Here’s a quick and easy 25-minute Spicy Cashew Chicken recipe with an Indo-Chinese twist. This recipe includes tips on how to get tender chicken and gives intense, yet balanced flavor! Gluten-free adaptable!
“Another hit! My husband said it tasted just like at a restaurant. The marinating with baking soda was an amazing tip – my chicken had never turned out so soft before.” -RM
I often get requests for more Indo-Chinese and Hakka-style recipes. So I thought why not bring back an old favorite from the blog: Spicy Cashew Chicken.
Along with an extra dose of red chili flakes, this recipe uses a generous amount of aromatics compared to more subtle versions of the stir-fry.
Cashew Chicken Origins
Cashew Chicken is a popular Chinese stir-fry made famous by Chinese-American restaurants. Like many Asian dishes, Cashew Chicken has made its way into Indo-Chinese restaurants, which serve a bolder, more intensely flavored version.
This recipe is loosely adapted from Rasa Malaysia. I love her tip for tenderizing the chicken – simply coat the chicken in baking soda before cooking. This loosens the protein bonds and makes the chicken tender, moist, and almost silky.
Spicy Cashew Chicken Sauce Ingredients
Here’s what you’ll need to make this brown sauce:
- Oyster-flavored Sauce – Oyster sauce gives essential flavor and sweetness to this recipe. I use a gluten-free version.
- Soy sauce, GF soy sauce, or Tamari – Any all-purpose soy sauce will work.
- Rice vinegar – You can also substitute regular vinegar if you can’t find rice.
- Sesame oil – I use the toasted kind but in a pinch, I’ve successfully tipped some untoasted sesame oil from my jar of tahini.
- Red chili flakes – These are essential for the signature Indo-Chinese flavor.
- Ground black pepper & white pepper.
- Sugar – I use cane sugar but you can use any kind you like.
- Kosher salt or sea salt – I love using sea salt in Asian dishes as it gives a bit of MSG flavor without the MSG. Keep in mind that the type of sauces you use will affect the amount of salt you need.
Other Ingredients You’ll Need
You’ll also need standard stir-fry ingredients like garlic, ginger, onions, and bell pepper. Can’t forget the cashews (use any you have on hand) and chicken.
How much chicken?
The older version of this recipe called for 1 chicken breast, which is usually around 0.5-0.7 lb. Back then, I didn’t have a weighing scale so I just eyeballed the amount (#truestory).
I now use (and suggest using) around 1 lb to make this recipe. Using less than 1 lb will increase the sauce and make it more concentrated in flavor.
How to make Spicy Cashew Chicken
1. If you’ve got time, tenderize the chicken in baking soda before rinsing & patting dry. Otherwise, marinate the chicken in salt and cornstarch and set aside.
2. Make the sauce, then stir-fry the chicken.
How not to overcook chicken when stir-frying:
Over high heat, spread the chicken into a single layer and cook, undisturbed, for 2 minutes. Then flip the pieces and continue to cook for another minute before stir-frying for a few more minutes. This works because:
1. Since the chicken is spread out, it doesn’t release too much water. This helps it sear nicely and cook more evenly.
2. The pieces remain slightly raw in the center and finish cooking with the sauce instead of getting overcooked in the final stage.
3. Sauté the garlic and ginger before adding the onion and bell pepper. Stir-fry so they soften but still remain crispy.
4. Lastly, add in the chicken and sauce and stir-fry for a minute to thicken the sauce and finish cooking the chicken. Toss in the cashews and stir to coat.
How to make Cashew Chicken More Saucy
I’ve tried making this recipe with more water in the sauce but I found that it dilutes some of the intense flavors.
If you still want more sauce, add an extra 1/4 cup water plus a teaspoon of cornstarch to the sauce so it thickens instead of evaporating.
Variations and Tips
- Onion and green bell pepper are often associated with cashew chicken, but you can use other stir-fry-friendly vegetables too. I’ve loved using celery when I had it on hand.
- For an extra spicy kick, add a bit of red chili pepper along with the salt when marinating the chicken.
- As with all stir-fries, have all the ingredients ready to go before you start cooking! A good idea is to prep while you tenderize the chicken.
What to Serve With Spicy Cashew Chicken
I typically enjoy basmati rice even with Indo-Chinese dishes, but I love serving this with Jasmine rice. I find the crispy, crunchy texture of the Cashew Chicken really stands out with the shorter rice kernels. Either way, you can’t go wrong!
More Easy Chicken Recipes:
This post is an update of a recipe that was originally published in January, 2017.
Spicy Cashew Chicken (Indo-Chinese Style)
- Large Skillet or Wok (No lid required)
- 1 lb* boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 2/3"-1" pieces or sub chicken thighs
- 3 tbsp neutral oil such as grapeseed
- 3/4 inch ginger crushed or very finely minced
- 4 cloves garlic crushed or very finely minced
- 1 small green bell pepper (~170 g) seeds removed and diced into 1" squares
- 1 small onion (~190 g) diced into 1" squares
- 1/2 cup toasted, unsalted cashews see note for raw cashews
- toasted sesame seeds for garnish (optional)
To Tenderize (Optional)
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt or sea salt
- 2 tsp corn starch
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 tbsp oyster flavored sauce I use gluten-free
- 2 tsp soy sauce I use GF tamari soy sauce
- 1 tsp rice vinegar
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 3/4-1 tsp red chili flakes
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/8 tsp white pepper
- 1 tsp sugar I use cane sugar
- 1/8-1/4 tsp kosher salt or sea salt
To Tenderize – Optional Step
- Place the chicken in a strainer or colander and sprinkle it with baking soda. Mix well and let this mixture rest for 15-20 minutes. Rinse the chicken thoroughly, ensuring it's completely free of any baking soda. Pat dry.
Make the Cashew Chicken
- In a medium bowl, marinate the chicken in the salt and cornstarch and set aside.
- In a small bowl, mix all the ingredients listed for the sauce and set aside.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a wok or large, nonstick skillet over high heat. Add the chicken in an even layer and allow it to cook, undisturbed, for 2 minutes. Flip over and allow the other side to cook for another minute. Then stir-fry until the chicken is cooked through (~4-5 minutes). Remove the chicken and set aside.
- Lower the heat to medium and add the remaining tablespoon of oil. Add the garlic and ginger and sauté for 15-20 seconds. Add the onion and bell pepper and raise the heat back to high. Stir-fry until you can smell the peppery aroma of the green peppers and onions turn translucent (~4-5 min). Add the chicken back in, followed by the prepared sauce.
- Stir-fry until the sauce has reduced and the chicken is fully cooked (~1-2 min). Taste and adjust salt and spice, if desired.
- Add in the cashews and mix well. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds, if desired. Serve immediately with rice.