American Chinese cuisine | Springfield-Style Cashew Chicken

I can’t talk about Asian-inspired food without discussion the Americanized Asian food that has swept the nation. General Tso (real name Zuo Zongtang) never ate the dish that was named after him; he died almost 100 years before it was invented. The earliest mentions of crab Rangoon come from the West Coast in the 1950s.

My preference? Springfield-style Cashew Chicken. This is a dish that in my and the dish’s hometown, does not require the regional title. It’s simply known as “cashew chicken,” and there is no other accepted version. Invented in the 1960s, the inventor David Leong opened a restaurant (Leong’s Tea House) that inspired the establishment of several other Chinese-inspired restaurants.

Even with very little secrecy to his original recipe, claiming the “secret” ingredient is peanut butter1, there are still many people who find preference and loyalty to one restaurant’s version of cashew chicken.

Sadly, Leong’s Tea House closed in 1997 after the death of Mr. Leong’s wife. His sons have undertaken other restaurant ventures, but none currently run any restaurants themselves. For regional expatriates like me, the standards of cashew chicken subside strictly due to the rarity of Springfield-style cashew chicken anywhere outside Springfield. Thanks to some savvy kitchen gurus, the taste is not too hard to create at home. (Although I’ll admit, if you’re in Springfield, just go get some takeout.)

Springfield-Style Cashew Chicken

Perhaps the closest recipe I’ve ever found is this one from AllRecipes. However, I’ve made some adjustments.

Ingredients

  • 4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 5 tablespoons cornstarch, divided
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of ground black pepper
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 3 cups peanut oil for frying (vegetable oil works fine, too)
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • ¼ – ½ teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • ½ cup chopped green onion for topping (chop both stem AND bulb)
  • 1 cup cashew halves

Instructions

  1. Cut the chicken breasts into 1 inch pieces. In a shallow dish or bowl, mix together the flour, baking soda, pinches of salt and pepper, and 1 tablespoon of the cornstarch. In another dish or bowl beat the eggs. Dip chicken pieces into flour mixture, then eggs, then flour mixture again. Heat peanut oil in a large skillet and deep fry coated chicken in hot oil for 3 to 4 minutes. Until fully cooked. Drain on paper towels.
  2. Meanwhile (while frying chicken), heat broth to boiling in a medium saucepan. Add oyster sauce, sugar, soy sauce and white pepper. Mix remaining 4 tablespoons cornstarch with a small amount of cold water in a cup. Stir cornstarch mixture slowly into broth mixture to thicken, then cook for another 5 minutes over medium-low heat. Sauce may bubble slightly. Do not seal with lid, cover loosely to catch drips if the bubbles “pop” too much.
  3. Preheat oven to 200 degrees F (95 degrees C). Heat cashew nuts in preheated oven for about 5 minutes. Pour sauce over fried chicken and top with cashews and green onion. Serve with soy sauce to taste over a bed of fried rice, if desired.

References

  1. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/3/11/dining/11cashew.html?_r=0
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