American

General Tso’s Tofu

December  3, 2019
4 Ratings
Photo by Julia Gartland. Food stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop stylist: Amanda Widis.
Author Notes

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.

Lightly adapted from "General Tso" by Lev Grossman, from Eat Joy: Stories & Comfort Food from 31 Celebrated Writers, an anthology edited by Natalie Eve Garrett. Used with permission of Black Balloon Publishing. Copyright © 2019 by Natalie Eve Garrett. —Lev Grossman

Test Kitchen Notes

Featured in After I Got Divorced, I Leaned On General Tso's Tofu. —The Editors

  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Cook time 15 minutes
  • Serves 2
Ingredients
  • For the sauce
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons cooking sherry
  • 2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons chicken or vegetable stock (you can use the store-bought stuff)
  • 4 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • For the stir-fry
  • 1 splash vegetable oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 one-inch piece of ginger
  • 1 bunch scallions
  • 1 handful 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.)
  • 1 pound tofu (firm or extra-firm are the most attractive choice, as they won't fall apart; I like silken despite its messiness)
  • 1 medium head of broccoli
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.)
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Hannah
    Hannah
  • Sam
    Sam
  • Brinda Ayer
    Brinda Ayer
  • Steven Williamson
    Steven Williamson

7 Reviews

jcasare March 5, 2021
I loved this! Made as directed and appreciated the loose directions! Fun to read and eat. Tofu didn't brown up much, but who cares? Flavor was spot on.
 
Hannah March 28, 2020
Now hold on. Take step 5, turn into step 1: wrap your tofu block with a dish towel, then press with a Creuset pot for 30 minutes prior to when you want to start cooking. Preheat oven to 350 and bake on an oiled sheet pan for 5-10 minutes. That gets your tofu ready to chop more easily, plus preps it for flash grilling. I recognized this and made myself a crispy tofu dinner. Threw some peanuts in and called it Kung Pao Crossover.
 
Dina February 26, 2020
This did not work for me. The tofu when cooked became gelatinous and I had to throw it out. Never had this happen before so I assume it was the cornstarch.
 
hookmountaingrowers January 14, 2020
This turned out acceptable with a few tweaks. I doubled the recipe but to think I had to use 8 Tbs of sugar?? That would have been way too much. I used 4 Tbs and it was still very sweet and 1/2 the cornstarch listed. I am ok with it being not authentic but I was certainly not blown away by the recipe.
 
Sam December 4, 2019
I really want to make this but I'm confused about the cooking the tofu part. Are the directions missing for actually cooking the tofu? I get it, you don't want to fry it but how do you actually cook it for this recipe?
 
Brinda A. December 4, 2019
So sorry, Sam, looks like that step got cut off! It's been corrected now: "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."

Hope this helps!
 
Steven W. December 7, 2019
Sam, I eat a LOT of tofu and here's how I begin almost every dish I make. Press firm or extra firm tofu as directed above. slice into 1/4 inch slices, about 5 or six or them. Pat dry. Season as desired, or just salt and pepper. (You can season up the dish later.) Spray a nonstick pan and fry the slices several minutes on each side, until, they are brown and slightly crispy. ( I love the cornstarch hint above, I need to do that!) THEN, remove and cool slightly and cut into cubes. Proceed as you will with whatever you are making.