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Orange Chicken vs General TSO: 4 Differences You Must Know

If you’re a fan of Asian cuisine (or Chinese cuisine – to be exact), we’re quite positive you’re familiar with both of these dishes. Generally speaking, there are dozens of chicken dishes experimenting with sweet and sour flavors and aromas – and these recipes are no different.

At first glance, you may think that these recipes are identical. On both sides, we have chicken breasts, the well-known combo of sweet and sour flavors packed with intoxicating aromas. Not to forget, the sticky texture that everyone loves about Chinese chicken.

However, orange chicken and General TSO’s chicken do have some core differences that you should know. Keep on reading to learn more!

What is orange chicken?

Orange chicken is a well-known, largely popular Chinese dish. It’s a perfect blend of sweet, sour, tangy, acidic, and savory flavors in a single meal. The main ingredients include boneless chicken breasts, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, vinegar, and oranges!

Also, some versions of orange chicken will include chili flakes, which will further intensify the flavors and add the much-needed kick of heat to this sweet dish. However, even in these cases, the focus is on the sweet&sour contrast rather than on anything else. 

One of the main recommendations when making Chinese orange chicken is marinating the chicken breasts before frying them and combining them with the sauce. This little trick will save you a lot of time and trouble when trying to develop all the flavors.

What’s more, marinating the meat beforehand will allow the ingredients to penetrate the meat. As a result, it will make it even more tender, which ensures that it won’t become dry during the cooking process. 

When it comes to the marinade, there are no special ingredients required. All you need to do is save some of the sauce for the orange chicken to marinate your chicken in before cooking. It can be an hour prior to cooking, or you can let it sit overnight for maximum results.

To prepare the chicken, all you need to do is cut it up into bite-size cubes and marinate it in some sauce. After getting it out of the fridge, it is time to prepare the batter of whisked eggs and cornstarch. 

The orange chicken sauce usually consists of orange juice (as the main ingredient), soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, ginger, sugar. Aside from salt and regular orange chicken seasoning, you can add some chili flakes if you prefer the dish to be a bit spicy. 

Another ingredient that is commonly added is orange zest. It enhances the orange flavor and gives the dish a recognizable dose of tanginess and pungency. Also, to get the desired consistency, a bit of cornstarch is mixed with water and added.

When frying the chicken, it is important to fry it in batches, so that the cubes don’t stick to one another. You want each piece of chicken to be a separate bite. Once the chicken has been cooked on all sides for a couple of minutes, remove it and drain it. 

After 5 minutes, add all the chicken pieces back into the frying pan. This step is optional, but it will help you achieve that beautiful golden crust on the outside layer of the chicken cubes. 

To finish off this dish, simply combine the chicken with orange sauce. Make sure not to cook it for too long, as the meat will become soggy and lose its crust. 

What does orange chicken taste like?

Orange chicken is a rather complex dish consisting of a wide array of flavors. Once you taste the dish, you will immediately sense the sour and tangy component coming from the orange juice and zest, as well as the vinegar.

The next dominant factor is the sweetness derived from the orange juice, as well as sugar. The latter becomes caramelized in the sauce cooking process.

The savory, umami flavor comes from salt, as well as soy sauce, which also provides a hint of earthiness. Finally, the aroma is developed from the garlic&ginger combination, especially if you’ve marinated the meat beforehand.

What is General TSO’s chicken?

General TSO’s chicken was a dish made specifically for a diplomatic envoy. Chef Peng Chang-kuei invented this dish to pay homage to a military leader called General Tso Tsung-t’ang through his cooking. 

General TSO’s is often confused with sesame chicken since they look and taste quite similar. However, the main difference between the two dishes is that General TSO’s chicken is usually spicy. Indeed, it includes chili flakes or fresh chilies as one of the main spices. 

Other than that, in this dish, you will find the traditional, world-famous combination of sweet and sour flavors we all love in Chinese chicken dishes. The General TSO’s sauce is a mixture of the usual ingredients you will find in these recipes.

It includes soy sauce for a dose of umami, vinegar for the sour component, and sugar as a source of sweetness. There are also ginger, garlic, sesame seeds, and hoisin sauce that enhances the umami, smokey aroma of this dish. 

Many people also add some chicken stock to the sauce instead of water to further develop the savory flavors. Furthermore, they add a mixture of cornstarch and water towards the end of cooking to achieve the stickiness and thickness of the sauce

Another important thing to mention about General TSO’s chicken is that the same practice of marinating the meat in the sauce mixture is used in this recipe, as well. 

The chicken is then coated in batter, which usually consists of eggs and cornstarch (but flour can be used, too), and fried in hot oil. The same trick with double-frying the chicken to get a crispier result can be applied here, too.

Also, when coating the chicken with the sauce, it is important to toss the pieces around the pan. It will prevent them from getting soggy and mushy. Toasted sesame seeds are usually added on top once the dish has been served. 

What does General TSO’s chicken taste like?

General TSO’s chicken is a seamless blend of savory, umami, sweet, sour, and spicy elements wrapped in a complex, yet simple dish. 

The savory, salty, and umami flavor is the result of the salt, soy sauce, and hoisin sauce combination. The hoisin sauce will also give this dish a rather unique smokey aroma, with a hint of tanginess.

The sweetness comes from the sugar, while the addition of vinegar adds the sourness which is a rather refreshing twist. This dish is generally quite spicy, thanks to the addition of chili flakes or fresh chili peppers. 

Finally, the toasted sesame seeds added on top will give the dish a toasty, warm, nutty aroma – aside from being a great garnish choice. 

What is the difference between General TSO and orange chicken?

Both of these dishes are great options if you enjoy sweet and sour flavors combined, and you like crispy chicken in a thick, sticky sauce. However, as similar as they may appear, these two dishes have some important differences to keep in mind.

1. Spiciness

When it comes to Chinese orange chicken, the usual spice mix does not necessarily include a spicy component. Some chefs may choose to add the tiniest bit of chili flakes, but this is not something that is required in this recipe. 

General TSO’s chicken, on the other hand, is commonly quite spicy, as one of the main spices used are chili flakes. Even fresh chili peppers are good if you’re trying to achieve an even higher level of spiciness.

However, if you’re making any of these dishes at home, feel free to experiment and adjust the spices to your liking. 

2. Overall flavor profile 

Perhaps the most important difference between orange chicken and General TSO is the addition of orange juice and zest in orange chicken. These particular elements give this dish a distinctive flavor and aroma that can hardly be replicated.

Orange juice provides both sweetness and sourness. The orange zest gives this dish a tangy, zesty, earthy, almost bitter flavor. Overall, both components emit a strong citrusy aroma

General TSO’s chicken, on the other hand, has the addition of hoisin sauce as a source of smokiness and tanginess. You could say it’s similar to BBQ sauce. Also, this dish is generally much spicier than the orange zest, as many chefs add chili flakes or fresh chilies. 

Aside from these differences, both dishes rely on the sweet & sour contrast. They both have a rich, thick, deep-flavored sauce mixed with crispy, yet tender chicken. 

3. Ingredients

While they share the majority of ingredients, orange chicken and General TSO’s chicken do have some differences. Especially when it comes to specific ingredients that can change their overall flavor and aroma.

As the name itself implies, orange chicken calls for both freshly squeezed orange juice and orange zest. As for General TSO’s chicken, the addition of chili flakes, hoisin sauce, and toasted sesame seeds is what makes this dish stand out

4. Appearance

At first glance, these chicken dishes do appear quite similar. On both plates, we have chicken cubes, crispy on the outside yet tender on the inside. The sauce is thick, sticky and it’s usually dark brown from the soy sauce.

However, the orange chicken sauce may be a bit lighter due to the addition of orange juice – especially if you decide to use light soy sauce. General TSO’s chicken, on the other hand, might have a reddish hue due to chili flakes/fresh chili peppers.

Also, General TSO’s chicken will often be garnished with toasted sesame seeds on top. 

Are orange chicken and General TSO’s chicken the same?

When you think about the base of these dishes, it is almost identical. In both dishes, we have deep-fried chicken breasts, covered in a sticky, aromatic, thick sauce. Also, the main flavors in both recipes are savory, sweet, and sour.

However, these dishes are not the same for several reasons. First and foremost, the use of orange juice and zest in the orange chicken recipe makes all the difference in both flavor and aroma. It is citrusy, aromatic, and fruity. 

General TSO’s chicken, on the other hand, lacks the fruity component, but it is commonly spicier since it often incorporates chili flakes or fresh chili peppers. 

Also, General TSO’s chicken tends to have a smokier, deeper aroma thanks to the combination of the hoisin sauce, caramelized sugar, and sesame seeds, as opposed to the fresh aroma of orange chicken.

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