Who doesn’t love takeout Chinese food, right? Authentic Chinese cuisine is a best-kept secret, but depending on which country you are from, chances are, you are used to Chinese takeout food in one form or the other. While Indians prefer fiery hot and spicy Chinese creations like chili chicken (or vegetables), hakka noodles and so on, Americans go for Chinese dishes that are spicy and tangy with a touch of sweetness. Kung pao chicken and cashew chicken are two of my personal favorites.
Boy absolutely loves Chinese food, or rather American-Chinese food. And sometimes when we don’t really want to eat out but still want to eat something different from our usual routine, I make Chinese food at home. I love how flavorful Chinese food turns out with just a few choice ingredients and very little effort.
And to make my job easier, sometimes I turn to my trusty slow cooker. This cashew chicken made in the slow cooker turns out so moist, juicy and flavorful. You can simply throw in the chicken and sauce ingredients, set the timer and forget all about it. But if you are willing to spend 5 extra minutes, you can make it even better. I like this cashew chicken best when I take a little extra effort to pan-fry the chicken pieces coated in some cornstarch. In my opinion, this gives the chicken a wonderful texture and the cornstarch naturally thickens the sauce.
I have made this a few times now and each time I experiment a little with the sauces. I cannot stress this enough, but you really have to cook with your senses, especially your nose and taste-buds. Add something spicy, salty, tangy and sweet to make the sauce till you are satisfied with how it all tastes together. The hubby absolutely loathes it if it is too sweet. Whereas, Boy loves a slightly smoky sweet flavor. And I always seem to be torn between them! While adding the sweet and spicy elements, I always begin with a little and keep adding till I am satisfied with how it tastes. Another trick I picked up while making this in the slow cooker is to add a glug of smoky barbecue sauce instead of something like honey or brown sugar. The sweetness is rather subtle and it gives an amazing flavor and color to the finished dish.
I like to add half of the cashew nuts at the beginning and the rest right towards the end so that they are still crunchy. This cashew chicken is excellent along with this quick and easy fried rice. The fried rice can be made with vegetables, scrambled eggs or chicken.
This dish is the perfect dinner for a busy weeknight. You can set the slow cooker in the morning and come home to a hot and delicious meal. We like it best on Friday nights. That way we have takeout style food made right at home. This kind of food and a good movie on the television is how I like to kick-start my weekends!
- Chicken - 2 lbs, boneless and skinless
- Cornstarch - 3 tbsp
- Black pepper powder - 1 tsp
- Salt - ½ tsp
- Oil - 2 tbsp
- Garlic - 5 cloves, minced
- Soy sauce - ¼ cup
- Rice vinegar - 2 tbsp (can also use rice wine or white vinegar)
- Chili sauce - 2 tbsp (or as per heat desired)
- Smoky BBQ sauce - 2 tbsp (or replace with desired amount of brown sugar)
- Tomato paste - 1 tbsp
- Cashew nuts - 1 cup
- Scallions - 2 tbsp, chopped green part only
- White sesame seeds - to garnish
- Cut the chicken into small pieces. In a mixing bowl, add the chicken, cornstarch, black pepper and ½ tsp of salt. Combine well to coat the chicken pieces thoroughly with the cornstarch.
- Heat oil in a large skillet. Add the chicken and fry on all sides till lightly seared, 2 minutes per side. Towards the end, add the garlic cloves and allow it to become fragrant. Set aside once done.
- Meanwhile, combine the sauce ingredients (soy sauce, rice vinegar, chili sauce, BBQ sauce and tomato paste. Taste and adjust the sauce by adding more vinegar, chili sauce or BBQ sauce.
- Tip the chicken and garlic into the slow cooker. Add the prepared sauce and ½ cup of cashew nuts and mix well. Cook on HIGH for 2 hours.
- Open the slow cooker and tip in the rest of the cashew nuts. Cook for 15-20 more minutes. Crack open the lid if you need the sauce to be further reduced.
- Garnish with chopped scallions and sesame seeds. Serve hot. This freezes extremely well too.
2. I always use low sodium soy sauce. If you use regular or dark soy sauce, you may need to use a lesser amount only. Make up the rest of the sauce with water.
3. Experiment with the kind of chili sauce you like. I have once made this sriracha too. There is also a link to my special homemade hot chili-garlic sauce immediately below this recipe card.
4. The BBQ sauce adds a lovely smoky flavor to this sauce. Feel free to omit it or use a bit of brown sugar instead for sweetness.
5. This recipe can be made without the cashew nuts as well.
Here is my favorite red-hot homemade chili sauce recipe. You can very well use store-bought sauce to make this dish.
So, tell me, what is your favorite Chinese takeout food? Have you tried cashew chicken? Do give this recipe a try and let me know how it goes!
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