Tales of the Dinner Belle: Cashew Chicken worth traveling the country to find
It is surprising when traveling around the country how different a dish can be from one coast to the other or even from one city to another.
Pizza in New York is completely different than pizza in Chicago or San Diego. Iced tea in Georgia is nothing like iced tea west of the Mississippi.
When I was working in Washington D.C., I fell in love with cashew chicken. I found a wonderful Chinese restaurant, and I loved this dish so much, I had it at least once a week. The chicken is tender and smothered in a rich and tangy hoisin sauce. Combined with the crunch of cashews and topped with green onions, it was something I found myself craving after I returned to the West.
That is when I found that this dish is completely different from one part of the country to the next. When I ordered cashew chicken out west, I got cashews and chicken, but that was about all that was similar. It was nothing like what I was used to and loved.
I kept trying different places and yet, nothing compared, so I spent numerous hours trying to concoct what I remembered in my own kitchen. By trial and error I worked at it and now I can say, “This is cashew chicken.”
The secret is in the sauce. It combines hoisin, which you can find in just about any grocery story, and rice vinegar simmered together with the chicken into a thick and decadent “stare-off-into-space” taste sensation.
The green onions and cashews add a crunchy compliment to the tender chunks of smothered chicken.
Serve over Jasmine rice and you have an incredible Asian meal that you won’t believe you made yourself!
Belle’s Cashew Chicken
1 pound chicken, cut in 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons corn starch
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons minced garlic
8 green onions, coarsely chopped. Separate white part from green.
3 tablespoons rice vinegar
¼ cup hoisin sauce
½ cup cashews, lightly chopped (raw or salted depending on your taste)
¼ cup water
3 cups cooked Jasmine rice
Put the cubed chicken and cornstarch in a large plastic bag. Seal and shake until all the chicken is coated.
Heat the oil to medium high in a large fry pan and cook chicken until no pink remains and the outside is golden. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Remove from pan and set aside.
In remaining oil, cook garlic and the white part of the onions until tender. Return chicken to pan and mix together. Add the rice vinegar and cook until it evaporates (about 3 minutes).
Mix in a separate bowl the hoisin sauce with ¼ cup of water. Add to pan, along with the remaining green onions and cashews. Stir to coat all ingredients. Let simmer about 5 minutes.
Serve over Jasmine rice.
Brenda Stanley is the mother of five children, including two sets of twins and a grandmother of two. She is a cookbook author and novelist. Her website is at www.talesofthedinnerbelle.com.