegetables have softened, but not browned, about 3 minutes. Add in sauce and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Cook until sauce thickens, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in white scallion segments. Transfer to airtight container and store refrigerator.
- To make the wings: In a small bowl, mix together baking powder, salt, and white pepper. Place wings in a large bowl and sprinkle in baking powder mixture, tossing to evenly coat. Arrange wings in a single layer on wire rack set inside a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil, leaving a little space between each wing. Place baking sheet with wings in refrigerator for 8 hours to overnight.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and arrange the coals on one side of the charcoal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Place the wings skin side up over the cool side of the grill, cover, and cook until skins are crisp and browned, about 45 minutes.
- Transfer wings to a large bowl. Add in sauce and toss to thoroughly coat wings. Transfer wings to a platter, garnish with scallion slices, and serve immediately.