Stir-Fry Chicken with Cashew Nuts and Chillies

Monday, May 06, 2013

If you pick up a typical Chinese cookbook, you will find that the ingredients in many of their stir-fry recipes are very similar. As you glance down the list, you will find the usual suspects: soy sauce, sesame oil, shao tsing wine, oyster sauce and so on. 1 tsp of this, 2 tsp of that.

The is not a criticism of stir-fry recipes. It is good to know that the same few sauces can be used over and over again, with slight variations to create so many different type of dishes, with focus on the main ingredients. For this reason, I always think a good Chinese home kitchen should have bottles of good quality sauces. I have done a post highlighting some good sauces.

An understated sauce is black vinegar. This should surprise us given how popular balsamic vinegar is to Italian/Western dishes.

In "Southern" or Cantonese cooking, black vinegar is the main sauce for confinement dishes like "Chu Keok Chou" (Pork Leg Vinegar). But dashes of some good quality black vinegar can make a significant difference to many types of stir-fry dishes. A brand of Zhenjiang Vinegar which I like can be seen in the photo on the right. It costs about $12 and is great as a dipping sauce. I won't mind paying more for a bottle which can last over many meals.

I will blog here one recipe which is easy to do and suited for your daily dinners. You can label it as a "101" dish if you like.

Stir-Fry Chicken with Cashew Nuts and Chillies

500 gm of boneless Chicken thigh meat strips

Some sliced ginger
1 t of garlic.
Dried chillies (a bunch of about 20 pieces)
A bowl of cashew nuts (30-40 pieces)

1 t of black sauce
2 t of black vinegar
2 t of soy sauce
1 t of sesame oil
2 t of kecap manis (Bango sauce) or sugar
Some white pepper

Dashes of Chinese wine (Shao tsing)
Spring onions (cut into one inch strips)

  1. Mix the sauce in a bowl. The quantities here are just a guide.
  2. Marinate the Chicken in soy sauce, black sauce, sesame oil, white pepper and keycap manis for half an hour. 
  3. Soaked the dried chillies in warm water for about 15 minutes. Remove the seeds to reduce spiciness, if you wish.
  4. Heat up some oil in the wok. Gently stir and cook the cashew nuts till they are light brown, about 5 minutes. Set aside the nuts.
  5. Using the same oil, add the soaked dried chillies (drain the water). About a minute.
  6. Then add garlic and ginger. Stir for about a minute.
  7. Increase your fire (medium) and add the chicken along with the marinade/sauce. Stir and then cover the wok. After about every 3 minutes, stir to ensure that the chicken is not burnt.
  8. After about 15 minutes, the chicken should be cooked. Note that the time can vary for you depending on the fire, type of wok etc.  
  9. Add the roasted cashew nuts back in. Add some corn flour to thicken the sauce and dashes of wine.
  10. Add the spring onions and serve immediately.
dried round pepper chillies, after soaking
Cooking the cashew nuts
Notes & Tips
  • By mixing the sauces beforehand in a bowl, you can taste and adjust.The key is to balance the sour, sweet and salty. While you can add the sauce from the bottle directly into the wok, I find unless you are careful, it is hard to get a balanced taste. It is always better to "mise en place" to ensure a constant result. You can hardly go wrong if you balance the sauces beforehand and let your palate be the judge.
  • Marinating: You can skip this tip if you do not have the time. It is just an additional step to flavour the meat more and make it more succulent, especially if you plan on eating it immediately. If you are eating it an hour or two after cooking, you can definitely skip this step as the meat will continue to "marinate" even after cooking. 
  • Dried Chillies: There are many types of dried chillies. Soaking, apart from reducing the spiciness will produce a softer texture for more pleasant eating. In the picture above, I used dried round peppers.
  • Meat: Boneless chicken is easier to cook and fast. If you like to have it with bones, especially the wing parts, by all means. Just cut them into small pieces. You can replace chicken with pork.
  • Wine: I find some cooks get stressed by what type of wine to used. Really, wine is seldom a deal breaker and unless it plays a major part in your dish, most will not even notice if it is missing. But if you have some, just use it, whether it is shao tsing, rice wine or even hard liquor like brandy/vsop. Just remember not to overdo it. Whatever that is convenient i.e. you don't need to make a trip to the mart just to get it. 
Remember not to overfry this dish or overdo the sauces.

This can be a "stand-alone' dish if you add in lots of spring onions. Or some green peppers (capsicum). It is yummy as is with rice.

Relax - you can hardly go wrong with stir fry dishes. Especially this kind of recipe and it's variations. Some call this Kung Pao or Szechuan etc. I will say "who cares." Unless you are selling it and thus need a name to for identification, if it is just your home table, just do whatever you like and enjoy.

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  1. This really looks delicious - I want to try it sometime! Just a quick question... how much cashew nuts do you recommend adding? Looks to be a cup in the picture? Thanks in advance!

  2. Use a 3:1 ratio i.e. 300gm chicken: 100 gm cashew nuts. Actually, it is up to you re how much nuts you want in your dish

  3. Wow! Another mouth-watering stir fry chicken recipe. Can't get enough of these dishes. I'm gonna cook this when I get home for my family.

  4. Where can i buy the bottle of Zhenjiang Black Vinegar shown on photo?
    Thk you for posting these very doable recipes:) Ruth

  5. I bought the Zhejiang Black Vinegar from one of those Chinese supermarkets. This I got from one at Jurong Point in the Marketplace area. It is a large shop.

  6. Can you describe or give some alternate names for "Black Sauce"? I am in N. America and not sure what it would correspond to.

    I really appreciate your postings, I am learning much, thank you!

  7. Alternative names for Black Sauce:
    Thick soy sauce
    Dark soy Sauce
    Most Asian stores will sell it

  8. does soy sauce refer to light soy sauce?

  9. and is it possible to use a good balsamic vinegar to replace the black vinegar? or will it change the taste of the dish quite drastically?

  10. hi Eva - Balsamc Vinegar will work too

  11. Hi, May i know is this the sweet thick black sauce or the dark thicker soy sauce (salty) ? Thanks!

  12. Hi, for the BLOCK saute, is it the sweet thick black sauce or the salty dark soy sauce?
    Tried your ginger floss fried chicken, it was delicious. Will try this next :)

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  14. Hi Terry,

    I've been hunting high and low for the premium aged zhenjiang vinegar, but can't find it at the jurong point area too. Have you had any luck with any stores elsewhere? Cheers!