Thai Cashew Chicken
35 minutestotal time
3 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1½ pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into ¾- to 1-inch pieces
1½ tablespoons Thai chili paste (see headnote)
1½ tablespoons white sugar
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
5 tablespoons grapeseed or other neutral oil, divided
1 cup roasted cashews
6 dried árbol chilies (optional)
6 medium garlic cloves, minced
¾-1¼ teaspoons red pepper flakes
1 medium red onion, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 bunch scallions, cut into 1-inch lengths
In a medium bowl, combine 1 tablespoon of the soy sauce, the flour, 2 tablespoons water, ¼ teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper; whisk until smooth. Add the chicken and toss to coat; set aside.
In a small bowl, combine the remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce, chili paste, sugar, oyster sauce and 3 tablespoons water, then whisk until the sugar dissolves; set the sauce aside.
In a 12- to 14-inch wok or 12-inch skillet over medium-high, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil until shimmering. Add the cashews and árbol chilies (if using); cook, stirring, until the nuts are fragrant and browned, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside. Wipe out the pan.
Set the pan over high and heat 1 tablespoon of the remaining oil until barely smoking, swirling to coat. Add half of the chicken mixture; cook, stirring intermittently and scraping up any browned bits, until well browned, 2 to 3 minutes, then transfer to another medium bowl. Using 1 tablespoon of the remaining oil, cook the remaining chicken mixture in the same way and transfer to the bowl with the first batch.
Return the pan to medium-high and add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, garlic and pepper flakes; cook, stirring, until the garlic is golden brown, about 30 seconds. Add the onion and cook, stirring and scraping, until just beginning to brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the chicken and accumulated juices, then pour the sauce mixture down the sides of the pan. Cook, stirring and scraping, until the sauce thickens slightly and lightly coats the chicken and onion, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in the scallions and cashews with árbol chilies (if used); cook, stirring, until the scallions are just wilted, about 30 seconds. Remove from the heat. Taste and season with salt and black pepper.
The Thai stir-fried cashew chicken, or gai pad med mamuang himmaphan, that home cook and food blogger Rawadee Yenchujit taught us in her Bangkok kitchen was a revelation. Deliciously filled with contrasting tastes and textures and with balanced savoriness, sweetness and spice plus loads of umami, it bore little resemblance to the goopy, sugary dish Thai restaurants tend to serve in the U.S. We opted to skip shallow-frying the chicken as we were taught in Bangkok, and instead stir-fry it in batches, which requires a fraction of the oil. We also chose to include onion and scallions as the only vegetables, allowing the chicken and cashews to be front and center. We tried to do without Thai chili paste, or chili “jam”—nam prik pao, in Thai—but we discovered it’s an important element in the stir-fry. The mixture is thick, dark red and rather oily. Made by blending fried shallots, garlic, dried chilies, shrimp paste, tamarind and other ingredients, the paste is intensely and inimitably flavorful. Thai Kitchen roasted chili paste is sold in small jars in the international aisle of most supermarkets. Whole árbol chilies bring spiciness and aroma that supplements the red pepper flakes, but they’re optional, so feel free to leave them out. Steamed jasmine rice is the perfect accompaniment.
Don’t skip the step of stir-frying the cashews. The cashews may already be roasted, but toasting them browns them a bit more to really bring out their sweet nuttiness. When cooking the chicken, don’t stir too often—every 30 to 45 seconds is good—so the pieces take on good browning, which adds depth of flavor. But as you stir-fry, be sure to scrape up the flavorful browned bits that form on the bottom of the wok.
35 minutestotal time