Spice up your weeknight dinner routine with this easy and flavorful cashew kung pao chicken recipe. With its satisfying combination of bold flavors and crunchy cashews, this dish is almost guaranteed to become a new family favorite. It is simple to make at home, so you can enjoy all the flavors of your favorite Chinese takeout without ever leaving the house. Try it tonight and experience the spicy, satisfying goodness for yourself.
Cashew Kung Pao Chicken, An Easy Make-at-Home Version
Cashew kung pao chicken is a classic Chinese stir-fry dish, combining tender chunks of chicken, crunchy cashews, and a spicy sauce. It’s a popular dish in Chinese restaurants around the world and is known for its bold and flavorful combination of sweet, sour, and spicy flavors.
Originating in the Sichuan province of China, the dish is named after Ding Baozhen, a Qing Dynasty official who was known as Kung Pao. The original version of the dish was made with diced chicken, peanuts, and a spicy sauce, but over time, it has evolved to include other ingredients such as cashews and lots of other personal choice ingredients.
Cashew kung pao chicken is typically served over a bed of rice and garnished with scallions and chili peppers for added flavor and color. I’ve taken my liberty with this recipe and made it home cook-friendly, a more “Western”, easy weeknight dinner version I suppose. It’s a perfect dish for anyone who loves big and spicy flavors and is looking for a quick and easy meal that’s full of protein and nutrients. Whether you’re a fan of Chinese cuisine or just looking for a new and exciting way to spice up your dinner routine, cashew kung pao chicken is a must-try dish that’s sure to satisfy your cravings for take out!
Flavor Face-Off: Chicken Breasts vs. Chicken Thighs in Stir-Fry
Originally and as you see here in pictures, I’ve always made kung pao chicken with chicken breasts. However, after making this recipe with boneless, skinless chicken thighs, I have to say I prefer it.
The downside to using chicken thighs, is that you really need to trim the extra fat/skin on the thighs, so up front, it takes a little more time prepping the chicken, but it’s the only downside. Thighs have so much flavor and I love using them in this recipe, but ultimately it’s up to you to choose.
Here are a few key differences I can think of when it comes to using chicken breast or skinless, boneless chicken thighs in a stir-fry recipe:
- Texture: Chicken breasts tend to be leaner and have a firmer, more meaty texture, while chicken thighs are juicier and have a softer, more tender texture. Depending on your preference, you may find that one type of chicken works better for stir-frying than the other.
- Flavor: Chicken breasts are generally milder in flavor than chicken thighs, which can be a good or bad thing depending on what you find desirable in chicken. If you want a subtle and neutral flavor in your stir-fry, chicken breasts are the better choice. However, if you want a deeper and more savory flavor, chicken thighs are a better option.
- Cost: Chicken breasts tend to be more expensive than chicken thighs, so if cost is a concern, you may want to opt for thighs instead.
- Nutrition: Chicken breasts are generally lower in fat and calories than chicken thighs, so if you’re watching your calorie intake, breasts might be the better choice. However, it’s worth noting that chicken thighs are a good source of nutrients like iron, zinc, and B vitamins, so they can be a healthy choice too.
Wine, Beer, Spirit and Cocktail Recommendations for Kung Pao Chicken
I’m always asked about wine, beer, spirit and cocktail recommendations for my recipes so I’ve put together some for this particular chicken recipe.
Pairing alcohol with Asian food, especially spicy dishes, has it’s challenges. You must take into account the intensity of the spice and the flavors present. A good rule of thumb is to choose a beverage that can either tame the heat or enhance the flavors of the dish.
For example, a dry white wine or a light lager can help to cool the palate and balance out the heat of the spices. On the other hand, a fuller-bodied red wine or a hoppy IPA can add depth to the flavors of the dish and help to bring out the complexity of the spices. It’s also a good idea to avoid overly sweet or fruity beverages, as they can clash with the bold flavors.
Ultimately, the best pairing will depend on your personal preferences, so don’t be afraid to experiment and try a few different options to see what works best for you.
Here are a few of my varietal wine recommendations for cashew kung pao chicken:
- Riesling: Riesling is a good choice for this dish because it has bright acidity and a touch of sweetness that can help balance the spicy flavors in the kung pao chicken. The citrus and stone fruit flavors will complement the flavors of both the chicken and the cashews.
- Gewurztraminer: This wine also has some sweetness and a floral aroma that will complement the flavors in the dish.
- Viognier: Viognier is a white wine that has a creamy texture and a hint of sweetness, which will help tame the heat in the kung pao chicken.
- Chenin Blanc: This wine has a bright, acidic profile and a touch of sweetness that pairs well with the flavors in the dish.
- Garnacha: Garnacha is a red wine that is known for its ripe, fruity flavors and soft tannins. It will pair well with the spicy flavors in the kung pao chicken.
- Albarino: Albarino is a white wine with a floral aroma and flavors of stone fruit and citrus. It does an outstanding job complementing the flavors in the kung pao chicken and helps balance out the heat.
Choose a wine with enough acidity and/or sweetness to balance out the spicy flavors in the kung pao chicken, but still has enough depth and complexity to stand up to the strong flavors of the dish.
Here are a few varietal beer recommendations for cashew kung pao chicken:
- Wheat beer: Wheat beers, such as hefeweizens or witbiers, have a refreshing, slightly sweet flavor and a light body that help balance the spicy flavors in the kung pao chicken.
- Pale ale: Pale ales have a moderate level of hoppiness and a somewhat dry finish, which help cut through the heat in the kung pao chicken.
- Saison: Saisons are a type of Belgian ale with a spicy, complex flavor profile and a dry finish. The spicy flavors in the beer pair well with the spices in the kung pao chicken.
- Belgian blonde ale: Belgian blonde ales have a fruity, spicy flavor and a slightly sweet finish that complement the flavors in the dish.
If you make your kung pao chicken particularly spicy, you may want to choose a spirit that helps cool the palate, such as vodka or gin. On the other hand, if you prefer a relatively mild version, you may want a spirit that will add depth and complexity to the flavors, such as whiskey or tequila.
Here are a few spirit recommendations for cashew kung pao chicken:
- Whiskey: A smoky or spicy whiskey will help enhance the bold flavors of the dish.
- Vodka: A clean and neutral spirit like vodka helps cut through the heat of the dish and provide a refreshing counterpoint to the spices.
- Tequila: A reposado or añejo tequila will add depth and complexity to the flavors found in this recipe, especially if it’s made with agave and oak.
- Gin: A gin with botanical flavors like juniper, coriander, and angelica nicely complements the flavors of the dish, while providing a refreshing contrast to the heat.
As with any cocktail pairing, it’s important to consider the flavors and spice level of the kung pao chicken when selecting your ingredients. You may want to adjust the sweetness, sourness, or spiciness of the cocktail accordingly to find the best balance.
- Margarita: A classic margarita made with tequila, lime juice, and triple sec will help cut through the heat of the dish and provide a refreshing counterpoint to the spices.
- Gin and tonic: A gin and tonic made with a botanical gin and tonic water helps to enhance the flavors of the dish and provide a refreshing contrast to the heat.
- Whiskey sour: A whiskey sour made with bourbon, lemon juice, and simple syrup will add depth and complexity to the flavors of the dish and elevate the spiciness.
- Spicy margarita: For a spicy twist on the classic margarita, try adding a dash of hot sauce or a pinch of chili flakes to the mix. This can help to enhance the flavors of the dish and provide a balance of heat and refreshment.
Takeout at Home: Delicious and Easy Recipes for Your Favorite Dishes
Try your hand at this collection of recipes that allows you to recreate your favorite takeout dishes in the comfort of your own kitchen.
- Chicken and Snow Pea Stir-Fry
- Shrimp and Plum Stir-Fry
- Sweet and Sour Pork
- Dan Dan Pork
- Vietnamese Style Beef
- Egg Foo Yong
- Air Fryer Bang Bang Shrimp
IF YOU DO MAKE SOMETHING FROM NOBLEPIG, IT WOULD BE GREAT TO SEE HOW YOURS TURNED OUT! Take a snapshot and tag @NOBLEPIG and #noblepig on INSTAGRAM so I can see how it turned out.
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Cashew Kung Pao Chicken
- 1-1/3 lbs. skinless, boneless chicken breasts or thighs (trim fat), cut into 1/2" pieces
- 5 tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce, divided
- 2 tbsp. cooking sherry, divided
- 1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp. cornstarch, divided
- 4 green onions, white bulbs and green tops cut separate into 1/2" pieces
- 2 tsp. granulated sugar
- 2 tbsp. white wine vinegar or rice vinegar
- 2 tsp. Asian sesame oil
- 1/3 cup water
- 2 tbsp. cooking oil - any kind, divided
- 3/4 cup cashews or peanuts (cashews are best)
- 1/2 tsp. dried red pepper flakes
- In a medium bowl, toss the chicken with 1 Tablespoon of the soy sauce, 1 Tablespoon of the sherry and 1 Tablespoon of the cornstarch.
- In a small bowl, combine sugar, vinegar, sesame oil, water and the remaining 4 Tablespoons of soy sauce, 1 Tablespoon of sherry and 2 teaspoons of cornstarch.
- Prepare scallions, white bulbs and green tops cut separately into 1/2″ pieces.
- In a wok or large frying pan, heat 1 Tablespoon of the oil over moderately high heat. Add the cashews and stirring until light brown, about 30 seconds. Remove from the pan.
- Heat the remaining 1 Tablespoon oil. Add the white part of the scallions and the red-pepper flakes to the pan and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add the chicken with its marinade and cook, stirring, until almost done, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the soy sauce mixture and the scallion tops and simmer until the chicken is just done, about 1 minute longer. Stir in the cashews.
- Serve over rice.
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