It took me at least a dozen tries to recreate proper Chinese-restaurant General Tso’s tofu at home without resorting to lethal levels of sugar and oil and cornstarch. Look online and you’ll see a million different recipes with stuff like ketchup and pineapple and tamarind in them.
You don’t need any of that stuff. As it turns out, making a great General Tso isn’t actually all that hard. The recipe below leans heavily on the version of General Tso’s chicken that was worked out by the great J. Kenji López-Alt, whose large white cookbook The Food Lab I recommend very highly.
chicken or vegetable stock (you can use the store-bought stuff)
For the stir-fry
cloves of garlic
one-inch piece of ginger
dried red chiles (like a real handful. More than you would think. López-Alt recommends eight, and I think that’s a minimum. You don’t necessarily eat the things, but they create the ambient heat that’s so essential to this dish. Also they look cool.)
tofu (firm or extra-firm are the most attractive choice, as they won't fall apart; I like silken despite its messiness)
Throw all the stuff for the sauce (the soy sauce, cooking sherry, rice vinegar, stock, sugar, and cornstarch) in a bowl. Stir it till the sugar and cornstarch dissolves. Set aside. Its moment is coming.
Mince the garlic. Mince or grate the ginger. Chop the scallions into one-inch chunks. (You can mince some of them, too, and save them for garnish if you’re fancy.) Throw garlic, ginger, scallions, and chiles into a frying pan. Sweat them in a little vegetable oil for a minute or two.
Then pour in the sauce. Let the whole thing become warm and awesome together, which will take about a minute, then turn off the heat.
Then—or you can do this at the same time—cook the tofu. The part of any General Tso’s tofu recipe that requires serious patience and chops is giving the tofu a light, crispy coating. But guess what? I don’t bother! Is it less authentic that way? Yes, it is. But here’s the thing: To get that coating you have to fry it, and I don’t fry shit. I just don’t. It’s not worth it. Plus, I mean, Jesus, when you’re divorced, you gotta cook healthy. You gotta get back in the game. You’re not gonna fry your way back there.
So anyway take the tofu, a pound of it. Press it under a heavy plate or something for maybe 10 minutes to squeeze out extra moisture. (Every recipe everywhere will tell you to use firm tofu for this. Literally every one. You can. It’s easier and it won’t break up in the pan. Personally, I sometimes like to use silken tofu—I love its soft, frictionless gloss, and the way it integrates with the sauce. If you use it, I warn you, you can't press it, it will not stay in neat cubes, it will fall apart. It’ll be messy. It won’t look as nice. I use it anyway.)
While this is happening, put some water on to boil and cut up a head of broccoli into florets. You’re gonna want to blanch them for 4 minutes at some point along the way.
Once the tofu has been squeezed, cut it into ¾-inch cubes. Throw the cubes into a bowl, toss them with a little cornstarch, then throw them in a nonstick pan with a bit of vegetable oil. Cook on medium-high heat for 4 or 5 minutes, till the tofu is just starting to color on one side.
Once the tofu is cooked, put it into the sauce. Throw the broccoli—that broccoli you blanched for 4 minutes—in after it. Integrate. You’re done! It snuck up on you, didn’t it.
Serve it in a bowl. A nice bowl—come on, you’ve still got your pride. Place it on the table, maybe with some white rice. Place a beer next to it. Now you’re really done.
Tuck in. Whoever you are, whatever you have or haven’t done, whatever your apartment looks like, you made this, and you deserve to enjoy it. Don’t despair. There are better times ahead.