The day of the generals
A famous Chinese chef who celebrated Gen. Tso dies in Taipei at 98
The day of the generals has dawned bright and clear upon us, at least in Washington. Donald Trump, who was educated early at a junior military academy, obviously appreciates officers with lots of gold braid on their chests and sleeves. He has put several generals in his Cabinet and in his inner circle, including even an attorney general.
He might then tip his cap (without the scrambled eggs on the bill) to the chef who invented General Tso’s chicken, if not the general himself. Peng Chang-kuei, who fled mainland China with the Kuomintang when the Communists took over in 1949 to cook for Chiang Kai-shek, died last week in Taipei at age 98.
Mr. Peng introduced the sweet, sticky, spicy dish to New York four decades ago at his restaurant near the United Nations on Manhattan’s East Side, and it quickly became a favorite of the likes of Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger and other diplomats and high government officials. He had first made it as a welcome dish for the commander of the U.S. 7th Fleet after the dash to Taiwan, and named it for an actual 19th-century warlord from Mr. Peng’s native Hunan Province.
So there really was a flesh-and-blood Gen. Tso, though he never supped on the dish named for him and if he had he probably wouldn’t have liked it. Chinese taste does not run to lots of sugar, but the American taste does, and Mr. Peng altered the dish to suit the customers in New York. He later operated several restaurants in Taiwan.
The ingredients are simple: chicken, soy sauce, rice wine, rice-wine vinegar, cornstarch, dried red chili peppers (whole), garlic, and of course, sugar. Lots of sugar.
There’s not unanimous agreement that Chef Peng invented the dish. Another chef in New York, one T.T. Wang, cooked a similar dish in 1972 and called it “General Ching’s chicken.” But it was apparently cooked in a different way, with more soy sauce, not so much sugar, and the chicken cooked in its skin. Gen. Tso’s Chicken is not for the faint of heart, or the faint of arteries. A typical serving, available now in hundreds of Chinese restaurants across the fruited plain, typically runs to 1,300 calories, 11 grams of saturated fat and 3,200 milligrams of sodium (salt). But nearly everyone agrees it’s a very tasty indulgence.
Gen. Tso’s Chicken is even served at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, where it is called “Admiral Tso’s Chicken.” There’s no evidence that Gen. Tso ever commanded so much as a plain-pine rowboat, but a warlord celebrated even in absentia could call himself, sweet or not, anything he wants.