Chinese-inspired chicken dishes are some of the tastiest and most moreish options for a quick weeknight treat. To that end, you’ve likely done more than a little experimentation to find out which chicken dish you prefer
Well, in this article, we’re going to talk about a showdown that goes on in a number of kitchens around the world every single night – hot braised chicken vs general tso.
What is hot braised chicken?
Hot braised chicken is precisely what it sounds like – a chicken dish in which the meat is braised over very high heat. The chicken itself is braised with a range of spices so that the end result is a chicken dish that’s wonderfully spicy and flavorsome.
These spices commonly combine to form a flavor palette that’s very similar to a lot of other Chinese food – rich and earthy, with a hot, spiced kick. This combination is characteristic of the cuisine and combines with the rapid cooking method to enable the chicken to be exceptionally tender. While toothsome, the chicken can generally be pulled apart with a fork – it’s delicious!
The chicken is, in a number of situations, braised with mushrooms to create a much earthier, meatier flavor. However, this is entirely down to the cook. If you’d like to do this, then try to opt for some well-flavored mushrooms, such as shiitake or chestnut.
What is general tso?
General Tso’s chicken is a dish that’s almost ubiquitous throughout Chinese kitchens in the US and China. There are a number of complex reasons for this, but the most important is this – it’s delicious! This utterly delicious flavor, combined with the fact that it’s quite unique compared to other Chinese dishes, means that it can be deeply exciting to eat.
There are two different stories about the creation of the tasty dish. The first is that the dish originated in Taiwan – chef Peng created it to honor a Hunanese war hero called Tso Tsung-tang.
The other story posits that it was created in an American Chinese restaurant during the 70s, by chef Peng Chang-Kuei. The true origin is relatively unimportant, however, because the chicken itself is relatively constant, no matter where you eat it.
The dish is principally made up of deep-fried chicken pieces. These pieces are tossed together in a sweet, spicy sauce that’s made from garlic, ginger, soy sauce, vinegar, brown sugar, and chili peppers. This creates a very richly flavored dish that also has texture going for it – it’s perfectly crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.
General Tso’s chicken can be found in nearly any American Chinese restaurant, for dine-in or take-out. It is typically served over steamed white rice, though this is up to the person that’s eating it, really.
What are the main differences between the two?
On the surface of it, it may not seem like there are too many differences between the two dishes – they both contain a range of similar ingredients. However, they are quite distinct.
For example, hot braised chicken is made, of course, by braising the chicken. This contrasts with how General Tso’s chicken is made, where the chicken is coated with batter and deep-fried. Then, the fried chicken is tossed into the sauce itself for a few minutes before it is finally served. This is a wonderfully tasty way of doing things, but it does create a different final taste and texture.
Furthermore, the texture of the hot braised chicken is typically a little soupy – the liquid from the mushrooms and other liquid ingredients leads to the chicken partly steaming, which allows for a deeply tender final meal. On the other hand, the sauce of General Tso’s chicken typically evaporates during the cooking process. It penetrates into the meat, and the chicken eventually looks quite velvety and smooth, while having a crispy texture. This contrast is quite pleasant and allows for a wonderfully tasty dish. It means, importantly, that the dish isn’t soupy or watery. That matters for General Tso’s chicken because it allows the batter to remain crispy, rather than going soft and soggy.
Finally, the overall taste is quite different between the two dishes. Hot braised chicken is typically quite rich and juicy – it feels quite luxurious, really. On the other hand, General Tso’s chicken is a little different: typically sweet, savory, and spicy notes have penetrated into the chicken, leading to a richly complex dish.
What are the main similarities between the two?
There are also a number of different similarities between hot braised chicken and General Tso’s. The first is that both of the dishes are popular in both China and America. This is quite rare since Chinese American restaurants tend to serve Americanised forms of Chinese food, rather than faithful options.
Another notable commonality is that both dishes contain soy sauce and ginger, two staples of a typical Chinese spice palette. It’s often said that the ‘holy trinity’ of Chinese spices is spring onions, garlic, and ginger. Both dishes do contain garlic and ginger, and are often topped with sliced spring onion for a pretty aesthetic.
This could also be said for the chicken content in both dishes – chicken is a very common meat in Chinese food since it’s tasty and affordable.
A final note of similarity is that they’re both typically served in much the same way. This means that, when compared to one another, they may well be settled right next to one another on a Chinese menu or in your mental equivalent – functionally, they’re very similar.
We would recommend considering this when you next make either of the dishes – they could both be served with a portion of simple rice next to the dish, while neither of them would really benefit from being served with a different starch, such as noodles or potatoes.
Whichever of these two wonderful meals you prefer, they’re certainly both perfectly tasty. Ensure you get one of these soon, or you’ll feel like you’re missing out!