Chinese Cashew Chicken

Ingredients - Preparation - Cooking - Nutritional

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In 1996, I worked a contract in Taiwan. Since the length of the contract was nine months, our entire family moved to Taiwan. It was bit of a culture shock, but we made it. I moved there first and the rest of the family followed as soon as the kids were out of school. I will never forget my first dinner. When I called home to tell Tammi all I could say was "These guys really know how to cook Chinese food."

One might think that I learned how to cook Chinese food while there. Not true... at least not so I could do it here. The problem was that the foods are different and I never knew their names, we would go to the street market and point, barter down the price (in Mandarin) and rarely get a name. If we did get a name it was in Mandarin, which with our poor pronunciation we could never find it here. So I spent a good deal of time looking for a cookbook that could get me past this and ended up with Classic Chinese Cuisine, by Nina Simonds. Unfortunately, I think it is out of print and you can only find used copies. The recipes are not heavily Americanized; the biggest difference being the amount of spices, I have had to up the chili paste, garlic and ginger to make them taste right.


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As with nearly all Chinese food the time is in preparing the ingredients and the actual cook time is only minutes. FRESH is the key to a good meal. Do not use pre-peeled garlic, old scallions or old or powdered ginger. I doubt though that you will find fresh water chestnuts, so you can used canned, but definitely follow the blanching process to get rid of the tinny flavor. I slice my own water chestnuts since I want them thinner than the pre-sliced ones that come in the can. I want them less than 1/16" thick.

The chili paste we had in Taiwan was exactly the brand sold by Huy Fong Foods. The bottle is pictured to the right and you can get it mail order, in many large chain stores and every Asian food store I have been in.

Our neighbor turned us on to Golden Mountain Seasoning Sauce, which is really soy sauce (see picture to the right). The flavor of this soy sauce is far superior to the mass store bought variety. So any place I say 'soy sauce' use this. Unfortunately you will need to go to an Asian market to get it. I have never seen it in a super market.

No, I do not get a cut of the sales, the links are just there to help you find it.

So with that out of the way...

1 1/2 pounds of boneless chicken breasts

Chicken Marinade:
4 Tbsp Sake
2 Tbsp Soy Sauce
1 Tbsp Sesame Oil
1 Tbsp Cornstarch

Chicken Sauce:
1/4 cup Sake
2 Tbsp Soy Sauce
1 Tbsp Sesame Oil
1/2 cup Chicken Broth
2 Tbsp Black Vinegar (can use Worcestershire sauce)
2 Tbsp Sugar

Other ingredients:
1 Tbsp Sesame Oil
3 Tbsp Scallions, sliced 3/16" thick
3 Tbsp finely minced Ginger
3 Tbsp finely minced Garlic
2 Tbsp Chili Paste
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced Water Chestnuts

1 Tbsp Cornstarch dissolved in 3 Tbsp of chicken broth

1 1/2 cups Cashews

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Start by preparing the chicken. Remove all skin and fat. Cut he chicken breast into approximate 2-inch strips, 1/4" square. I normally cut the chicken breast down to half its thickness and then cut is in half short ways and then cut the 1/4" strips lengthwise. Mix the marinade well in a non-reactive bowl so the cornstarch is dissolved and add the sliced chicken to it. Stir to coat the chicken. Cover this and set it aside. You will probably want to stir it a couple times while it's marinating. The chicken should marinade for at least 45 minutes.

While the chicken is marinating, prepare the rest of the ingredients. Mince the garlic and ginger. I do not always mince these, but for this recipe I strong recommend it since you will end up with small flavor packets that you can bite into while eating. It adds to the meal.

Blanch the water chestnuts. This is a simple process of bringing a pot of water to a rolling boil, dumping the water chestnuts into the boiling water for about 30 seconds, pour them out into a strainer and rinse with ice cold water. Slice them no thicker than a 1/16".

In a round bottom bowl, tea or coffee cup dissolve the cornstarch in the chicken broth and stir it thoroughly. It will probably settle before you use it, so you will need to stir it again immediately prior to use.

Place the cashews on a cookie sheet so they are not on top of one another. When the time comes to roast them it takes only five minutes and they need to be watched closely so they do not burn.

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Once the chicken is done marinating, lightly cook it in a wok. This will probably need to be done two or three shots since you want it to cook evenly so you only want one layer. Do not over cook the chicken, it will not take long to cook these thin strips. Hold this off to the side and wipe out the wok with a towel.

The following takes about ten minutes, so if you are trying to get other dishes ready this is a great place to hold this dish.

Reheat the wok with the 1 Tbsp sesame oil, when it is real hot add the scallions, ginger and garlic. This needs to cook until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Stir constantly. Add the chili paste and stir. Add the water chestnuts to the pan and cook to heat them thoroughly—about 30 seconds.

The cooking chili paste can be very irritating to your eyes and nose so do not leave it cooking too long prior to adding the chicken sauce. You simply want everything coated and enough time for it to stick to the other ingredients.

At the same time you start the following, put the cashews in the oven under the broiler. You want them to start to brown, but beware, once they start to brown they can burn real fast. You want to add them to the chicken at the very end while the cashews are hot. They will give you a nice crackle as they are added.

Add the chicken sauce and stir. Bringing it to a boil. Add the chicken and cook until it is hot (about 3 minutes, unless you have let it completely cool down).

When the chicken is hot, re-stir the cornstarch and add it, stirring it throughout the meal. Immediately turn the heat down to a low simmer (to not breakdown the cornstarch) and stir to thicken the mixture. As soon as it is thick, about 30-60 seconds, add the cashews, stir and place in a serving bowl and serve immediately.

This is real good with steamed broccoli, topped with butter, garlic and lemon juice. And, of course, rice.

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Nutritional Data

The site is a wealth of information on foods. They provide the ability to add a recipe into their system and create a host of data about that recipe. Below is a copy of those results for this recipe.

The Good
This food is a good source of Protein, Niacin and Manganese.

The Bad
None menitoned.
Although I think the sodium is a little high.

Click for larger image

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