General Tso’s Chicken is a favorite on Chinese restaurant menus everywhere! Crispy chicken is tossed in a delicious savory, sweet, and tangy sauce. This version is better than takeout and healthier too! Make it in the air fryer for a delicious dinner in under 30 minutes.
What is General Tso’s Chicken?
General Tso’s Chicken is one of the most popular Chinese dishes in America. And for good reason. Who can resist crispy morsels of juicy chicken coated in a thick, savory, sweet, tangy sauce? There’s no doubt about the popularity of the dish, but its origins are still up for debate. Although it’s named after a famed Chinese military leader (General Tso Tsung-t’ang), there is no recorded connection to him. Rather, it seems that the dish was invented by a Taiwan-based Hunan chef (Peng Chang-kuei) many years later and subsequently brought to America. Over the years and across continents, the dish changed, developing a thicker coating and sweeter sauce to appeal to American palates.
Healthier Air Fryer General Tso’s Chicken
General Tso’s Chicken typically has pieces of chicken that are coated in a thick breading and deep-fried. The chicken is then tossed in a thick, savory sauce that’s a little spicy, tangy, and sweet. My version is a lot lighter and easier! I coat the chicken in a light layer of cornstarch and spray it with a little olive oil before it goes into the air fryer. This cuts down a lot on the amount of oil. I also often find the restaurant dish to be too sweet. My version has just the right amount of brown sugar to balance out the savory ingredients.
How to Make the Chicken
I use boneless, skinless chicken thighs for this recipe. You can use chicken breast but I find that breasts dry out more easily in the air fryer. Thighs, however stay nice and juicy. I also use chicken thighs in my popular Chicken Teriyaki recipe.
Cut the chicken into bite-sized pieces and toss them with a little soy sauce to marinate them. Then, toss the chicken with cornstarch. The cornstarch gives the chicken a light, crispy coating as it cooks. The easiest way to coat the chicken is to place the chicken and cornstarch in a large, resealable plastic bag. Seal the bag and shake, shake, shake to coat all the pieces. Then, dust off any excess cornstarch and spray the chicken lightly with olive oil spray.
Preheat your air fryer (don’t skip this step!). Then, spray or brush the basket in your air fryer with olive oil and arrange the chicken in a single layer. Don’t overcrowd the basket otherwise the chicken won’t crisp up. Depending on the size of your air fryer, you may need to cook the chicken in a couple of batches.
Cook the chicken for 8-10 minutes until cooked through. Shake the basket halfway through cooking. This moves the chicken around and helps the pieces brown evenly on all sides.
How to Make the Sauce
While the chicken is in the air fryer, make your sauce. It’s super easy and comes together in minutes! Simply sauté ginger, garlic, and red pepper flakes in a little oil in a saucepan. Then stir in the rest of the sauce ingredients:
- Reduced sodium soy sauce
- Hoisin sauce
- Rice wine vinegar
- Reduced sodium chicken stock
- Light brown sugar
- Sesame oil
Simmer the sauce for a few minutes to let the flavors meld and then stir in a cornstarch slurry to thicken it. To make the slurry, mix 1 tablespoon cornstarch with 1 tablespoon cold water together in a small bowl. Then stir it into the sauce. If you’re wondering why you don’t add the cornstarch directly to the sauce, it’s because it will clump up if you add it to hot liquid. That’s why you typically add cornstarch to cold liquid and then stir it into sauces to thicken them.
The cornstarch will thicken the sauce almost immediately. The end product is a deliciously thick, glossy sauce with just the right balance of saltiness, heat, sweetness, and tang!
Assembling the Dish
Once the chicken pieces are cooked, they’re ready to be bathed in the glorious sauce! Toss the chicken into the saucepan with the sauce and stir to combine. For a final garnish, sprinkle on some sliced scallions and sesame seeds. You are now ready to devour this dish. Quick, easy, delicious, and healthier than take out!
Tips for Using the Air Fryer
- Preheat the air fryer before putting your food in.
- Use olive oil rather than nonstick cooking spray to coat the air fryer basket. This will help prevent damage to the coating in the basket.
- Arrange the chicken in a single layer. Don’t overcrowd the basket.
- Shake the basket halfway through cooking time.
What to Serve with Air Fryer General Tso’s Chicken
- Quinoa Fried Rice
- Cold Sesame Noodles
- Sesame Roasted Broccoli
- The Perfect Oven-Roasted Vegetables
- Miso Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Check out These Other Asian Inspired Recipes
- Chicken Teriyaki
- Crispy Baked Sweet and Sour Cauliflower
- Slow Cooker Asian Pulled Chicken Nachos
- Seared Tuna with Soba Noodles
- Crispy Tofu Banh Mi
Air Fryer General Tso’s Chicken
- 1 ½ pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs (about 8 thighs)
- 2 teaspoons reduced sodium soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons vegetable oil or other neutral-flavored oil
- 1 teaspoon ginger
- 1 teaspoon garlic
- 1/8-1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 3 tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon Hoisin sauce
- 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
- ¾ cup reduced sodium chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch + 1 tablespoon water
- 2 scallions, sliced
- Sesame seeds for garnish
- Preheat air fryer to 400°F.
- Mix the chicken with 2 teaspoons soy sauce and let it sit for a few minutes to marinate. Then, toss the chicken and cornstarch together in a large zip topped plastic bag until the chicken pieces are fully coated.
- Spray or brush the air fryer rack with olive oil and arrange the chicken pieces on the rack in a single layer. Do not overcrowd the pan (you may have to cook the chicken in batches). Cook 8-10 minutes until chicken is cooked through. Shake the basket halfway through. Remove the chicken and place on a plate. Cook the remaining chicken.
- To make the sauce, heat the vegetable oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the ginger, garlic and red pepper flakes. Cook 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the soy sauce, Hoisin sauce, chicken stock, vinegar, brown sugar, and sesame oil and simmer 2-3 minutes. Mix the cornstarch with 1 tablespoon water and add it to the saucepan. Simmer another minute or two until thickened. Remove from heat.
- Remove chicken from the air fryer and toss with the sauce. Garnish with scallions and sesame seeds. Serve with brown rice.