Leela Punyaratabandhu adapts 100 traditional Thai recipes for home cooks in her cookbook, Simple Thai Food. Her recipe for Chicken-Cashew Stir Fry is simple to prepare and assemble, yet bursting with complex flavor—sweet, spicy and uniquely Thai.
CHICKEN-CASHEW STIR FRY
Ka phat met mamuang himma-phan
- 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 yellow or white onion
- 3 green onions
- 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
- 2 tablespoons thin soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons packed dark brown sugar
- ½ cup water
- ¾ cup vegetable oil
- 1 ¾ cups (8 ounces) whole roasted cashews
- 3 dried Thai long chiles, seeded and cut crosswise into ¾-inch wide pieces
- 2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
Cut the chicken against the grain and on the diagonal (30 to 40-degree angle) into thin, bite-size pieces. Place the chicken in a bowl, sprinkle the cornstarch over it, and stir well, making sure each piece of chicken is coated with the cornstarch; set aside.
Cut the yellow onion through the stem end into ½-inch-thick slices. Cut the green onions crosswise into 2-inch lengths. Add the white parts to the yellow onion slices. Keep the green parts separate.
In a small bowl, stir together the oyster sauce, soy sauce, sugar and water, mixing well. Set aside.
Line 2 plates with paper towels and place them near the stove. Heat the oil in a large wok or a 14-inch skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the cashews and fry, stirring constantly, until golden brown, about 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon, immediately transfer the nuts to a towel-lined plate. Do your best to keep as much oil in the pan as possible, as we need to fry two more ingredients in it.
With the pan still over medium heat, add the chiles and fry, stirring constantly, until crisp, about 1 minute, taking care not to burn them. Using the slotted spoon, transfer the chiles to the cashew plate and set the plate aside.
Turn up the heat to high. When the oil is very hot, add half of the chicken, gently lowering each piece into the oil and leaving room between the pieces. After 1 to 2 minutes, one side of the chicken should feel firm when you touch it with the end of the spatula. This is your cue to flip the chicken pieces. Do not go by color, because the oil has taken on the color of the dried chiles and the chicken will look golden brown when it is still uncooked. Also, do not stir the chicken around, as you want each piece to develop a soft crust. Once that has been achieved, using the slotted spoon, transfer the chicken to the second towel-lined plate. Repeat with the remaining half of the chicken.
Discard nearly all of the oil in the pan, leaving only a thin film to coat the pan bottom, and return the pan to high heat. Immediately add the garlic, the yellow onion and the white parts of the green onions and stir them around. When the onions have softened a bit, after about 1 minute, add the chicken to the pan along with the oyster sauce mixture (be sure to use a small rubber spatula to get every bit of the sauce out of the bowl) and stir everything around constantly. The sauce should evaporate quickly, without turning the coating of the chicken soft and gummy.
Immediately add the green parts of the green onions and the fried cashews and chiles and stir-fry for about 30 seconds. At this point, everything should be heated through and the green onion tops should be wilted. Remove from the heat, transfer to a platter, and serve.
Note: It is imperative that you use either a large wok or a 14-inch skillet, unless you halve the recipe. At the frying stage, using a cooking vessel that is too small may not present a problem. But at the stir-frying stage when we want the liquid ingredients to form a glistening sauce quickly, fast evaporation is crucial. If at any point the chicken looks like it is taking its sweet time stewing gently in a bubbling sauce, either the pan is too small or the heat is too low. Follow the instructions as closely as you can, and at any time that there appears to be a difference between your stove’s output and my stove’s output, use your instinct.
Reprinted with permission from Simple Thai Food by Leela Punyaratabandhu, copyright (c) 2014. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House, Inc. Photography (c) 2014 by Erin Kunkel. Read our review of this book.