Cashew chicken dishes have long been a classic of American Chinese cuisine. But Andrew Chiou and Tim Ma, the co-owners of Lucky Danger in Washington, D.C., have noticed it fading from menus in the area. According to Mr. Chiou, the dish is all about textural contrast: the crisp, battered chicken that’s been tossed in a thin, sweet-and-savory sauce; crisp-tender vegetables like celery, as well as softer straw mushrooms; and, of course, the satisfying crunch of cashews. Their version is similar to the famous, deep-fried cashew chicken dish popularized by the chef David Leong in Springfield, Mo., in the 1960s. Enjoy it alongside other dishes as part of a multicourse meal, or just with steamed rice.
- Serves: 2 persons
- ½pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
- ⅓cup cornstarch
- 2tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine
- ½cup cornstarch
- ⅓cup all-purpose flour
- ¼teaspoon baking powder
- ⅛teaspoon baking soda
- 2cups canola or peanut oil
- ½yellow onion, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 1/2 cup)
- 1small carrot, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
- 1celery stalk, cut into 1-inch dice
- 4ounces (drained) canned whole water chestnuts or peeled jicama, cut into ½-inch dice
- 2ounces (drained) canned whole straw mushrooms
- 1tablespoon minced rehydrated garlic (or 4 fresh garlic cloves, minced)
- ½cup granulated sugar
- ¼cup soy sauce
- 1tablespoon oyster sauce
- 1cup whole roasted cashews
- 1tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons water
- 1teaspoon sesame oil
- 1pinch MSG (optional), such as Aji-No-Moto brand seasoning
- Steamed rice (optional), for serving
Step 1In a medium bowl, combine the chicken, batter ingredients and 2 tablespoons water. Mix them by hand until the dry ingredients are evenly distributed.
Step 2In a separate medium bowl, sift together the breading ingredients.
Step 3Working with one piece of chicken at a time, drop each battered piece into the breading and lightly toss it to coat. (Do not press the breading onto the chicken.) Shake the excess breading off, then place the breaded chicken onto a wire rack-lined baking sheet, leaving space between each piece.
Step 4Heat the oil in a large wok or skillet to 325 degrees. Gently drop the chicken into the oil one piece at a time, spacing them out evenly. Let them fry, undisturbed, for 7 to 8 minutes, until the pieces are deeply golden brown, then remove them with a spider or slotted spoon and transfer to a paper towel-lined tray to drain.
Step 5Turn off the heat and carefully pour out oil into a heatproof container or pot to discard once it cools. Carefully scrape out any specks from the wok or pan with a paper towel held by tongs. Do not rinse the wok.
Step 6Heat the wok over medium-high. Add the onion, carrot, celery, water chestnuts, mushrooms and garlic. Stir-fry until the garlic and celery become aromatic, about 2 minutes.
Step 7Push the vegetables to one side of the wok. Add the sugar to the center of the wok and don’t stir it for several seconds, to encourage it to caramelize a little. Then add the soy sauce and oyster sauce, and stir until the sugar has dissolved into the liquids. Toss the vegetables into the sauce. Let the sauce come up to a full boil and stir occasionally for 2 minutes, allowing it to slightly reduce and thicken.
Step 8Stir in the fried chicken and cashews. Give the cornstarch-slurry a stir and add it to the sauce, stirring as it thickens. Remove from heat.
Step 9Stir in the sesame oil and MSG (if using), and transfer to a serving platter. Serve with rice, if desired.