Monday, July 25, 2011

Sichuan-style Cashew Chicken

I love spicy Chinese food. Chilies and typical Asian flavors mingle so well, and this dish really exemplifies that. Plus it involves cashews as an added bonus! It kind of resembles what is often called "Kung Pao Chicken" in American Chinese places, but I've tried to use ingredients more representative of authentic Sichuan cuisine. Of course, I am missing the famous Sichuan peppercorns (which are not readily available in the US), but I did my best!

In this recipe, peanuts can easily be interchanged with cashews. In either case, the best results will be found by starting with fresh, raw nuts (not pre-roasted). Of all the ingredients that I employ, the two that are most important in generating the distinctive flavors of Kung Pao are the black vinegar and the Shaoxing wine. Black vinegar is a rice vinegar that is popular in many parts of China - it is made from fermented black glutinous rice. It has a sweet and smoky flavor, but if you can't find it, balsamic vinegar is a reasonable approximation (in my estimation). Shaoxing wine is a rice wine that is used widely in Chinese cooking, especially in many of the famous dishes termed "drunken."

The recipe follows:

- 3 tbsp corn starch
- 3 tsp dark soy sauce
- 5 tsp light soy sauce
- 1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
- 3 tsp oil (canola/vegetable)
- 4.5 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 3 tsp white sugar
- 1 tsp black vinegar
- 6 tbsp warm water
- 1tbsp corn starch
For cooking
- 2 fresh chilies (red, Thai, Jalapeno - whatever you like!), diced or sliced
- 12 dried whole red chilies (can find at Indian or Asian store - if not, substitute with 3 tbsp red chili flakes)
- l lb. chicken breast (boneless/skinless), cubed
- 4 tsp garlic, minced
- 4 tsp ginger, minced
- 5 tbsp raw cashews (again, can be found in Indian or Asian stores)

Starting by mixing up the marinade and tossing it with your chicken. Marination only requires about 30 minutes here, so it's okay to do it at room temperature. If you want to do a longer marination in the fridge, that's fine, but make sure to allow the meat to come to room temperature before cooking. There should be enough marinade to really coat the chicken:

Now, mix together the sauce. The corn starch in the sauce and marinade will help to create a thick and sticky sauce for the final dish (and it will give the chicken a beautiful sheen). Once the sauce is ready, you are ready to start cooking.

Begin by heating 3 or 4 tbsp of canola/vegetable oil in a wok over medium low heat. Usually when wok cooking, I cook over high, but for the raw cashews, a lower heat is needed to brown the cashews and cook them through without burning the outside. Raw cashews are almost white, as you can see below:

While the cashews are cooking, make sure to keep moving them around the oil with your cooking tool. This will not only coat them, but will prevent them from burning (it is very easy to burn nuts if you leave them stationary). As the cashews cook, they will turn a wonderful brown, and you'll know that they are ready:

Once the cashews are browned, turn the heat up to medium high and add the garlic/ginger and fresh and dried chilies. Crushed the dried chilies with your hands as you add them to the oil (a very rough crush) [make sure to wash hands immediately after hand-crushing chilies!]. Allow these to become fragrant for about a minute and a half.

Once the chilies are fragrant, they will have infused a good deal of flavor into the oil, so we can add the chicken. Drain the marinade before adding the chicken. While cooking the marinade would be okay in general, adding extra liquid with the chicken will prevent the chicken from browning and you won't get the good texture of wok-fried chicken (it will boil essentially). Move everything around the wok so that the chicken is in direct contact with oil, and brown the chicken. 

Once the chicken is browned, season the dish with some salt and fresh black pepper to taste. Keep in mind that the dish will have quite an amount of salt from the soy sauce components, so you might want to be a bit light with the table salt. Still, a little bit of salt is needed to bring out all the flavors here. 

The last step is to add the sauce. Once you do, toss everything to coat, and cook for about 2 minutes to heat the sauce up and reduce it a tiny bit. The result will be shiny and beautiful:

This chicken is best enjoyed with some rice (white or fried) to soak up the flavorful sauce!



Post a Comment