General Tso at Oriental House

General Tso's Chicken at the Oriental House in Ottawa

General Tso’s Chicken at the Oriental House in Ottawa

The Oriental House Restaurant in Ottawa advertises itself as offering both Cantonese and Sichuan dishes. Much of the menu is geared heavily towards Western tastes, but some of the dishes I have been served there were quite traditional in their preparation. One of these was their rendition of General Tso’s Chicken, which was simply prepared and very good.

It is often asserted that the dish known as General Tso’s Chicken (or General Tao’s Chicken as it sometimes appears), is an American creation. In fact, according to reliable sources, it was first prepared by a Hunanese chef in Taiwan by the name of Peng Chang-kuei.

The basic dish consists of chunks of boneless chicken which are battered and deep-fried, then served in a Soy Sauce based sauce that is slightly sweet and sour, and chili-hot in varying degrees. It has been asserted, notable in the relevant Wikipedia article, that the original version served in Taiwan was not sweet at all, but I haven’t seen any recipes that do not contain at least a little sugar, and the assertion is almost certainly incorrect.

The heat in the traditional classic comes from whole chillies that are fried in the cooking oil before the other ingredients are added. This creates a ‘scorched’ chili flavor that, coupled with the sweet, sour, and salty components, produces a result that is similar to a Kung Pao dish. In more Westernized versions, the whole chilies are often replaced with some sort of chili paste or hot sauce, and the sugar content is of much elevated.

The General Tso’s Chicken at the Oriental House was not heavily westernized, as are some of their dishes. It wasn’t very sweet at all and the whole chillies that were visible showed some charring which lent a nice smoky effect to the moderate spicy-heat of the dish.

In all too many restaurant versions, the batter is exceedingly thick and often soggy, but here, the coating was quite thin and remained delightfully crisp despite being coated in sauce. The vegetable component was onion and green pepper, and the latter was clearly added at the last moment as it was still bright and crisp-tender. I wouldn’t miss the vegetables if they were absent, but I much preferred these to Broccoli, which is often included, and, all in all, I thought this version of the classic to be one of the better ones I have ever had.

Comments, questions or suggestions most welcome!