Okay, so a couple of weeks ago I tried Warr-Shu-Gai. Not my Mandarin Sauce.
This week I tried a combination of all the recipes. I used way too much cornstarch (8Tbs) but I finally got the consistency right. Alas, it still tasted too much like chicken and didn’t have that missing ingredient to make it pop. I ended up kind of flat and a big disappointment. In the next few weeks I will head on back to the Chinese food restauraant and see if I can’t charm some info out of the waitress. Couldn’t hurt. At the very least, tasting it again may help me discover what I am missing. I have a feeling I am getting a lot of the elements right. But is is seriously missing something important. Oh, well, another week, another attempt. We shall see what the next attempt brings.
When you think of food in New Orleans or South Louisiana, most people think of things like the seafood, beignets, King Cake, Zatarain’s, Tony Chachere’s, gumbo or snoballs. I once saw someone on television make a modified beignet with granulated sugar and felt my hackles rise. They are made with powdered sugar. It’s not a true New Orleans beignet unless you need skill to eat it without being covered in white powder. That is how you know the natives from the tourists. But alas, some things you have to live here to know.
But the one thing people from Louisiana love and don’t even know is uniquely ours is our Chinese food, specifically, Mandarin Chicken. If you aren’t from here, you don’t know what I’m talking about. If you are from here, you are screaming, “Yes!” You see, if you do a search online for Mandarin Chicken you will find a chicken dish made with oranges. That is not what we have here. Mandarin Chicken in New Orleans is made with a creamy brown sauce, different in every restaurant, but almost always delicious. Sometimes it is garnished with almonds or peanuts. Sometimes it is a little thicker or thinner, red tint or darker brown. But wherever you go, and whichever place serves your favorite, it is a staple in every local Chinese restaurant.
I was introduced to this fantastic dish in college. It was my first time eating Chinese food, so I was nervous and someone recommended I try Mandarin Chicken. I am a picky eater, but I loved it right away. I remember going to the grocery store and looking for the sauce, with no success. I looked it up online and couldn’t find it. Years passed and I forgot my search. Then this year I began teaching myself to cook and thought to look it up again. Surely, there must be some information somewhere online on how to make this sauce. What I found was a lot of former Louisiana residents, now living in far away states, all looking for the same thing. Turns out if you go to a Chinese restaurant anywhere else in the world and ask for this dish, they look at you like you are crazy. I found a recipe on yahoo answers that seemed close, but came out more like the thinner gravy used on vegetable dishes and Beef and Broccoli. I tried modifying it with no luck. Then I found the answer I had long been searching for. The reason no one could find this dish is because it goes by other names. We aren’t crazy. It does exist.
Another incarnation is an American Cantonese inspired dish in Michigan called Warr-Shu-Gai, or Almond Boneless Chicken. From what I have found, people in that area are met with the same problem when they venture out, unable to find this dish elsewhere. I found an interesting article, “The Mystery of Almond Boneless Chicken” by Tina Caputo, on the history of this Detroit favorite. (See link at bottom of page.)
In searching through other Chinese food sites I found a couple other chicken dishes that appear to be similar in structure to the ones above. General Tso’s Chicken and Cashew Chicken look like they could be prepared or modified to taste similar or achieve similar effects. Like Warr-Shu-Gai, General Tso’s chicken is based on a sauce made of soy, ginger, and chicken broth, among other things. It also has sugar, which I found in a Panda Express Mandarin Sauce copycat recipe. I saw an article on Cashew Chicken that says it was fried in at least one incarnation. The use of the cashews, similar to the use of peanuts or almonds in other Mandarin Chicken dishes leads me to believe these two could be related in some forms. Of course not ever restaurant is the same, so if you order cashew chicken thinking to get Mandarin Chicken, you could be very disappointed.
What has been your experience with this dish?
Do you know of any other names it goes by?
Which of the recipes below do you think most capturs the taste of New Orleans Mandarin Chicken sauce?
Do you know of any other recipes/modifications that work?
I still have to try all these sauces to decide which one I like best, but that is a matter of personal preference, so in the mean time, I put this out there for the world so all of you may learn and experiment with your own Chinese food at home. Have fun.
Warr-Shu-Gai/Almond Boneless Chicken
- 4 tablespoons cornstarch
- 3 tablespoons water
- 3 cups chicken broth
- 1 1/2 cups Chopped mushrooms (optional)
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 3 teaspoons chicken bouillon granules
Panda Express Copycat Recipe
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 2 teaspoons minced ginger
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
General Tso’s Chicken Sauce Recipe
- 1/2 cup cornstarch
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh garlic, minced
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup white vinegar
- 1/4 cup sherry wine or 1/4 cup white wine
- 14 1/2 ounces chicken broth (a can)
Cashew Chicken Sauce Recipe
- 2 cups water
- 4 chicken bouillon cubes
- 1 -2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- cornstarch, for thickening
- green onion
Beef and Broccoli/Vegetable Brown Gravy Recipe
(I found this recipe first, thinking it was the elusive Mandarin Chicken Sauce and finding a perfectly good sauce for my other Chinese food vegetable dishes.)
2 tbsp. cornstarch
1 1/4 c. water
1/3 c. soy sauce
1/4 c. Karo syrup (light or dark)
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