I was recently asked what dish from childhood I remember the most. Cashew chicken (my mom made hers with almonds) was the first to come to mind. Not because it was my favorite, but because it was on the dinner table at least once a week. Quick and tasty I can’t really blame her for making it so often, but by the time I left home, I never wanted to see it again.
Somehow, I managed to avoid it for twenty years (when did I get so old?), but a reader recently requested it, and in a moment of nostalgia, I decided to give it a go. Honestly, I feel a little dumb for having avoided it for so long. It’s quick, delicious, and loaded with protein, fiber and vitamins.
Creamy, crunchy and sweet, the cashews partner beautifully with the savory chicken, both in flavor and texture. Together with a medley of crisp vegetables and a savory sauce that’s redolent of nutty toasted sesame oil and ginger, Cashew Chicken is about as easy as dinner gets.
As with any stir-fry you want to cook this over very high heat. This encourages Maillard browning, while keeping the meat moist and the vegetables crisp. Because the high heat makes everything cook faster, a few seconds can mean the difference between tasty caramelization and a bitter burnt taste. That’s why it’s imperative that you have everything prepped and ready to go into the pan before you start.
While I love the mix of crisp celery, sweet onion, vibrant peppers, and crunchy baby corn, you can use a mix of just about any vegetables you like. Just be sure to cut them so they take about the same amount of time to cook through (e.g. carrots take longer to cook so cut them thin). If you want to make this vegan, just swap the chicken out for your favorite protein (firm tofu and konnyaku both work great), and replace the oyster sauce with kecap manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce)
- Marinate the chicken with the soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, potato starch and white pepper. Let this rest and prepare all of the other ingredients.
- Make the sauce, by mixing the chicken stock, oyster sauce, potato starch and sesame oil together in a small bowl.
- Heat a large skillet or wok over medium high heat until until very hot. Add the oil and then immediately add the cashews. Stir-fry until the cashews are a deep golden brown and then transfer them to a bowl, leaving as much oil in the pan as you can.
- Add garlic and ginger and give them a swirl in the oil, and then add the marinated chicken in a single layer. Let this fry undisturbed until the chicken is browned on one side.
- Start stir-frying the chicken until cooked on all side (it doesn't need to be cooked all the way through at this point).
- Add the vegetables and continue stir-frying until they're cooked through.
- Give the sauce a mix to incorporate the settled potato starch and then pour it over the cashew chicken. It's done when the sauce comes to a boil and thickens. Plate and garnish with the scallions.