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Why Buy? D-I-Y! Chinese Takeout Edition

General Tso's Scallops

Sunday nights are for Game of Thrones in our household. I don’t know about you, but I always want to order dinner on special TV nights. Whatever your show is, there’s something ritualistic about waiting for the doorbell to ring and then curling up on the couch with a fork and a pile of delicious, but kind of bad for you, food. A gigantic salad just doesn’t do it for me while I’m watching intrigue unfurl.

Bring on the heat!

To stay strong against the temptation of the stack of delivery menus this week, I searched through my recipe collection to find something new and tantalizing. Mission accomplished! I LOVE Chinese food, but have been avoiding it due to some migraine issues. I’m also a big fan of scallops – or fishy marshmallows, as Erik calls them. Chinese food + scallops + spicy + some greens (so you don’t feel too bad) = General Tso’s scallops! Delicious enough that I might have to make them again next Sunday. Unless our copy of A Feast of Ice and Fire: The Official Game of Thrones Companion Cookbook arrives by then.

There are two things that might scare you off from this recipe.

First – Shouldn’t we be avoiding seafood? Mercury and overfishing and all? The Environmental Defense Fund says that scallops are low in contaminants, so we can eat more than four meals a month without concern. It recommends bay scallops (the small ones) over sea scallops (the marshmallow-sized ones), because the usual harvesting method is less harmful to the environment. Sea scallops are still “ECO-OK”, though.

Chowing down on General Tso's Scallops

Second – You seriously want me to fry those things three times? Yes, I do. Here’s the problem. If you use a low temperature for long enough to cook them through, they’ll be really greasy. If you cook them only at the high temperature, they’ll burn before they finish cooking. This is a worthwhile compromise. I was skeptical too, but it was really much easier than I expected. Just make sure that you have a thermometer that goes up to 400 degrees and everything is ready to go before you start frying. The oil heats up pretty quickly, since it’s not very deep. (If you don’t have a wok, use your widest pot.) Since each cooking time is short, it’s really no more work than stirring a pot for 5 minutes. Things move pretty quickly once you start frying, which you can take advantage of if you’re well-prepared beforehand.

Frying the scallops for the first timeFrying at the hottest temperature

Okay, one more thing. Our recipe calls for kale flowers, which you might not be able to find. They’re just the flower buds from overwintered kale, but we hadn’t seen them before this season. They taste kind of like broccoli rabe, but less bitter. If you can’t find them, feel free to use broccoli (which the original recipe calls for anyway) or broccoli rabe. You could also just leave it out.

Mixing the fried scallops into the sauce

Beware! The original recipe from The New York Times calls for marinating the scallops for six to eight hours. We didn’t overlooked that and only did it for three. Still delicious.

General Tso’s Scallops

Serves 4

Amount Ingredient Preparation Where we bought it (SWM = Somerville Winter Market)
1 Egg   Red Fire Farm
2 1/2 TBsp Rice wine   1 1/2 TBsp for the marinade; 1 TBsp for the sauce.
2 TBsp + 1 tsp Soy sauce 1 tsp for the marinade; 2 TBsp for the sauce.  
1 tsp Sunflower oil   Stolor Organics
3/4 cup Cornstarch 1/4 cup for the marinade; 1/2 cup for dredging.  
1 pound Scallops   Jordan Brothers Seafood (SWM)
3 TBsp Chicken stock or vegetable broth   Homemade
2 TBsp Sugar Honey would probably work, too.  
1 tsp White vinegar    
2 tsp Arrowroot powder Substitute potato or cornstarch  
4 cups + 1 TBsp Peanut or safflower oil    
4 Dried chili peppers Broken up; use more or less depending on your heat tolerance. Home-dried
1 TBsp Garlic Chopped finely Keith’s Farm
1 tsp Ginger Grated  
3 Scallions (green onions) Chopped (white and light green parts only) Middle Earth Farms (Cambridge Winter Market)
2 tsp Balsamic vinegar    
1 tsp Sesame oil    
2 cups Kale flowers Steamed; substitute broccoli or broccoli rabe NorthStar Farm (SWM)
To taste Rice Prepared in your favorite way  


  1. Make the marinade by mixing the egg, 1 1/2 TBsp of rice wine, 1 tsp of soy sauce, 1 tsp sunflower oil, and 1/4 cup of cornstarch in a medium bowl. Add the scallops; toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 3 to 8 hours.
  2. When you are ready to cook, make the sauce by combining in a small bowl 1 TBsp of rice wine, 2 TBsp of soy sauce, the chicken stock, sugar, and white vinegar.
  3. In another small bowl, mix the arrowroot powder with 1 1/2 TBsp of warm water until it dissolves.
  4. Put the remaining 1/2 cup of cornstarch in a wide bowl (I used a small casserole dish). Remove the scallops from the marinade with a fork, giving each a little shake to remove the excess liquid. Toss the scallops in the cornstarch so all sides are coated.
  5. Add 4 cups of peanut/safflower oil to your wok or large pot. Set a colander or strainer over a large bowl. You will fry the scallops three times. Start heating the oil on high and check the temperature every few minutes. Once it comes up to the right temperature, carefully put the scallops into the oil and start the timer. After the time has elapsed, remove them with a spider or slotted spoon and allow them to drain in the colander while the oil heats up to the next temperature.

    Using the strainer and spider to carefully transfer the scallops into the oilThe draining set up (I used the bowl the scallops marinated in)

    • Stage 1: 280 degrees for 30 seconds (shake off the excess cornstarch before adding the scallops to the oil)

      After the first fry

    • Stage 2: 350 degrees for 20 seconds

      After the second fry

    • Stage 3: 375 degrees for 45 seconds

      After the third fry

  6. Once the scallops are fried three times, turn off the heat. Pour the oil into another pot so that it can cool. If you want, you can filter the oil through a coffee filter and reuse it. Wipe any remaining little bits out of the wok with a paper towel. 
  7. Get the sauce, dissolved arrowroot powder, dried peppers, garlic, ginger, scallions, balsamic vinegar, and sesame oil ready and near the wok. It’s go time! Be careful about breathing in the aromas coming off of the wok. The spiciness can irritate your nose and lungs, so just don’t hang your head over it.
  8. Put the wok back on high heat. Once it’s hot, add 1 TBsp of peanut/safflower oil. Swirl it around the wok and then pour out all but 1 tsp. 
  9. Add the chili peppers to the wok. Stir them around until they start to burn. 
  10. Add the garlic, ginger, and scallions. Stir for about 10 seconds. 
  11. Add the sauce, stirring until it boils (which might be immediately). 
  12. Give the dissolved arrowroot powder a stir and then pour it in. Stir until the sauce thickens (which might be immediately). Turn off the heat. 
  13. Add the scallops and steamed kale flowers to the wok and toss to coat. Add the balsamic vinegar and sesame oil and stir.

    General Tso's scallops and kale flowers  

  14. Serve with rice. Eat on couch. Stare at TV. 

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