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Chinatown Supper at Home: Cashew Chicken 腰果炒鸡丁

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Shelley

Thank you for your excellent post, once again helping to demystify chinese cooking, in fact cooking in general, with all your extra tips and hints i.e.: washing up as you go, sounds simple and is something I do when I can and makes things easier.

 

I would have to give this recipe a wide berth as i have a severe nut allergy. I cook at home all the time because of this, I can't risk eating out because of this.

 

I have learnt to adapt and adjust recipes to exclude nuts, some would say there is no point because cashew chicken without the cashews is something completely different, true, but it's the best I can do.

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abcdefg

Food allergies are an excellent reason to cook at home. Peanut oil is pretty popular in Chinese cooking, since it can get real hot without smoking or breaking down. I can see how "invisible ingredients" like this could pose a huge problem for you when dining out.

 

Two good friends here in Kunming occasionally come over to cook and eat together. It's a Chinese guy and his girlfriend. They both are real handy in the kitchen and know how to make dishes that I've never tried before. It's great when they arrive with armloads of exotic ingredients, many of them wild.

 

They take the lead, and I just wash vegetables, peel ginger, or chop things up as directed. But when we finish, the kitchen looks like a disaster. Takes half an hour or more to set it right afterwards. When cooking alone, I much prefer to wash up as I go along.

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abcdefg

I had some cashews left from the recipe given above, but today I had less time. So I used chicken breast to make something similar. Thought I would add it as a postscript and to show how easily the dish can be varied.

 

Bought two large fresh chicken breasts, never frozen, and removed the skin. They were so large that I wound up only using one and froze the other for later. Separated the "tender" since it was big enough to treat independently, as shown in the photos below.

 

post-20301-0-03430500-1447391726_thumb.jpg  post-20301-0-58464600-1447391735_thumb.jpg 

 

The "tender" is a portion of the chicken's large pectoral muscle and it has a tough, shiny tendon running its length. It takes only a moment to cut and pull it out, leaving the remaining meat easier to chew. Cut into small pieces and marinate about half an hour as described in the original post, above.

 

post-20301-0-21116400-1447391757_thumb.jpg  post-20301-0-64610700-1447391767_thumb.jpg  post-20301-0-15827200-1447391778_thumb.jpg

 

Stir fry the cashews briefly and reserve them off to the side. Then do the same with the browned chicken pieces.

 

post-20301-0-53998100-1447392349_thumb.jpg  post-20301-0-22618200-1447392423_thumb.jpg

 

This time I added green peas to the julienned red bell peppers and chopped onions.

 

post-20301-0-69140200-1447392179_thumb.jpg  post-20301-0-46619800-1447393298_thumb.jpg  post-20301-0-87075700-1447393315_thumb.jpg

 

When the vegetables were cooked, added back the browned chicken and the pre-made sauce. Stirred a couple minutes to blend. Last thing in was the cashews. Came out pretty good, if maybe a little bit bland. (I've lived in Yunnan a long time.)

 

post-20301-0-66154800-1447392623_thumb.jpg  post-20301-0-04231500-1447394130_thumb.jpg

 

Served my plate and the plastic left-over container at the same time. Another good one-dish Chinese meal with very little effort or time.

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StChris

Thanks for this. I've made the Thai Cashew Chicken dish before, but never the Chinese one.

 

Apart from a more generous helping of cashews, is there any other way in which your recipe differs from the way the dish is typically made in Chinese restaurants? Chinese take-away food is a bit of a mystery to me, especially those brightly coloured sauces (I was surprised to discover that good old regular tomato ketchup was the main ingredient of sweet and sour sauce when looking at a recipe for sweet and sour chicken balls).

 

Looking forward to the next one. I might chip in with some Dongbei dishes if I finally manage to perfect the recipes.

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abcdefg

Hello StChris,

 

Apart from a more generous helping of cashews, is there any other way in which your recipe differs from the way the dish is typically made in Chinese restaurants?

 

To be truthful, I cannot really say for sure. But when I'm cooking at home, I can use all fresh, high quality ingredients. I can also go light on the salt, sugar and oil. I can leave out MSG, or only use a tiny pinch of it when really needed. I can make it less spicy or I can turn up the heat.

 

There are many things I cannot cook at home because of space and equipment limitations. I don't have a hugely-hot, roaring fire for my wok and I cannot deep fry things without so much mess that I don't even want to try. Deep frying also involves storing the used oil, which is a hassle.

 

Moreover, there are lots of simple, inexpensive dishes that I get in my Kunming neighborhood that I cannot duplicate at home. For example, basic 米线 (Yunnan rice noodles) and 手拉面 (hand-pulled noodles) are things I always eat out. I will really miss those frequent casual treats when I return to the U.S.

 

I also buy 烤鸭 (roast duck) outside and just take it home, since it often requires a large clay oven and a wood fire. In the nearest wet market, where I usually shop, there are two or three stalls that sell it freshly roasted. One is Beijing style, and the others are Yliang 宜良 style (a leaner duck.) Absolutely delicious. A large duck costs 26 Yuan and a small one goes for 23. So inexpensive!

 

Once every week or two, I stop at one of those tiny shops where you sit on a low woven stool 草凳子 just in front of the door while a lady roasts pieces of stinky tofu 臭豆腐 over a small charcoal fire. I associate them with Yunnan, but in all fairness, I have also seen them in other provinces as well. You dip them in dry or wet chili before eating.

 

Also, of course, here I have no oven, and I miss it. Back in the U.S., I bake most of my bread. Have found it difficult to locate really good bread here in Kunming, though there are more and more specialty shops, and some do an excellent job. 

 

Hotpot 火锅 is something I eat out with friends, though I know you could do it fairly well at home. I view it as a social occasion, almost like a big party plus feast. A 火锅店 is always a warm and jolly place.

 

I'd love to see some of your Dongbei dishes. I lived in Harbin a for one summer many years ago and became fond of Dongbei Jiaozi 东北 饺子 for sure. Usually washed down with draft beer.

 

If you had to pick two or three Dongbei favorites, what would they be?

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imron
If you had to pick two or three Dongbei favorites, what would they be

土豆炖牛肉,小鸡炖蘑菇 and then various different 饺子.

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geraldc

My parents taught me about the power of MSG using cashew nuts.

 

Fry some cashew nuts. Split into 2 piles.

One pile leave plain, one pile sprinkle a little MSG on.

 

Then do a taste test. The plain cashews are like watching a film on a TV at home. Eating cashews with a little MSG on them, it's like watching a movie on IMAX. The difference really is that big.

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StChris

When I think back to my time in Harbin, the two dishes which most come to mind are 锅包肉 and 地三鲜. Both involve a lot of deep frying (Harbin people claim that the oil keeps you warm in the winter). Now that the temperature is starting to drop here in London, I'm beginning to develop a craving for them. 

 

Another two are 鱼香肉丝 and 宫保鸡丁. There's a small restaurant down the road which runs opposite from Bincai school (behind the gym and market) which serves plates of these, which you then roll into little pancakes. The beer is cheap, plus you can learn Chinese swear words from the foul-mouthed  parrot. I think that these two were originally 四川 dishes, but the ones in Harbin seem to be made to a slightly different recipe, because all the 宫保鸡丁 recipes that I found online all contained much more spicy ingredients (especially Sichuan peppercorns), whereas the 宫保鸡丁 that I ate in the restaurants in Harbin all had a sweet flavor. 

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StChris

I learned how to make 饺子 while in Harbin as well, but unfortunately never quite managed to master the technique to stop them from spilling open whilst steaming.

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abcdefg
My parents taught me about the power of MSG using cashew nuts.

 

Good experiment with the cashews, GeraldC.

 

MSG has been so demonized in the western popular press that people forget what a useful flavor enhancer it really is when used properly and in small amounts.

 

A few people are sensitive to it and develop a mild, self limited reaction if they ingest too much. Personally, I still find it useful.

 

-----------------------

 

StChris --

"Another two are 鱼香肉丝 and 宫保鸡丁"

 

The basic 鸡丁 technique is as described here in this thread. It's usually made with breast meat, so have a look at post # 2 for how to cut the meat. The first post talks about the marinade. I'll bet you could make this at home just fine. Give it a try and let us know.

 

鱼香肉丝 follows the same basic plan as the 鱼香茄子 that we talked about a couple weeks ago. Might be difficult to find some of the seasoning ingredients in London, but I'm not sure.

 

http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/50126-yuxiang-qiezi-%E9%B1%BC%E9%A6%99%E8%8C%84%E5%AD%90-a-cultural-bridge/

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abcdefg

#7 -- Imron

 

土豆炖牛肉,小鸡炖蘑菇 and then various different 饺子.

 

Those are dishes I also fondly recall from the time I spent in the north (Beijing, Dalian and Harbin.) Here I seldom cook with beef or potatoes. Not sure why; both are available.

 

But when the weather turns cold, I immediately get out the slow-cooker clay stew pot and whip up something similar, often starting with a 老母鸡 or the meaty ends of of 排骨。

 

Winter is also a good time for a hearty, stick-to-your-ribs pot of 粥 with this and that added for flavor, maybe 皮蛋 plus shredded carrots and cabbage. I use a combination of 紫糯米,白糯米,and ordinary white rice. Sometimes I add a handful of peanuts near the end.

 

post-20301-0-75606100-1447464465_thumb.jpg   post-20301-0-22865200-1447464487_thumb.jpg

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imron
and 地三鲜

…how did I forget to include 地三鲜?  This is a great dish.

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StChris

 

 

…how did I forget to include 地三鲜?  This is a great dish.

 

I created my own variation where I added some carrot (to add a little crunch and colour) and christened it 地四鲜. It was a hit with my foreign friends, but Chinese people don't seem to like people messing with their classic dishes like that! 地三鲜 is actually a tricky dish to make. The three main ingredients have a tendency to mesh into one pile of sludge if you don't fry them properly (especially the eggplants).

 

 

 

MSG has been so demonized in the western popular press that people forget what a useful flavor enhancer it really is when used properly and in small amounts

 

Yeah, everything I've read about MSG suggests that the whole Chinese Restaurant Syndrome thing is just a myth.

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abcdefg

#14 -- StChris --

 

...but Chinese people don't seem to like people messing with their classic dishes like that!

 

I've noticed that too, Chris. Very little "fusion cuisine" in Kunming. Most restaurants seem to pride themselves on being traditional. And I even get strange looks when I make 拍黄瓜 for guests and add tomato. Cucumber and tomato together don't strike me as very radical.

 

地三鲜 is actually a tricky dish to make.

 

Potato, green pepper and eggplant fried together does sound like it could be tricky. Do they ever add meat to it? (It isn't popular here in Kunming.)

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imron

In my experience it usually doesn't have meat and it's one of the go to dishes for vegetarians.

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StChris

I've added strips of pork at the final stir-frying stage before to balance out the dish with a little protein but, as Imron said, this isn't common (in fact I've never heard of anyone else doing this).

 

 

 

There are many things I cannot cook at home because of space and equipment limitations. I don't have a hugely-hot, roaring fire for my wok and I cannot deep fry things without so much mess that I don't even want to try. Deep frying also involves storing the used oil, which is a hassle.

 

My biggest equipment-related problem at the moment is that I only have electric hubs, not gas ones. This means I can only use flat-bottomed pans, so no woks. I might buy one of those electric woks. I don't know if it's possible to make authentic stir-fries without a big iron wok over a roaring fire.

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DachZanz

@abcdefg Hey there - 

 

Just wanted to say that I've just printed out this recipe and I'm going to try it out tomorrow night!  Really excited to see how it goes, and I'll post pics when I'm done.  Should be a blast.

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abcdefg

Hello, DachZanz,

 

Hope it works out great!

 

The mistake I make more than any other with this recipe and others like it is to cut the pieces of chicken too big. Works much better if they are small, so that they cook really fast in the wok.

 

Look forward to seeing your pictures.

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DachZanz

http://imgur.com/a/TyqAJ

 

Okay here's a link to some images of my cooking. 

 

It was a ton of fun to cook and tasted great!  My first shot at proper Chinese-style cooking.  I really have NO culinary expertise at all but gave it a shot.  

 

The cashews were the part where I think I messed it up a bit, they ended up burnt in areas and undercooked in others, and I tasted that in the final result a bit, but it was still fine.  This is a result of the wok being too hot when I put them on.  

 

Anyway, thanks again for posting recipes like you do.  It was a great evening in the kitchen.  

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