Happy Chinese New Year! For people who don’t know, it was on January 31st this year.
I’m filling another request here. Chicken with cashew nuts is one of my all-time favorites, as it is for my husband. It’s a simple dish that’s become a staple for the Thais and the farangs both. The ingredients are easy to find all over the world. When I was traveling a lot and staying at people’s homes instead of hotels, I considered this to be a very simple dish that I could make for my hosts.
This is NOT an original Thai dish. It’s from the Sichuan Chinese dish called “Kung Pao Chicken”! Does that sound familiar? The Thai just changed the nuts from peanuts to cashew nuts.
I don’t have the clear history of the dish. When did it migrate to Thailand? How did it divorce the peanut and marry the cashew? I just know that the Gai Pad Med is now a well respected immigrant that already has a Thai name and lost the trace to its origin. WE took over!
The names Gai Pad Med or Gai Pad Med Ma Muang are the abbreviated versions of the full Thai name for this dish, “Gai Pad Med Ma Muang Him Ma Paan” (ไก่ผัดเม็ดมะม่วงหิมพานต์) or another way of spelling with the same pronunciation “Gai Pad Med Mamuang Himmapan”! (Gai=chicken, Pad=stir fry, Med Ma Muang Him Ma Paan=cashew nut) Please, leave the name alone out of respect. Remember that there is a Hawaiian fish named “Humuhumunukunukuapuaa” existing in this world that would make the name “Med Ma Muang Him Ma Paan” feel kinda short and pronounceable!
I actually don’t like to order this dish at a restaurant, unless it is a very, very good restaurant and I know they can make this dish better than me. The reason is because I don’t like “Gai” Pad Med Ma Muang but I like “Neau” Pad Med Ma Muang more (Neau=beef). And if you ever visited Thailand, you know the questionable quality of their beef!
My husband used to order a steak once in a while when we were in Thailand. He craved it, you know, just like I craved rice or noodles. My sister and I would totally pray for him to get a decent piece of beef and hope that they didn’t cook the h*** out of it. Result? Failure about 85% of the time. Thai people are not known to have good quality beef and they’ll always cook it well done even if you ordered medium rare! I would tell the waiter just to let the beef pass near the fire–don’t let it touch the grill–and I still get medium! The medium steak is the same texture as the sole of a sneaker, imagine the well done steak….That’s right, the texture of a work boot.
So I never order this dish with beef in Thailand but I would make this dish with beef when I’m in the US, though. Just stir fry organic beef, nothing fancy, and you get a nice tender and juicy meat. This is not a complicated dish, but to make it exactly like the way they serve it in Thailand, you might have to do multiple steps in cooking.
The first thing is the cashews. You can use already roasted cashew nuts to save one step. If you use the raw cashew nuts, you need to fry them before you stir fry them!
Next is the dry chili and the meat. Both of them need to be cooked before cooking!…haha…No, don’t blame it on the Thais. This is the Chinese method. You need to fry the chiles until they turn deep red, fragrant and crispy.
To cook the meat, there are two different ways. The way I like–and it is the original way–you have to fry the meat, coated with tempura or all purpose flour first. This is to make sure that the meat (chicken or beef) can absorb or hold the sauce. The flour will absorb the sauce better than the meat alone, and the added benefit is the meat will retain the juice and not leak it into the wok when cooked again. This is what makes the chicken taste so good.
Tip: You don’t absolutely need to pre-fry them if you concerned about your oil intake. It won’t be as good, but it’s your choice.
After you fry the cashews, chilies and meat, then you will stir fry them again with the sauce.
Chicken or beef, cut in small pieces, 1 cup (Use tofu if you are Vegetarian or Vegan)
Cashew nuts 3/4 – 1 cup
Onion, 1 whole onion peeled and cut up into 16 sections
Dried red chili, as much as you want
Scallions or green onions 3 – 4 whole stem (stalk?) cut to 2 inches long
Chopped garlic 1- 2 teaspoons
(Optional) All purpose flour or tempura flour as needed
Oyster sauce 1/4 cup (Use Mushroom soy sauce for Vegan and if you like, add a teaspoon of Vegemite for umami taste)
Light soy sauce 2 tablespoons
Sweet soy sauce 1 tablespoon
Sugar 2 tablespoons
Sesame oil 1 teaspoon (approximately)
White pepper 1/2 teaspoon (approximately)
Oil about 1 – 1 1/2 cup
1) Mix all the sauce, oyster sauce, sweet soy sauce, light soy sauce and sugar together.
2) Add a pinch of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of white pepper to the meat, then dust them with flour, if you chose to pre-fry them.
3) Add oil to the wok and set the heat to medium high. Once the oil reaches the medium high heat, add the raw cashew nuts first, then lower the heat to medium and fry them until brown.
It will take a while, be patient and don’t rush it, stir often. If you use the big whole cashew (I use medium size), you can drop the heat even lower than medium. I use medium heat so the cashew nuts are cooked all the way to the inside. If you are using roasted cashews, you don’t need to fry them.
Once the cashew nuts are golden, take them out of the wok and lay them on a paper towel to absorb the excess oil and let the nuts cool. They will be crunchy once they’ve cooled down.
4) Next is to fry the chilies, making sure that they are all a deep red, fragrant and crunchy. Once they touch the heat, they will expand to full round pods, keep the heat at medium or lower and be very careful, the chili pod can burst.
I like Puya chilies the most for this, but you can try Thai chilies if you want it spicier. Take them out and put them on a paper towel to drain some oil out and cool them down. If the chili pods are too big, once they cooled down, you will need to cut them. Also remove some seeds if you don’t want extra spicy.
5) Increase the heat up to high and fry the floured meat.
Fry quickly, only until the flour is golden on the outside. You don’t need to cook them through at this stage.
6) Take oil out of the wok, leaving only 2 tablespoons. Add chopped garlic and toss it around the pan for 30 seconds with the heat still on high.
7) Then add the cut onions.
This is my favorite part of the dish. Yes, you heard right. I LOVE the sweetness of the cooked onion. How much you should cook them? Until they are slightly translucent but not soft. Think of the texture of the onion inside onion rings (I would say Fleming’s onion rings are the best example). This will take only a minute or two.
8) Add the fried meat, fried chilies and fried cashew nuts to the wok. Pour the mixed sauce over them and stir fry until the sauce coats all of the meat. With chicken, continue to stir fry until the meat is cooked through, but with beef you can stop as soon as you see the sauce coats the meat all over.
9) Turn off the heat. Add green onions and fold them in a few times. The left over heat will take care of cooking them further. Drizzle with some sesame oil and shake the white pepper on top. Serve with jasmine rice or, in the case of my husband, just a fork.