This easy to make General Tso Sauce is perfect for those nights you’re craving delivery, but need the loving touch of a home cooked meal. Sweet, savory, tangy and spicy, this Chinese-American sauce is perfect on Hunan style chicken, tofu and shrimp. Ready in 5 minutes from start to finish!

General Tso Sauce - This homemade classic Chinese-American sauce is perfect on Hunan style chicken, tofu and shrimp. This is an easy general tso sauce recipe that can be served sweet or spicy. #chinesefood #easyrecipes #homemade #sauce | pickledplum.com

We’re all busy. And sometimes a break from cooking is just what the doctor ordered. On those nights, if we’re ordering Chinese, I’ll usually go for General Tso tofu.

It has a spicy, tangy sweetness that I am just drawn to in a big way. YUM!

But some nights, you just gotta cook. Because as much I sometimes wish it were otherwise, we just can’t get by on takeout alone!

General Tso Sauce - This homemade classic Chinese-American sauce is perfect on Hunan style chicken, tofu and shrimp. This is an easy general tso sauce recipe that can be served sweet or spicy. #chinesefood #easyrecipes #homemade #sauce | pickledplum.com

What is general tso sauce?

General Tso sauce is a mixture of a few simple ingredients that make up the tangy, savory and sweet flavor of one of the most iconic Americanized Chinese recipes. In fact, General Tso’s is probably the most well known Asian fried chicken recipe of all.

The three sauces here are going to turn out essentially the same from a texture and viscosity standpoint. They all make a wonderfully tangy, sweet, savory (and spicy, if you’re into that!) glossy glaze for your protein of choice.

The only differences are whether you decide on the regular version – or opt for one of the sweeter or spicier variants.

Aside from scratching that flavor itch that sometimes it seems only delivery Chinese can reach, there’s comfort in the uniformity of flavor no matter what protein you decide on.

General Tso Sauce - This homemade classic Chinese-American sauce is perfect on Hunan style chicken, tofu and shrimp. This is an easy general tso sauce recipe that can be served sweet or spicy. #chinesefood #easyrecipes #homemade #sauce | pickledplum.com

General Tso Sauce Ingredients

Even though there are three versions of this sauce, there are also common thread ingredients that appear throughout the variations.

  • Chicken Broth: This provides the savory undertones to our General Tso sauce. Use vegetable broth or water for a vegan version.
  • Tomato Paste: Concentrated tomatoey goodness – without the added moisture fresh tomato sauce would impart.
  • Soy Sauce: The universal bringer of earthy umami perfection in Asian food the world over!
  • Hoisin Sauce: Thick, dark, sweet and salty – hoisin sauce adds a candied, pungent kick to our General Tso stir fry sauce.
  • Sriracha: Heat and sweet are the hallmarks of this famous Asian chili sauce.
  • Rice Vinegar: Rice vinegar adds a wonderful tart zing that is slightly more subdued than white or red wine vinegar.
  • Granulated Sugar: If you like it sweet, you know what to do!
  • Cornstarch: Mixed with a bit of water, cornstarch will create the thick, glossy consistency we associate with many Chinese-American sauces.
General Tso Sauce - This homemade classic Chinese-American sauce is perfect on Hunan style chicken, tofu and shrimp. This is an easy general tso sauce recipe that can be served sweet or spicy. #chinesefood #easyrecipes #homemade #sauce | pickledplum.com

How to make general tso sauce

  1. Put all the ingredients for the sauce – EXCEPT for cornstarch and water mixture – in a medium size pot and bring to a gentle boil.
  2. Give the cornstarch and water a quick stir and slowly add to the simmering sauce while stirring.
  3. Cook for a minute until sauce thickens and turn the heat off. Coat whatever protein you’re using and serve.

And that’s it! I told you it was easy! And, if you want to learn how to make General Tso chicken, have a look at my baked recipe here.

General Tso Sauce Variations

I’ve included three variations of this stir fry sauce – so you can tailor your own homemade General Tso sauce to your palate.

  1. Regular: The quintessential flavor of a balanced General Tso recipe. Savory meets tangy and subtly sweet. There is a negligible bit of heat here, but I wouldn’t go so far as classify it as spicy. This is a balanced sauce that honors the Chinese-American classic.
  2. Sweet: No matter where the actual roots of General Tso chicken originate, the recipe has leaned towards the sweeter side of things as it evolved on these shores and catered to the American palate. This simple variation on the original just doubles down on the sugar.
  3. Hot: Like a little fire? Similar to the original – just double up on the sriracha, and add a few chopped Chinese dried red chilies. While this version definitely brings some heat, the overall flavor is undeniably a General Tso preparation. Pro tip: if you must breathe actual fire, you can always add a few whole dried chilis to your wok when cooking and coating your protein in sauce. Just… ya know… careful 😉
General Tso Sauce - This homemade classic Chinese-American sauce is perfect on Hunan style chicken, tofu and shrimp. This is an easy general tso sauce recipe that can be served sweet or spicy. #chinesefood #easyrecipes #homemade #sauce | pickledplum.com

Is General Tso Sauce sweet?

Regardless of the true taste of the original Chinese General Tso preparations, the recipe has sweetened considerably since becoming a beloved Chinese-American restaurant staple.

While the thickness in the glaze comes from cornstarch mixed with water, the sweetness usually originates from sugar.

How sweet is too sweet? Well, that depends on how sweet you like it, right?!

For my sweet version of this General Tso sauce, I use three tablespoons of sugar for every finished cup of sauce. Play around with the sugar levels until you’re happy!

General Tso Sauce - This homemade classic Chinese-American sauce is perfect on Hunan style chicken, tofu and shrimp. This is an easy general tso sauce recipe that can be served sweet or spicy. #chinesefood #easyrecipes #homemade #sauce | pickledplum.com

Is General Tso chicken spicy?

Short answer: only if you want it to be.

While most General Tso chicken recipes tend to lean heavily on the sweet, savory and tart flavor aspects – you can tailor the spice levels to your own liking.

The spiciest of the three General Tso chicken sauce recipes calls for three teaspoons of sriracha and three chopped Chinese dried red chilies per finished cup of sauce to really bring the fire.

That’ll probably be enough for most people.

Now, if you’re a total spice junky, you can add a few of those whole dried chilies to your protein of choice while cooking in your wok or frying pan. You could also experiment with using a bit of crushed Szechuan peppercorns if you like the lip-numbing and spicy properties they bring to a meal.

However, the regular old ‘hot’ version of this General Tso sauce is definitely spicy enough for me!

General Tso Sauce - This homemade classic Chinese-American sauce is perfect on Hunan style chicken, tofu and shrimp. This is an easy general tso sauce recipe that can be served sweet or spicy. #chinesefood #easyrecipes #homemade #sauce | pickledplum.com

Make it vegan

If you’re following a plant based diet, simply switch the chicken broth out for vegetable broth. Easy peasy!

Make it gluten free

Now, if you’re following a gluten free diet, swap out the soy sauce and use tamari or liquid aminos instead.

However, as always, read the labels of your other ingredients carefully. While the other ingredients in this stir fry sauce are gluten free, cross contamination (products made in facilities that also process wheat) is a real thing to watch out for.

General Tso Sauce - This homemade classic Chinese-American sauce is perfect on Hunan style chicken, tofu and shrimp. This is an easy general tso sauce recipe that can be served sweet or spicy. #chinesefood #easyrecipes #homemade #sauce | pickledplum.com

Chinese Food in American Culture

In the West, the most famous of all General Tso preparations is General Tso’s chicken.

Sometimes listed on Chinese-American menus as General Zuo, General Tse (more on those later) or even as General Tao, it is one of the best known wok recipes to make it to these shores.

How much the iconic dish we’ve come to know and love actually resembles the dish it stems from in China is hotly debated though.

In fact, there are even documentaries dedicated to getting to the bottom of the origins of this dish and examining how it fits into the Chinese-American food lexicon.

Most people agree that breaded chicken bits tossed in a sweet, tart, savory and sometimes spicy glaze probably isn’t all that authentic when it comes to actual Chinese food. While the authenticity of this easy-to-make Chinese-American sauce may be in question, I’d actually argue that, through the years, it’s permutations have become a new kind of normal.

I’m a firm believer that once a dish becomes known, loved and revered by a large part of any population, all bets are off.

The History of General Tso

Is there a general tso?

The short and quick answer is that there was a 19th Century, Qing Dynasty military leader named Zuo Zongtang from Hunan Province.

His name is commonly romanized as Tso Tsung-t’ang. 

However, curiously, the dish we’ve come to know as General Tso chicken in the West has no concrete relation to a corresponding dish served in either Hunan Province or Zuo’s hometown for that matter.

That’s right – more than probably, the roots of the dish stem from a Chinese chef, Peng Chang-kuei, who is said to have created an original dish using typical Hunanese flavors.

Food historians say Peng probably introduced General Tso chicken (a dish he had been making for decades already) to the Chinese-American food scene in the early 1970s in New York – which had the Hunanese flavor profile of “heavy, sour, hot and salty.”

From there, it took legs and made its way across the country, adjusting flavor here and there to appeal to the people that were eating it.

So to recap… General Tso: real person. General Tso’s chicken: probably not an homage to his favorite dish 🙂

Well, I’ve given you a suuuper condensed and overly-simplified version here. If you’re interested in reading more about this epic food journey, this article by Fuchsia Dunlop should sate your intrigue in a much more in-depth and historically accurate way.

Food history is so cool!

Other delicious and easy homemade Asian sauces:

General Tso Sauce - This homemade classic Chinese-American sauce is perfect on Hunan style chicken, tofu and shrimp. This is an easy general tso sauce recipe that can be served sweet or spicy. #chinesefood #easyrecipes #homemade #sauce | pickledplum.com

Did you like this General Tso Sauce Recipe? Are there changes you made that you would like to share? Share your tips and recommendations in the comments section below!

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General Tso Sauce (Three Different Ways)

Do you like it sweet, tangy or spicy? Here are three different ways to make your own general Tso sauce!

  • Author: Caroline Phelps
  • Prep Time: 3 minutes
  • Cook Time: 2 minutes
  • Total Time: 5 minutes
  • Yield: 1 1/4 cup 1x
  • Category: Sauces
  • Method: Boiling
  • Cuisine: Chinese
Scale

Ingredients

Regular General Tso Sauce

  • 3/4 cup chicken broth, or use vegetable broth or water for vegan.
  • 1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
  • 1½ teaspoons sriracha sauce
  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1½ tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch (mixed with 2 tablespoons water)

Sweet General Tso Sauce

  • 3/4 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
  • 1½ teaspoons sriracha sauce
  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch (mixed with 2 tablespoons water)

Hot General Tso Sauce

  • 3/4 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
  • 3 teaspoons sriracha sauce
  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 3 Chinese dried chilies (finely chopped)
  • 1½ tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch (mixed with 2 tablespoons water)

Instructions

  1. Put all the ingredients for the sauce – EXCEPT for cornstarch and water mixture – in a medium size pot and bring to a gentle boil.
  2. Give the cornstarch and water a quick stir and slowly add to the simmering sauce while stirring.
  3. Cook for a minute until sauce thickens and turn the heat off. Coat whatever protein you’re using and serve.

Notes

General tso sauce will keep refrigerated for up to 1 week.

Keywords: recipe, homemade sauce, stir fry

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