Monday, December 5, 2016

Passing on of General Tso's Chicken


       
Photo Credit: Taiwan News
           
As everyone should know by now, the news is sad with the passing of Chef Peng Chang-Kuei on 11/30/2016 at 98. He was the inventor of General Tso’s chicken and founder of Hunan-style restaurant, Peng’s Garden Restaurant.
Chef Peng began cooking at age 13 and later, became the banquet chef for China's Nationalist government. In 1952, he was invited by the U.S. Navy Admiral, Arthur Radford to cook. Less than inspired, he fried a couple chunks of chicken and threw some ingredients together to create something new. The admiral loved the dish and asked Chef Peng what's the name of the dish? He named it on the spot: General Tso's Chicken. He honored the personage of General Zuo Zongtang - an undefeated 19th century military man from Hunan. 
            In a way, he was a big part of Chinatown because he created a finger licking good recipe. Cutting the chicken in big chunks, flouring it, then frying it is the easy part of the recipe. The sauce is the key to the dish. It's everything that makes it taste so amazing.
            Growing up, I know, I have eaten this dish over probably 8 or 9 dozen times. When I was young, it was my go to dish, my comfort food. When I walk into a Chinese restaurant, without looking at the menu:
            “General Tso’s chicken with white rice, please and thank you,” I say.
It was one of those dishes I never get tired of. I loved it so much, my Dad taught me how to make it when I was young. Even now, I’m still not tired of it but I don’t eat it as much as I used to.
One of the things I learned about the dish for the past couple of years is, it’s an authentic Chinese dish. I used to think it was American because of the frying and the use of the sauce, but I was wrong. I think about it now; the dish is an inspiration to several dishes. Chefs could draw their inspiration from this dish that the sauce is inspiring them to make something new. When you go into Chinatown and dine-in at a Chinese restaurant, look at the menu. You’ll see dishes similar to General Tso’s chicken such as Orange chicken or beef, Sesame chicken, King Do ribs, and the list can go on. And let’s not forget the appetizer sauce, duck sauce, not those packets that look identical to ketchup packets. Real duck sauce that come in small containers. It would seem the dish’s sauce is adaptable.
I just want to say, even though he’s physically gone, in spirit he lives on through the dishes of inspiration and even his own, General Tso’s chicken. Remember, when you take bite of the chicken, you can hear the crunch, and your tongue is dancing around that sauce, that's when you know it's finger licking good.
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