Antler and Fin Podcast: General Tso’s Redhead Duck and the History of Chinese Food in America 

Shawn West – I was fortunate enough to cross a “bucket-list” hunt off my list this past November when I went on a layout-boat duck hunt near Long Point on Lake Erie. Big water diving ducks were birds that I had not had a chance to hunt in the thirty years that I’d been waterfowling, and I snapped at the chance when a friend proposed and organized the opportunity.

Being run out to the layout boats at the crack of dawn, I was literally vibrating with nervous energy. Our guide gestured to huge rafts of redheads in the outer bay as we settled into the UFO boats, and despite warning us that a potentially slow, calm, bluebird day was in the cards, I only heard “huge rafts of redheads”. I had always wanted to take a stud drake redhead, and that day looked like the chance to do so. The first group decoyed perfectly just after dawn broke, and we scratched down a drake apiece, and throughout the day we whittled our way through a two-person limit, finishing the hunt as the sun slipped below the horizon behind us and a near-full moon rose in front of us. As we took some photos and packed up back at the wharf, I was already thinking of how to prepare the birds we had on hand.

Since I had a handful of redheads, I decided to make one of my favourite “red” dishes; a wild game take on General Tso’s chicken. Diver ducks can be dogged by a reputation as tasting “fishy” or “muddy” but I experienced none of that. Instead, I found myself devouring crispy, tender duck bites in a sticky sauce that perfectly balances sweet, salty, and spicy. This dish was immediately addictive, with the duck adding a pleasantly rich, and might I say, more aggressive flavour than just bland old chicken.

Serve this with sesame seeds, over rice and stir-fried broccoli, and try not to eat it all by yourself.


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About General Tso’s Chicken:

General Tso’s chicken is an interesting dish. It’s named after the Chinese war leader Tso Zong-tang, who grew up in Hunan province. 

Strangely, old general Tso never actually tasted this dish, nor can it even be found in Hunan or even China at all! 

Although several claim to have created the dish, many point to Peng Chang Kuei, a Taiwanese based immigrant who moved to New York in the 70’s, as the originator. 

He created the dish at his restaurant and altered it by adding a fair amount of sugar to make it more palatable to white Americans. He named it after the folk hero general tso because he too was originally from the Hunan province. 

The dish was a success and quickly became famous, spreading through restaurants all over the States, and eventually the world. 

Peng later opened a restaurant in Hunan province in the 1990s, trying to sell his famous dish there, but the restaurant quickly failed. The reason? Locals thought the dish was way too sweet. 

About Adam Berkelmans:

Adam Berkelmans, also known as The Intrepid Eater, is a passionate ambassador for real food and a proponent of nose-to-tail eating. He spends his time between Ottawa and a cozy lake house north of Kingston, Ontario. When not cooking, he can be found hunting, fishing, foraging, gardening, reading, traveling, and discovering new ways to find and eat food.

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