Authentic cashew chicken with a simple sauce that tastes just like your favorite takeout. Find out what the most important ingredients are to make this stir fry dinner the real deal.
I would wager you’ve had chicken with cashew nuts at a Chinese restaurant. If you haven’t, someone you went with did!
It’s one of the most popular and famous stir fry dishes at American Chinese eateries. So how do you make cashew chicken stir fry at home?
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Authentic Cashew Chicken Sauce
The secret to making an authentic tasting Chinese dish at home lies in a few ingredients. First, MSG. Oh my goodness I’m kidding!
By the way, these days the majority of American Chinese restaurants don’t use MSG (monosodium glutamate, a flavor enhancer that has been found to have carcinogenic properties). Whew!
The real secret to easy cashew chicken is to make a great sauce, and that includes ginger, garlic, Chinese rice wine and hoisin sauce. Building these flavors together and adding sweet, crunchy nuts creates a cashew chicken sauce that tastes like your favorite restaurants’ classic dish.
Back to MSG, do you remember that scene from Seinfeld where the crew is out to eat Chinese food and Kramer asks for extra MSG? Maybe it’s because I’m a foodie at heart, but I just got a kick out of that! Ok let’s get to the flavor facts…
The ingredients for chicken stir fry at home:
What is cashew chicken without a great sauce? A few key ingredients for this stir fry will kick it up to restaurant-worthy level.
- Fresh ginger and garlic. These two ingredients combine to give many stir fry dishes their intricate base. Like a mirepoix (onions, celery, carrots) in French cooking, this combo is found in many Chinese dishes. No substituting dried ginger or garlic powder here. The fresh ingredients are key.
- Shao Hsing, or dry sherry. Shao Hsing (Shaoxing) is a Chinese rice wine used for cooking. It’s easily substituted for dry sherry and has the most to do with making this dish authentic when made at home. Both impart a savory, nutty and aromatic flavor to the stir fry sauce.
- Hoisin Sauce. This thick, fragrant, sweet and tangy sauce is a staple in stir fry sauces and meat glazes. It’s usually made from soy beans, fennel seeds, red chillies, and garlic, vinegar and sugar. Hoisin is often called Chinese ketchup, but it’s much more complex as spices are often added. It’s a perfect addition to an authentic dish.
Make spicy cashew chicken by adding extra red pepper flakes, or a sliced red chili to the sauce. Adjust the heat by adding a little chili at a time.
Try my Asian Slaw with Sesame Ginger Dressing for another easy dinner recipe using fresh ginger.
Is chicken with cashew nuts Chinese?
Cashew Chicken actually has some pretty American roots. The gist is that chef David Leong moved from China to the United states in 1940.
He struggled with success cooking authentic Chinese food in Springfield, Missouri. Attempting to adjust his traditional homeland dishes to something the local folks might like, he came up with Cashew Chicken.
Everyone was in love and he soon opened Leong’s Tea House which found major success until the late 90’s. Cashew chicken is still a mainstay in the community, as it is all over the country.
Make real cashew chicken with pantry staples and a few authentic ingredients!
Now that you know what ingredients to keep in the pantry you’re ready to have this better than takeout dinner at home.
Pull out a large skillet or wok (check out this ceramic-coated nonstick option!).
It’s as simple as mixing the sauce ingredients together, cooking the chicken and simmering it in the liquid. Those crunchy cashews add the perfect texture and sweet flavor.
Serve this cashew and chicken recipe with long grain or sticky rice on the side. Enjoy!
Favorite Asian-inspired recipes from Tara Teaspoon:
- Sesame Chicken Skewers with Asian Slaw is heaven on a kabob.
- Sweet Chili Pistachio Grilled Chicken is sticky and delicious and uses my other favorite nuts!
- Korean BBQ Chicken Skewers are great served with a bit of kimchi on the side.
- Veggie Spring Rolls give you a punch of green goodness.
- Black Sesame Chocolate Chip Cookies uses soy sauce to enhance the delicious sweet flavors.
Real cashew chicken with a simple and authentic sauce tastes just like your favorite takeout.
- 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (1¾ lbs total), thinly sliced
- 3 tbsp dry sherry
- 2 tsp grated fresh ginger
- 2 cloves garlic sliced
- 4½ tsp cornstarch
- ¾ cup low-sodium chicken broth
- 2 tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
- 3 tbsp hoisin sauce
- 1 tbsp rice vinegar
- 2 tsp light brown sugar
- 2 tsp canola oil
- ½ cup unsalted toasted cashews
- 2 scallions thinly sliced
- ¼ tsp red-pepper flakes
In a bowl combine chicken, sherry, ginger, garlic and 2 tsp cornstarch. Chill 30 min. In another bowl combine broth, soy sauce, hoisin, vinegar, sugar and 2½ tsp cornstarch; set aside.
Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, with 1 tsp canola oil. Sauté half the chicken until cooked through, about 5 min; transfer to a plate. Repeat with remaining chicken and oil.
Return chicken to skillet. Stir in broth mixture and bring to a simmer; cook until sauce thickens, about 1 min. Add cashews and serve with scallions and red-pepper flakes.
You can whip up this better than takeout cashew chicken recipe with just a little bit of prep. Serve with steamed rice.
A Sweet Cashew Recipe:
Besides this easy cashew chicken recipe, I use these crunchy nuts on top of salads and even in cookies! My Cashew Oatmeal Cookies with brown butter frosting are to die for!
Update: I celebrated all things international during the 2018 Winter Games with some of my food blogger friends. The Giveaway ended but the awesome prizes included a JK Adams Walnut Whitewashed Cheese Board, Emile Henry Baking Dish Set, Kuhn Rikon Colori Culinary Knife Set, Silpat Classics Mat Set, Joseph Joseph Nesting Bowl Set, Cuisinart Belgian Waffle Maker, Kerrygold Butter and Cheese Package, and a . You could win one!
Be sure to check out these other great international recipes from some of my fellow food bloggers who are also participated in the Food Blogger Winter Games event, posting delicious recipes that are internationally inspired! Share a recipe on Instagram you made from another culture using the hashtag #foodbloggerwintergames while you are at it!
Thailand – Thai Chicken Larb Salad
Germany –German Meatballs and Potatoes
Greece – Greek Style Grilled Lamb Chops
Italy –Fettuccini Alfredo
Italy – Wild Mushroom Risotto
Korea –Oven Baked Korean BBQ Chicken Wings
Sweden –Easy Swedish Cucumber Salad
USA – Instant Pot Bourbon BBQ Ribs
Recipe by Tara Teaspoon
I’ve been in the food publishing business for over 20 years, creating recipes and food styling for magazines, books, television and advertising. Find out more about me!
Recipe Tara Teaspoon, Photograph Hallie Burton, Food Stylist Ann Disrude, Prop stylist Randi Brookman Harris. Originally published LHJ 09/10. Revised for content 01/20.