A healthier twist on Cashew Chicken made with chicken breast and cashews cooked in a sweet and spicy sauce. This classic Thai dish is a takeout favorite but easy enough to make at home.
This delicious Thai takeout-inspired Cashew Chicken recipe takes just 15 minutes to make! Tender chicken and crunchy cashews are all tossed in a spicy, slightly sweet sauce. This dish is traditionally served with rice and can be made as spicy as you like.
Last April I took a trip to Thailand and went to the most amazing cooking class in Chiang Mai. We started out by going to the local markets, choosing the most amazing fresh ingredients, and then heading back to the school to learn to cook some classic Thai dishes. One of my favorite dishes was Cashew Chicken, a spicy chicken dish that has a ton of flavor and just the right amount of spice.
We were lucky enough to leave the class with the recipes, and this is a spin on that classic recipe. This version is lightened up and also includes ingredients that are easier to find in most grocery stores.
Traditionally, Thai Cashew Chicken is made with Thai whiskey, palm sugar, and quite a bit of oil. Since those ingredients can be hard to find here, I swapped in more common ingredients.
While I did keep some authentic elements like the palm sugar, Thai red chilies, and fish sauce - there are notes for easy swaps in case you can't find them.
Main Ingredients and Swaps
- Chicken: To keep things light, I used chicken breast but you could also use chicken thighs. Make sure to slice the chicken thin so that it cooks quickly and evenly.
- Cashews: Since the cashews will be roasted in the oven or in a wok, try and buy unsalted raw cashews. Thai sauces almost always have soy sauce so adding more salt with salted roasted cashews will make the final dish too salty. If you can't find raw cashews, you can still lightly toast pre-roasted cashews. They just won't have quite as much flavor as the freshly roasted nuts.
- Garlic and Onion: These key aromatics add tons of flavor to the dish and are essential in almost all stir-fries.
- Thai red chili: This is the traditional chili pepper used in Thai cooking. It is small but tends to be extremely spicy. If you can't find any Thai chilies (bird's eye chili peppers), you can use a serrano or other small chili pepper. You could also just add some Sriracha or sambal olek to the sauce. this dish can also be made without the spiciness if you prefer.
- Green onions: This adds some needed freshness and brightness to the dish.
- Sauce: The sauce for cashew chicken is made with soy sauce, oyster sauce, palm sugar (or brown sugar), and fish sauce (or extra soy sauce). A quick note on fish sauce. It is used in most Thai dishes and doesn't taste fishy at all as long as you don't use too much. As it cooks, it will lose the funky fish smell. It adds depth of flavor to the sauce and is essential in most Thai dishes.
What to Serve with Cashew Chicken
Like most Thai stir fry dishes, this is usually served with steamed white rice. Brown rice, quinoa, or cauliflower rice would all be delicious as well.
Since this dish only has minimal vegetables, I also like to serve it with some veggies on the side. Consider making:
- Roasted Bok Choy
- Cabbage Stir Fry
- Sauteed Snow Peas
- Garlic Sugar Snap Peas
- Crispy Asian Brussels Sprouts
How to make tender chicken in stir-fries?
To make sure the chicken in your stir-fry comes out tender, there are a few tricks to use. First, make sure not to overcook the chicken. That is the number one reason that chicken gets rubbery or tough in a story fry. Secondly, make sure that the pan isn't overcrowded. It is better to cook the chicken in batches than to crowd the pan.
If you want to guarantee perfectly tender, moist chicken use this trick from Chinese chicken. Toss one pound of thinly sliced chicken and 1 teaspoon of baking soda. Toss together and let sit for 20 minutes. Then rinse the chicken and dry it with a paper towel. The chicken will come out tender every time.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some of the most common questions about this Thai Cashew Chicken dish.
There are a few key differences between Thia and Chinese Cashew Chicken. First of all, Chinese Cashew Chicken has a lot more sauce and the sauce is thicker. The Thai version is drier. Secondly, Thai Cashew Chicken is much spicier than the Chinese version which doesn't usually have any chilies.
Traditionally Thai Cashew Chicken does not include any vegetables other than onions and Thai chilies. However, many recipes will also include stir-fried bell peppers. If you aren't worried about keeping it authentic, you could stir fry any vegetables you like to the mix. Just make sure to make some extra sauce.
Although this is traditionally made in a very hot wok, it can also be made in a heavy cast-iron skillet at home. Really any skillet will work but the vegetables and chicken will get more color in a heavy skillet as opposed to a nonstick skillet.
Thai Cashew Chicken
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- 1/4 cup cashews
- 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 onion, sliced
- 1.33 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breast, chopped
- 1/2 cup chicken broth
- 1 tsp. fish sauce (or low sodium soy sauce)
- 2 tbsp. low sodium soy sauce (GF if needed)
- 1 tbsp. brown sugar (leave out for low carb)
- 1/3 cup oyster sauce
- 8 green onions, sliced
- 4 dried Thai red chili pepper, halved (adjust to taste, this is spicy)
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
The Nutritional Values provided are estimates only and may vary based on the preparation method.
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