Instant Pot: General Tso's Chicken

Chinese buffet restaurants are considered my family's second kitchen. As soon as my parents grew tired of catering and cooking home meals in general, they became big fans of Chinese buffet restaurants. Let's face it, those restaurants have an abundant spread of dishes, allow you to eat as much as you wanted and the low cost was a big draw. But despite how much me and my siblings groaned about eating at the local Chinese buffet with my parents week after week, there was no arguing the fact we loved the dishes and food there. One of my favorites was the ever popular Chinese American dish, General Tso's Chicken. It may be more convenient to hit up the local Chinese buffet to eat this dish but I'd rather make it at home for a much better tasting version...

At those buffet restaurants, the General Tso's Chicken can often be too heavy with batter, soggy after it sits out a bit or the sauce is just too sweet and overpowering. Well, Cooks Illustrated came up with a recipe for General Tso's Chicken that really gives the local restaurants near me a run for their money. After making Korean Style Chicken Wings recently, I've been finding more recipes calling for cornstarch to get that unmistakable crispy texture in fried foods. It's the cornstarch and foamy egg whites that make this dish so good... along with a tasty marinade/sauce.

To start off, chicken is marinated in a hoisin, white vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, cornstarch and water mixture. This mixture for the marinade also doubles as a sauce, which is a great time saver. The General Tso's sauce is then made by sautéing garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes until fragrant. 

When you're ready to batter the marinated chicken, each piece of chicken is tossed in foamy egg whites and dredged in a mixture of cornstarch, flour, baking soda and a touch of the hoisin mixture just before frying. The egg whites produce a fluffy breading around each piece of chicken while the cornstarch allows the chicken to fry up nice and crispy. Once the chicken is all golden brown with that perfect crisp coating, the chicken pressure cooked with the reserved sauce. If you want additional texture, the chicken can be broiled until your desired crispness before serving. The General Tso's sauce adds just the right amount of sweetness and very subtle heat (from the red pepper flakes). We loved this over steamed jasmine rice and garnished with a few fresh slices of green onions.

General Tso's Chicken
recipe from Cooks Illustrated


1/2 cup hoisin sauce
1/4 cup white vinegar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 cups water

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite sized pieces

Coating & frying:

3 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups cornstarch
1/2 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1-2 green onions, thinly sliced on a bias for garnish

To make the marinade & sauce, whisk the hoisin, vinegar, soy sauce, sugar, cornstarch, and water in a bowl. Of this mixture, place 6 tablespoons into a zip lock storage bag and add the chicken; seal and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Set aside the remaining marinade in the bowl.

In your Instant Pot:

While the chicken is chilling in the marinade, plug in the IP with insert set in place.

Press MANUAL on the IP and add 1 tablespoon oil. When shimmering hot, sauté the garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes until fragrant. Add 2 cups of the reserved hoisin marinade to the IP, whisking constantly, until the mixture is dark brown and thickened. Remove from heat, cover and keep the sauce warm.

Clean out IP insert, dry and return to IP. 

Press SAUTE and add 1/2 cup oil for frying.

Meanwhile, prepare the chicken coating by whisking the egg whites in a shallow dish until foamy; set aside. 

Combine the cornstarch, flour, and baking soda in a second shallow dish; mix well.

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and discard marinade.

Pat the marinated chicken dry with paper towels. Toss half the chicken into the cornstarch mixture.

Next, dip chicken into the foamy egg whites until well coated, then dredge the chicken in the cornstarch mixture once again, pressing to adhere. 

Transfer the coated chicken to a plate and repeat with the remaining chicken.

When oil is hot in the IP, fry half the chicken until golden brown, about 3 minutes, turning each piece halfway through cooking. Transfer the browned chicken onto a paper towel lined plate to drain. Repeat with the remaining chicken.

Add the reserved hoisin sauce and cooked chicken back into the IP.

Secure the lid of the IP and ensure the valve is set to SEALING.

Press MANUAL and adjust the time to 2 minutes on HIGH pressure.

The display will reflect ON while the IP comes to pressure. Allow a few minutes for your IP to come to pressure.

Once at pressure, the display will reflect 2 (the number of minutes you initially set) and will begin to countdown to 0 minutes.

When the IP beeps after pressure cooking for 2 minutes, turn the setting on top of your IP to VENTING. Doing so allows the IP to quickly release any remaining pressure (also known as QPR or QR). I use a wooden spoon to carefully turn the setting to avoid close contact with the potential steam. You may also want to turn your IP away from cabinets to allow the released steam to escape freely. The pin at the top of your IP will drop when all pressure has been released and it's safe to open.

Open up your IP when the pin has dropped (allow a few minutes for this to happen). The IP will automatically default to the WARM mode.

Using tongs, remove the chicken from the IP and place on baking sheet. Preheat broiler and when ready, broil chicken until desired crispness or doneness.

Garnish with sliced green onions and serve with rice or noodles.

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