Cashew chicken

Better-than-take-out Cashew Chicken is chock full of juicy chicken and crunchy, nutty cashews coated in a savory garlic stir fry sauce!

Forget the take-out because this speedy Cashew Chicken recipe tastes 10X better!  It’s loaded with juicy chunks of chicken, crisp-tender bell peppers and deliciously crunchy cashews bathed in deeply fragrant, nutty, garlic ginger stir fry sauce.  This full-flavored, healthy recipe is easy to make with pantry friendly ingredients and amenable to whatever veggies you have on hand. Your family will love this Cashew Chicken Stir Fry with rice or low carb cauliflower rice and if you’re feeling even more gourmet, add a side of Ramen Noodle Salad and homemade egg rolls!

Chicken stir fries are my go-to meal whenever I want something simple, quick, easy, healthy and delicious OR whenever I want to clean out my veggie drawer.  Some don’t miss stir chicken fry recipes include: Honey Garlic Chicken Stir Fry, Chinese Chicken Stir Fry, Chicken and BroccoliKung Pao Chicken, Szechuan Chicken and Teriyaki Chicken Stir Fry.

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how to make cashew chicken recipe video

showing how to serve cashew chicken recipe on a white rice garnished with green onions

WHAT IS CASHEW CHICKEN?

Cashew Chicken is an American-Chinese dish that’s easy to make at home!  It’s made with chunks of chicken traditionally stir fried (although sometimes deep fried) and wonderfully nutty cashews.  The chicken is tossed in an umami forward garlic sauce made of soy sauce, oyster sauce, honey, rice wine, ginger, Asian chili sauce and of course, loads of fresh garlic.  The savory dish is a favorite at American Chinese restaurants and soon will be a new repeat at-home favorite!

Cashew CHICKEN RECIPE

This Cashew Chicken recipe is one of my favorite stir fries!  It’s not only healthy, versatile, quick and easy, but the buttery, creamy, nutty cashews are positively addicting!  You will crave them in every bite – and be rewarded with them in every bite 😉.

WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS:

  • Quick and easy: While many stir fry recipes can be tedious due to all the chopping, this recipe requires very little.  Most of the ingredients are just dumped and whisked into the sauce and then you’re just a 10 minutes stir fry away from dinner.
  • Addictive sauce:  The garlic stir fry sauce boasts a scrumptious balance between salty, savory, sour, sweet and spicy with plenty of aromatic garlic, ginger and green onions.  The addition of green onions to both the stir fry and the sauce and my nutty secret ingredient of sesame oil take it over the top – you will be licking your plate!
  • The cashews!  This recipe doesn’t skimp on the buttery, creamy cashews. The cashews are first toasted in the skillet to deepen their nuttiness and then added back to the stir fry with the sauce so they remain delightfully crunchy.
  • The juiciest chicken around:  You will LOVE the texture of the chicken! This recipe utilizes the easy restaurant velveting technique to produce smooth, tender, melt-in-your-mouth chicken just like your favorite restaurant. Once you try it, you’ll never go back!
  • Versatile:  You can use chicken breasts or chicken thighs or even swap the chicken with beef, pork or shrimp. The veggies are also completely flexible as well – perfect for using up leftover veggies!
showing how to make cashew chicken recipe by stir frying chicken and bell peppers and cashews in a skillet

CASHEW CHICKEN stir fry INGREDIENTS

This Cashew Chicken recipe is made with pantry friendly ingredients if you do much Asian cooking – which means it can be whipped up any time!   Let’s take a closer look at what you’ll need (full measurements in the recipe card at the bottom of the post):

For the stir fry:

  • Chicken: This recipe calls for 1 ½ pounds chicken breasts which might sound like a lot but because there are less veggies than other stir fries, it goes down super easily. Alternatively, you can decrease the chicken and increase the veggies.  The chicken breasts emerge crazy tender and juicy with the easy velveting technique or you are welcome to use chicken thighs instead.
  • Cashews:  You must use unsalted cashews otherwise your stir fry will be way too salty!  I typically pick them up at the bulk bins at Sprouts.
  • Green onions:  You will use one bunch of green onions – the white parts stir fried with the ginger and garlic, half of the green parts added to the sauce and the rest for garnish.  
  • Bell peppers:  You can swap in any desired veggies but I love bell peppers for their crisp tender crunch alongside the cashews. 
  • Garlic:  This recipe calls for 6 cloves of garlic to earn the title “garlic stir fry sauce.”  You are welcome to use more or less depending on your personal preference.  If you are in a bind, you can add 1 teaspoon garlic powder to the sauce, but fresh is so much better!
  • Ginger:  One tablespoon freshly grated ginger adds another spicy, zingy depth to the sauce.  You may substitute with 1 teaspoon ginger powder added directly to the sauce.

For the stir fry sauce:

  • Soy sauce: Grounds the sauce with its salty depth. Use low sodium so your recipe isn’t too salty.
  • Oyster sauce:  Oyster sauce is the base of almost ever stir fry sauce and bumps up the savory umami character.  Oyster sauce is a thick, brown sauce with a balance between sweet and salty with an earthy undertone.  You can find oyster sauce in the Asian aisle of any supermarket for only a few dollars.  Please use QUALITY oyster sauce such as Lee Kum Kee or Kikkoman.  You truly can taste the difference and will be sorely disappointed with less quality brands.

What if I’m allergic to shellfish? Or vegetarian?  If you’re allergic to shellfish/vegetarian, use LEE KUM KEE Vegetarian Stir-Fry Sauce instead of oyster sauce. You may also use soy sauce in a bind – just don’t expect as spectacular of results.

  • Chicken broth:  Use low sodium chicken broth otherwise the dish may be too salty. You can also use vegetable broth but chicken broth is more flavorful. Please DO NOT use water as I’ve tried this and will leave you with sad, wanting results.
  • Honey:  The sweetness of the honey balances the umami of the soy and oyster sauce. You may also substitute with granulated sugar. 
  • Rice wine:  Adds a sweetness and depth of flavor.  I use “Kikkoman Aji-Mirin: Sweet Cooking Rice Seasoning” which is commonly found in the Asian section of most grocery stores or you can Amazon it. I highly suggest you google image before you head off to the grocery store so you know exactly what you are looking for.  The best substitute for rice wine is pale dry sherry. Do NOT substitute rice wine with rice vinegar, they are NOT the same.  Rice vinegar will add an acidic flavor without the sweetness.
  • Sesame oil:  Please use toasted sesame oil.  Toasted sesame oil boasts a strong nutty aroma and flavor and underscores the nuttiness of the cashews.
  • Asian chili sauce:  Every stir fry needs a little heat!  The chili sauce adds flavor, depth and is completely customizable.  I use Sambal Oelek with the green lid but you can also use your favorite chili sauce such as sriracha.
  • Cornstarch: Helps thicken the sauce to a glossy, sticky consistency.
top view of cashew chicken stir fry in a skillet with cashews, chicken, bell peppers and green onions

HOW DO YOU MAKE stir fry chicken TENDER?

This Cashew Chicken recipe is not only unabashedly flavorful but the chicken is wonderful silky and juicy due to a simple process called velveting.  I first introduced you to velveting in my chicken stir fry recipe, and can attest it makes ALL THE difference.  It is how Chinese restaurants attain such smooth, tender chicken – and now you can get the same results at home.

There are a few different velveting techniques, but I opt for the easiest one using baking soda; but don’t worry, you won’t taste the baking soda but you will taste the textural difference it makes! Essentially, the chicken is marinated in a combination of baking soda, soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, and cornstarch.  Here’s how it works:

  • Baking soda:  tenderizes the chicken by breaking down the chicken fibers so the chicken emerges softer on the inside like “velvet” – hence the name.
  • Soy sauce:  the salt in the soy sauce also helps break down the proteins for a more tender texture and infuses the chicken with flavor.
  • Rice wine: is an acidic ingredient that breaks down lean muscle fibers on the surface of the protein.
  • Cornstarch: acts as a binder and helps our soy sauce bind to the chicken for more flavorful chicken.   Cornstarch also provides a light coating that helps protect the chicken from drying out while cooking.

This easy velveting technique can be used in all your favorite Chinese Chicken recipes – even the ones with breading; instead, skip the breading and add whatever seasonings were in the breading to the velveting mixture. This allows you to enjoy the intoxicating sauces without the hassle of breading.  Try it on my Hoisin Ginger Chicken, Honey Lemon Chicken and Honey Coconut Chicken.   

HOW to make cashew chicken

This Cashew Chicken recipe comes together quickly but will blow your favorite restaurant version out of the water!  Let’s take a closer look at how to make the stir fry (full recipe in the recipe card at the bottom of the post):

STEP 1:  toast cashews

  • Toast the cashews in a dry skillet over medium heat until visibly toasted in spots, stirring a few times.  This unlocks the deliciously nutty flavor.
showing how to make cashew chicken stir fry by toasting cashews in a skillet

STEP 2:  MARINATE the CHICKEN (“VELVETING”)

  • Marinating the chicken ensures juicy, flavorful, silky chicken.  The marinating/velveting process is simple – add cornstarch, baking soda, sesame oil, soy sauce and rice wine to a large freezer bag or bowl; whisk to combine.
  • Add chicken and turn until evenly coated.  Let sit at room temperature for 20 minutes or so.

TIP:  Use the marinating time to prep your veggies, aromatics, whisk the sauce together and get your rice going.

showing how to make cashew chicken stir fry by marinating chicken breast chunks in a bowl with soy sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, cornstarch

STEP 3:  COOK CHICKEN

  • Heat some vegetable or peanut oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Make sure to use a neutral oil so the chicken isn’t tainted. Once very hot, add chicken in a single layer and cook until golden then stir and cook chicken just until opaque. Transfer to a plate.

TIP:  The chicken shouldn’t be cooked all the way through because it will finish cooking in the stir fry sauce. 

showing how to make cashew chicken stir fry by cooking chicken in a skillet until golden

STEP 4:  STIR FRY VEGGIES

  • Heat oil over medium-high heat. Once very hot, add the bell peppers and the white parts of the green onions and stir fry for a few minutes, then add the garlic and ginger and stir fry for 30 seconds.

TIP: Set a timer and DON’T over-cook the veggies because they will continue to cook in the sauce – we want crisp tender veggies, not tender crisp.

showing how to make cashew chicken recipe by stir frying bell peppers, garlic and ginger

STEP 5:  add stir fry SAUCE

  • Return the chicken to the skillet along with toasted cashews and half of the green parts of the green onions. Whisk the stir fry sauce to recombine then add to the skillet.
  • Simmer until the sauce is thickened and chicken is cooked through, about 1-2 minutes.  Garnish with remaining green onions, and dig in!

TIP:  The consistency of the sauce is up to you – for thinner sauce, simmer for less time or add a splash of broth, for thicker sauce, simmer for more time.   Just make sure the chicken is cooked through when you’re finished.

showing how to make cashew chicken recipe by adding stir fry sauce, cooked chicken, cashews and green onions to the bell peppers in the skillet to simmer

TIPS FOR MAKING this recipe

This Cashew Chicken is very simple to make, but there are some helpful tips and tricks for efficiency and flavor:

  • Don’t cut the chicken too small. Larger pieces of chicken will be juicier because they are harder to overcook and dry out.
  • Don’t skip the marinade. This ensures that the chicken is tender and flavorful from the inside out. 
  • Don’t marinate the chicken for too long. The bite-size pieces of chicken should not be marinated longer than a few hours or else they can become mushy.
  • Use the correct oil. You may substitute the vegetable oil with peanut oil, but please don’t use olive oil because it has a strong flavor which will distract from the stir fry.
  • Don’t cook the chicken at high heat. The velveting coating on the chicken makes it brown more easily so you don’t want the skillet too hot or the outsides will burn before the insides have time to cook. I find medium heat to be about right but you may need to play with the heat.
  • Use a nonstick skillet. The velveting on the chicken also makes it prone to sticking, so you must use a nonstick skillet with oil otherwise it will stick and tear as it cooks.
  • Don’t overcook chicken.  For the juiciest chicken, don’t overcook!  Brown it in the skillet but let it finish cooking in the sauce.
up close of cashew chicken recipe showing the juicy chicken, crisp tender bell peppers and garlic stir fry sauce

POSSIBLE RECIPE VARIATIONS:

This Cashew Chicken recipe easy to customize in so many ways, here are just a few ideas:

  • Customize the sesame sauce: The sauce is perfect for us, but you may find you like it sweeter, tangier, or spicier.  Taste the sauce after it has simmered and the flavors have concentrated, then adjust how you like.  Sweeten it up with honey or sugar,  make it tangier with rice vinegar or spicier with additional chili sauce.
  • Add stir fried vegetables:  You can swap the bell peppers for other veggies or add additional veggies such as carrots, broccoli, snow peas, mushrooms, etc.  If adding additional veggies, you’ll need to reduce the amount of chicken so there is enough stir fry sauce. 
  • Other add-ins:  Water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, pineapple, mandarin oranges, etc. would all be tasty additions.
  • Spicy Cashew Chicken:  Add 1 to 1 ½ tablespoons Asian chili sauce or 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes.
  • Crispy Fried Cashew Chicken:  Skip the velveting and instead bread the chicken like in this recipe.  Add enough vegetable oil to a Dutch oven or frying pan so it reaches 1 1/2-inches up the sides.  Heat the oil to medium-high heat, between 350- and 375-degrees F.  Once very hot, add the chicken in batches and cook until golden and cooked through, about 2-3 minutes.  Remove to a paper towel lined plate to drain.
  • Pan Fried Cashew Chicken:  Skip the velveting and following the breading and cooking technique in this recipe.
  • To make it vegan: Try out cubed tofu!  Place firm tofu in a pie plate, top with a heavy plate and weigh down with 2 heavy cans (to release water). Set aside for 10 minutes, then chop into 1-inch cubes before marinating. Swap the chicken broth for vegetable broth and the oyster sauce for Lee Kum Kee Vegetarian Stir-Fry Sauce.
  • Make it gluten free: Use tamari instead of soy sauce and gluten free oyster sauce. The rest of the ingredients are gluten free.
top view of half eaten cashew chicken in a skillet showing how saucy it is

WHAT SHOULD I SERVE WITH CASHEW CHICKEN?

This Cashew Chicken recipe is dripping with flavor so it pairs well with neutral sides such as:

PREP AHEAD CASHEW CHICKEN stir fry

Even though this Cashew Chicken recipe is easy to make, you can still prepare it in stages if that works best for you:

  • Cashews:  Toast in a skillet, cool, then store in an airtight container.
  • Stir fry sauce: Whisk the sauce ingredients together but do not simmer/thicken. Store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. 
  • Chicken: Chop the chicken and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.  You can also marinate up to 4 hours ahead of time.

HOW TO STORE AND REHEAT

This Cashew Chicken Stir Fry reheats very well. For leftovers:

  • How to store: Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
  • How to reheat on the stove:  Leftovers are best reheated on the stove, even if they are small portions.  To reheat, heat a drizzle of oil over medium heat.  Once hot, add the chicken, stirring occasionally until warmed through. 
  • Reheating in microwave:  Take care not to overcook the chicken or it can become rubbery in the microwave.  Microwave for one minute then at 20 second intervals until warmed through.  

CAN I FREEZE CASHEW CHICKEN?

Yes!  Unlike many fried Cashew Chicken recipes, this recipes freezes very well in the sauce.   Let the dish cool completely then transfer to a large freezer size bag or divide the dish into smaller bags or airtight container(s) and freeze for up to 3 months. When ready to enjoy, thaw in the refrigerator overnight then reheat per any of the above methods.

showing how to serve cashew chicken by serving on a bowl of rice with chopsticks

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showing how to serve cashew chicken recipe on a white rice garnished with green onions

Cashew Chicken

Forget the take-out because this speedy Cashew Chicken recipe tastes 10X better!  It’s loaded with juicy chunks of chicken, crisp-tender bell peppers and deliciously crunchy cashews bathed in deeply fragrant, nutty, garlic ginger stir fry sauce.  This full-flavored, healthy recipe is easy to make with pantry friendly ingredients and amendable to whatever veggies you have on hand. Your family will love this Cashew Chicken Stir Fry with rice or low carb cauliflower rice and if you’re feeling even more gourmet, add a side of Ramen Noodle Salad and homemade egg rolls!
Servings: 6 servings
Prep Time: 20 mins
Cook Time: 10 mins

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Ingredients

CHICKEN VELVETING (Quick Marinade)

STIR FRY SAUCE

STIR FRY

  • 1 cup UNSALTED cashews
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable or peanut oil, divided
  • 1 bunch green onions, white and green parts separated, chopped into ½ inch pieces
  • 1 green bell pepper, 1-inch chop
  • 1 red bell pepper, 1-inch chop
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced

Instructions

  • Add the velveting ingredients to a large freezer bag or bowl; whisk to combine. Add chicken and turn until evenly coated. Let sit at room temperature while you prep your veggies; preferable 20-30 minutes. Meanwhile:
  • Whisk the Stir Fry Sauce ingredients together in a medium bowl; set aside. Chop your veggies and aromatics.
  • Toast the cashews in a dry, large nonstick skillet over medium heat until toasted golden in spots, stirring a few times; remove cashews from the skillet.
  • Heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in the now empty skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add chicken in a single layer and sear for 1-2 minutes; then continue to stir until cooked on all sides (does not need to be cooked through). Remove chicken to a plate.
  • To the now empty pan (don’t wipe out), heat one tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Add the bell peppers and the white parts of the green onions only. Stir fry until vegetables are crisp tender, about 3 minutes. (Don’t over-cook because they will continue to cook in sauce). Add garlic and ginger to the veggies and sauté for 30 seconds.
  • Whisk the Stir Fry Sauce (to recombine) and add to the veggies along with the chicken, cashews and half of the remaining green onions. Simmer, while stirring, until the sauce has thickened and the chicken is cooked through; 1-2 minutes. Adjust to taste with additional, honey, soy sauce or chili sauce. Garnish with remaining green onions if desired, dig in.

Video

Notes

Ingredient tips and tricks

  • Oyster sauce:  Oyster sauce is the base of almost ever stir fry sauce and bumps up the savory umami character; its flavor cannot be replicated.  Please use QUALITY oyster sauce such as Lee Kum Kee or Kikkoman.  You truly can taste the difference and will be sorely disappointed with less quality brands.
  • Vegetarian oyster sauce:  Use Lee Kum Kee Vegetarian Stir-Fry Sauce.  You may also use soy sauce in a bind – just don’t expect as spectacular of results.
  • Rice wine:  Adds a sweetness and depth of flavor.  I use “Kikkoman Aji-Mirin: Sweet Cooking Rice Seasoning” which is commonly found in the Asian section of most grocery stores or you can Amazon it. I highly suggest you google image before you head off to the grocery store so you know exactly what you are looking for.  The best substitute for rice wine is pale dry sherry. Do NOT substitute rice wine with rice vinegar, they are NOT the same.  Rice vinegar will add an acidic flavor without the sweetness.
  • Asian chili sauce:  I use Sambal Oelek with the green lid but you can also use your favorite chili sauce such as sriracha.
  • To make it vegan: Try out cubed tofu!  Place firm tofu in a pie plate, top with a heavy plate and weigh down with 2 heavy cans (to release water). Set aside for 10 minutes, then chop into 1-inch cubes before marinating. Swap the chicken broth for vegetable broth and the oyster sauce for Lee Kum Kee Vegetarian Stir-Fry Sauce.
  • To make it gluten free: Use tamari instead of soy sauce and gluten free oyster sauce. The rest of the ingredients are gluten free.

PREP AHEAD 

Even though this Cashew Chicken recipe is easy to make, you can still prepare it in stages if that works best for you:
  • Cashews:  Toast in a skillet, cool, then store in an airtight container.
  • Stir fry sauce: Whisk the sauce ingredients together but do not simmer/thicken. Store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. 
  • Chicken: Chop the chicken and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.  You can also marinate up to 4 hours ahead of time.

HOW TO STORE AND REHEAT

  • How to store: Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
  • How to freeze:  Let the dish cool completely then transfer to a large freezer size bag or divide the dish into smaller bags or airtight container(s) and freeze for up to 3 months. When ready to enjoy, thaw in the refrigerator overnight then reheat per any of the below methods.
  • How to reheat on the stove:  Leftovers are best reheated on the stove, even if they are small portions.  To reheat, heat a drizzle of oil over medium heat.  Once hot, add the chicken, stirring occasionally until warmed through. 
  • Reheating in microwave:  Take care not to overcook the chicken or it can become rubbery in the microwave.  Microwave for one minute then at 20 second intervals until warmed through.  

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6 Comments

  1. DavidF says

    This looks incredible. We are trying to learn how to cook Chinese. And, we want to save money because it is so expensive to eat out now. So, we have added this to our “To Cook List”, and we will let you know how it turns out. Thank you for posting and sharing with everyone. Your instructions are TOP-NOTCH … nobody online has such wonderful and thought-out instructions.

    • Jen says

      Thanks so much David, I’m excited for you to try it and hear what you think! I’m humbled you find my instructions so helpful!

  2. Joan Ibrien says

    Delicious!! Used dry sherry as did t have rice wine. Used shiricha as couldn’t find the Asian chili sauce. But these were your two alternate replacements. It was delicious. So much sauce!!

    • Jen says

      Thanks for being the first to review this recipe Joan, I’m so pleased you loved it!

  3. Carol says

    Made this tonight! Forgot cashews at the store, still better than any takeout we’ve had

    • Jen says

      Thanks so much Carol, I’m excited for you to try it with the cashews – it will be even better!

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