This is a simple to prepare weeknight stir-fry with chicken, cashew nuts, and veggies in a sweet soy based sauce. You can have on the table in 15-20 minutes. It’s tasty, versatile, healthy, and makes a great packed lunch too. It also happens to have an interesting backstory, which you can read about below.
What is cashew chicken?
Although cashew chicken can be made in a ton of different ways, at its core its a stir-fry with cashew nuts and chicken as its primary ingredients. As it happens cashew nuts and chicken make such a sensational combination that cashew chicken has become a well known and much loved dish.
How cashew chicken came to dominate in America
Cashew chicken is one of a long line of Chinese dishes that migrated to America, adapted to local tastes and developed distinctly American personalities – in other words American-Chinese cuisine. Foods like chop suey, General Tso’s chicken, beef and broccoli, crab rangoon, and Mongolian beef are all part of the American-Chinese culinary repertoire.
Chop suey is widely believed to have been invented in the U.S. by Chinese Americans, but anthropologist E. N. Anderson, a scholar of Chinese food, traces the dish to tsap seui (杂碎, “miscellaneous leftovers”), common in Taishan, a county in Guangdong province, the home of many early Chinese immigrants to the United States. Wikipedia on Chop suey
Cashew chicken in particular has a distinctive history that can be traced back to Springfield, Missouri. In the 1960s a Chinese immigrant and chef named David Leong was looking for ways to adapt his recipes to the American palate. Since Leong found himself in the American South, frying the chicken was an easy fix and so Springfield-style cashew chicken was born.
Kelly Knauer, a native, was eating an order of the same at Fire and Ice, a swank open-kitchen restaurant that once featured a pizza with fried chicken, cashews and mozzarella. “Cashew chicken is a kind of inside joke in Springfield,” he said. “But it’s also our daily bread, our defining food. And it starts with David Leong.” Missouri Chinese: Two Cultures Claim This Chicken The New York Times
What makes this cashew chicken easy and healthy?
Its easy because it only takes 15 minutes together and doesn’t require any sort of technical cooking prowess besides knowing how to fry and stir. This particular version is also healthy because it isn’t deep fried, isn’t covered in a heavy sauce, and has a lot of nice veggies in it that can be swapped out for virtually anything you have in the fridge – the only fixed components are the chicken and the cashews – and even then who says you can’t make cashew tofu?
So what goes into cashew chicken?
The really beautiful thing about cashew chicken is that its super versatile. With just a few tweaks it can suit any palate or dietary preference.
I’ve tried some different stuff myself. Cashew chicken on a stick, fried in cashew flour, with an oyster dipping sauce. Cashew chicken is just like a hamburger. Everybody fixes it different.” Wing Yee Leong son of David Leong in Missouri Chinese: Two Cultures Claim This Chicken The New York Times
Obviously the most common protein in cashew chicken is cashews and chicken. Of course you could definitely switch it up and use tofu, pork, beef or even seafood. Would it still be cashew chicken? Probably not but it would be delicious either way.
The sauce in cashew chicken is most commonly made from a combination of soy sauce, oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, garlic, ginger, and chilli. This recipe calls for hoisin sauce but oyster sauce is equally if not more common. It all depends what you’re accustomed to using (and what you have on hand).
Many recipes also call for some kind of acid like rice wine vinegar or Chinese cooking wine. Some even include sweet chilli sauce. It’s quite flexible.
The key to the sauce is adding a flour or starch to thicken it up. This recipe adds it at the end, sprinkled over everything. This has to be done very evenly or it can clump. If you are concerned about it clumping then you can whisk it with the soy sauce before using the soy sauce to marinate the chicken.
There are a lot of different ways to make it, some more complex than others. Some recipes don’t add any veggies at all (besides the green onion) – it’s just chicken, cashews, and sauce. It’s common to see just green pepper but it’s also common to have a lot of different vegetables like my version. Vegetables that are often added to cashew chicken include green and red peppers, broccoli, edamame, and green beans. You could also try bok choy, cabbage, corn/baby corn, carrots, or snow peas. This is also quite flexible.
Can I make this without the meat?
Yes – you can omit the meat entirely or otherwise replace it with tofu, seitan, TVP, or any other meat alternative that can be stir-fried.
What can I use instead of hoisin sauce?
If you don’t have hoisin sauce then the next best thing is oyster sauce but if you don’t have that either then you’ll have to get creative. Usually a tablespoon of soy sauce and a teaspoon of brown sugar will do it but you could also add some sweet chilli sauce or sriracha for example.
Is this recipe gluten-free?
No this recipe isn’t gluten-free since it contains a teaspoon of wheat flour. It can be made gluten free by replacing the wheat flour with cornstarch or any other gluten-free flour/starch that can act as a thickener.
Is this recipe dairy free?
Yes, this recipe is completely dairy-free.
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Easy & Healthy Cashew Chicken
This is a simple to prepare weeknight cashew chicken that you can have on the table in 15-20 minutes. It’s tasty, versatile, full of veggies, and makes a great packed lunch too.
- Prep Time: 5
- Cook Time: 10
- Total Time: 15 minutes
- Yield: 4 1x
- Category: Weeknight Meal
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: Asian-American
- 4 boneless skinless chicken thighs (around 250 grams / 9oz), cut into bite-sized pieces
- 2 boneless skinless chicken breast filets (around 250 grams / 9oz), cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1 cup cashew nuts
- 250 grams brussels sprouts,
- 1 red pepper and 1 yellow pepper
- 2 red chillies, thinly sliced
- 3 cloves garlic, mashed or minced
- 2cm piece of ginger, mashed or minced
- 4 stalks green onion, thinly sliced
- 1 tsp wheat flour
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp hoisin sauce
- Oil for frying
- Whisk together the hoisin sauce, soy sauce and cornstarch.
- Mash or mince the garlic and ginger.
- Put the chicken in a bowl and rub it all over with the garlic and ginger and then pour in the soy sauce mix and let sit while you prepare your other ingredients.
- Slice the peppers, green onion, and Brussels sprouts while the chicken marinates.
- Heat oil in a skillet or wok on high and then add the chicken and cook for 3 minutes.
- Add the cashews and cook for 1 minute.
- Add the Brussels and cook for 3 minutes.
- Add the peppers and cook for 3 minutes.
- Top with sliced green onions and serve over jasmine or pandan rice.
Keywords: cashew chicken, asian chicken, chicken, easy chicken, chicken dinner, chicken stir fry, stir fry