Szechuan Chicken with Cashew Nuts

Szechuan chicken on a bed of white rice in a black bowl with chopsticks.

This is one of my asolute favourite meals.

I adore food, so to try to extract a single favourite from the long list of food I love is a big ask. But if I had to, Szechuan Chicken with Cashew Nuts would definitely be right up there at the top of those favourites.

Since learning to eat more healthily, I’ve avoided making this much-loved dish. Firstly, because commercial hoisin sauce, so central to the flavour, is full of nasties. (I was horrified to see what I’d been feeding myself and the people I love when I actually looked at the list of ingredients. I challenge you to look at the ingredients on your own jar and not recoil in horror.) Then secondly, I avoided making it because I love rice. I mean, I love rice. And this dish just seems to require rice. Now, I can eat rice. But if I eat rice then that means less Szechuan Chicken I can eat, because at some point I’m just going to get fat eating the amounts of this stuff that I really want to eat. Such a quandary! One has to draw the line somewhere. Doesn’t one?

Or does one?

I missed my Szechuan Chicken! Once I’d figured out how to make my own hoisin sauce, that particular hurdle — the main hurdle — was behind me. As for rice, of course the usual grain-free rice substitute is cauliflower. Yes indeed, cauliflower. It’s a dish affectionately known as “cauli rice”, which is simply cauliflower that’s been grated or lightly buzzed in a food processor to a rice-like consistency. No, it doesn’t taste like rice. Not on its own, anyway. I mean, it’s cauliflower. However, like rice, cauliflower has no strong flavour of its own but adopts the flavours of the dishes with which it’s served, so really it’s no hardship to go without rice itself. If you serve it to your family or friends instead of rice, chances are they won’t even notice. Especially in a dimly lit room. ;-)

It also provides a way to soak up those sauces because, you know, waste not want not. (Mmmmm, the sauces!)

Or, you can just use a small amount of steamed white rice. Choose what works for you.

I’ve made a few other adjustments to make it more healthy overall, but I’m willing to bet those of you who have cooked up my old recipe won’t notice, because it’s still just plain YUM.

So let’s get cooking!

Szechuan Chicken with Cashew Nuts

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp potato starch, arrowroot or tapioca flour
  • 1 egg white, beaten lightly
  • 500 g chicken thigh fillet (or breast fillet, but thigh is tastier and juicier and more forgiving if you overcook it), cut into 1-2cm cubes
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 large handful raw, unsalted cashew nuts
  • 2 spring onions, sliced into 4cm pieces
  • 4 whole dried long red chillies, soaked in water for 10 minutes (and chopped, if a hotter result is desired)
  • 2.5 cm piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons home-made hoisin sauce
  • 2 teaspoons chilli bean paste (optional — I leave it out these days as we find the dish is hot enough for our tastes without it)
  • 2 tablespoons shaoxing wine
  • a small drizzle of sesame oil
  • cauli rice, or steamed white rice, to serve

Directions

  1. Coat chicken pieces in the potato starch, arrowroot or tapioca flour, shaking off excess, then mix together with the egg white until evenly coated. Refrigerate while you prepare the other ingredients.
  2. Heat a wok to medium, and season as you normally would before adding a splash of the coconut oil. Stir-fry the cashew nuts until golden all over. Careful not to get the wok and oil too hot or your cashews will burn. When they’re ready, remove from the wok with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  3. Add the remainder of the oil to the wok and heat over a high heat until it shimmers. Add half the chilled chicken and stir-fry until golden. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Repeat with the remaining chicken.
  4. Lower heat to medium and add chilli, spring onion and ginger and stir-fry until the ginger is fragrant and golden — about a minute.
  5. Add the hoisin sauce, chilli bean paste (if using) and shaoxing wine. Return the chicken to the wok, and reheat.
  6. Just before serving, add the cashews back in and drizzle over some sesame oil to season. Give it a good stir to mix it all in.
  7. Serve with cauli rice or steamed white rice.

Notes

  • You can make this saucier (hehe) if you wish, but please remember to keep the proportions of the ingredients the same, i.e. double all of them in comparison to the meat, or triple all of them, not just one or two. Chinese cooking is all about the balance and harmony of flavours. Taste as you go!
 

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