General Tso’s Pheasant
December 09, 2012 | Updated October 28, 2020
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Many of us have eaten The General’s chicken at cheap, steam-table Chinese restaurants: Gloppy, over-breaded and so sweet you fall into diabetic shock afterwards. It’s crap. Especially if you’ve ever eaten General Tso’s chicken in a good Chinese restaurant.
Done correctly, General Tso’s chicken is irresistible: Tender meat with a light, crunchy batter reminiscent of tempura, tossed in a sauce perfectly balanced between sweet and spicy, studded with green onion and Chinese tien tsin chiles. It is the crack cocaine of Chinese food. You want it. No, you must have it. At any cost. I know people who will do shameful things for a plate perfect of General Tso.
This General Tso’s pheasant is that plate, folks. And it has a history.
General Tso was in fact a real general in China. Hunan, to be exact. But the general did not make this dish, nor would he really have recognized it. A Taiwanese refugee from Hunan named Peng Chang-kuei invented this back in the 1950s. Peng’s version was not nearly as sweet or crunchy as what we are all used to; that version has its origin in the early 1970s, when a chef named T.T. Wang, who had eaten Peng’s original in Taiwan, opened a Hunan restaurant in New York City.
By all accounts Peng loathed the American version of his recipe. Too sweet.
And he apparently rolled his eyes at the notion that extraneous vegetables such as water chestnuts or baby corn should appear in the dish, which is supposed to be meaty through and through. Fuchsia Dunlop has more details on the story here, and it is from her excellent Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province that my version originates.
My take on General Tso’s is slightly more powerful and hearty than most “authentic” versions. It is definitely less sweet than the cheapy Chinese style, and definitely spicier. I also make a little more sauce than Dunlop’s rendition because, well, I like the sauce.
And yes, I use pheasant breast instead of chicken. Pheasants happen to be indigenous to Manchuria in Northern China, and this is a wild food blog, after all.
And while I’ve never heard of General Tso’s beef or pork or whatever, I bet you could sub in other meats, too. Rabbit springs to mind. If you do, let me know how it went in the comments section.
Note that while you need a lot of oil to fry the pheasant in, you can reuse it several times. Just let it cool a bit and strain it through a paper towel back into the bottle.
Make this recipe. Then make it again. You will find yourself craving it in an almost unnatural manner. Like I said, it’s basically crack.
General Tso's Pheasant
- 4 tablespoons potato starch or corn starch
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 3 cups peanut or vegetable oil for frying
- 1/2 cup pheasant or chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sugar, or more if you want it sweet
- 1 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar or malt vinegar
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste mixed with 2 tablespoons water
- 1 teaspoon potato or corn starch
- 1 pound pheasant breast meat, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 3 tablespoons peanut oil, lard or vegetable oil
- 8 dried hot chiles, torn (use less if you don't want it spicy)
- A 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
- 3 garlic cloves, sliced thin
- 6 green onions, chopped
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- In a small bowl, mix egg yolks, soy and potato starch together with the pheasant pieces. Set aside at room temperature while you chop everything else. Mix the sauce ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.
- Pour the peanut oil into a wok or large, heavy pot and heat it to about 350°F. If you don't have a thermometer, you can test by putting a little flour or the end of a wooden chopstick into the oil: If it sizzles immediately, the oil is hot enough. Get a chopstick or something similar ready -- you will need this to quickly separate the pieces of pheasant when they hit the hot oil. Lay out a baking sheet with a paper towel on it for the finished pheasant pieces.
- When the oil is ready, add about 1/3 of the pheasant pieces and immediately use the chopstick to separate them. Fry until they are golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. Remove the pheasant from the hot oil with a slotted spoon and set on the baking sheet. Repeat twice more with the remaining pheasant pieces, frying 1/3 at a time. Doing it this way keeps the oil nice and hot.
- Turn off the heat and let the oil cool a bit. Pour it into a heatproof container (I use a large Pyrex measuring cup) and deal with it later. Wipe out the inside of the wok if using. If you are not using a wok, get out a large saute pan.
- Heat the 3 tablespoons of peanut oil in the wok over high heat for 1 minute. Add the dried chiles and cook until they almost turn black, another minute or two. Add the ginger and stir fry 30 seconds, then add the garlic and stir fry another 30 seconds.
- Add all the pheasant pieces and the green onions. Stir the sauce in the bowl and add that, making sure you get all the potato starch, which will have sunk to the bottom. Stir fry 1 minute. Turn off the heat and mix in the sesame oil. Serve at once with steamed rice.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Excellent taste and technique
Saw this recipe linked to from uplandjournal.com and the mention of what book it came from. Made me order the hardcover book to expand my horizons.
Also use Hank’s venison barbacoa recipe for deer shanks and love it.
Winner! Just got back from a successful hunt in SD, and after cleaning my birds, I immediately pulled up the site to see what I could find that is different than the usual offerings. I love General Tso’s, but as Hank points out, it is usually offered in some kind of gooey, sugar glop, and not like my favorite, savory, hot and spicy style. Not only is this recipe, excellent, it’s absolutely perfect with pheasant, where the meat has better flavor and is more tender than chicken. My wife loved it. The only alteration, I did, was to substitute honey for the sugar (I always do this), and I used a “no chicken, chicken stock”, in order to make a vegetarian portion for my daughter, which was semi-successful. I can’t wait to try the Kung Pao next.
Used anything from pheasant, chukar to wild turkey with this recipe. Always a repeat request from the wife!
I love this website. All the recipes I’ve tried have been winners! My husband and I both loved the general’s pheasant. I didn’t have all the ingredients so I made some substitutions: instead of green onions I used thinly sliced white onion and green pepper, instead of dried chiles I used hot sesame oil.
This is an easy and very falvorful dish. I’ve used pheasant and duck both and they were excellent! This is a “go to” in my house.
Great recipe. We added more Thai chiles for heat. Delicious.
thoughts on using duck in this?
Matt: You could, but I like it better with light meats.
Made last night from a wild turkey breast shot over the weekend. I doubled the recipe because the turkey breast was just over 2 pounds.
I did NOT double the number of dried chilis, as I’ve learned the hard way that heat is not linear in recipes, lol.
This recipe was delicious. I aimed for 1/2″-3/4″ cubes of turkey breast, and they came out of the oil after 2 minutes or so crispy and so tender.
This recipe is in Hank’s small game cookbook which is a steal on Amazon for the quality of content in it. Have made the Kung Pao chicken as well and am working my way through it – turkey tamales coming from thighs sometime soon.
I used a young wild sow pig backstrap. It was delicious. I tasted the sauce before I mixed it and I was skeptical because I thought it would be too tomatoey. However, after it mixed with the garlic and chiles and the sesame oil it really balanced out. Will certainly do this again. YUM
My wife made this a few nights ago and it was delicious! Definitely going to be a regular menu item to use up our delicious pheasants.
My husband and son just came back from pheasant hunting. My son emailed me this recipe. Can’t wait to try it. Will let you know when we do.
The potato starch you mentioned here as well as the Kung pao pheasant recipe, is it actually sweet potato starch or is that something else?
Joe: Not to my knowledge.
Thanks for the answer.