On a recent flight, I wasn’t in the mood to read my book and I wasn’t sleepy, so I turned to my phone to pass the time. Without an internet connection, I was left with only the offline options. I took my time sorting through some photos, deleting and cropping and organizing. After a while, I decided to abandon that overwhelming project and I flipped to my other apps. I paused on the “Notes.” I opened it and started reading the surprisingly engaging glimpses of my everyday life. There were plenty of grocery lists, random addresses, and half done to-do lists, but there were a few special entries, too. I found the toast I gave at Jessica and Hal’s wedding, Christmas lists of years gone by, and at the end of my scrolling, I found the very first note I ever wrote. Fittingly, it was a recipe. Making it even more perfect was a connection to Jessica: I’d copied it from a cookbook in her apartment during a visit to New York in May 2009.
The recipe was for cashew chicken and I remember jotting it down out of a book about simple Asian recipes (not knowing I’d want to blog about it seven years later, I didn’t bother noting the title of the cookbook). I can’t recall if I ever actually made the dish. I figure I probably did…maybe…many moons ago, but I have no idea what I thought of it. Regardless of the 2009-me’s opinion, I decided that the dish looked simple and tasty enough to give it a shot in 2016.
The cashew chicken comes together like most stir-fries: chop, chop, chop, stir together a sauce, then cook everything for a hot few minutes and serve over rice. I had some reservations as I was prepping: will the cashews be too crunchy, is that enough sauce, should I add more vegetables? In the end, everything worked out. The nuts are the right amount of crunchy, the sauce coats without drowning, and the veg to meat to nut ratio is balanced, giving each bite a variety of textures. The flavor reminds me of a chicken chow mein my dad makes—aromatic, light, silky, and satisfying.
Typing out a recipe seems quaint now. Today, I’d just take a picture of it, but had I done that in 2009, the photo would be buried deep in some cloud and who knows if I’d ever see it again. Thank goodness for notes-to-self, weeknight workhorse recipes, and, most especially, best friends with cookbook collections.
The salt balance is something to tinker with, depending on your ingredients. For example, if you use regular soy sauce and salted cashews, you might not want to add salt to the sauce (you can always add it at the end if necessary). If you use low sodium soy sauce and unsalted cashews, you might want to add more salt to the sauce.
2 tablespoons dry sherry or shaoxing rice wine
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce
2 teaspoons corn starch
½ teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
for stir fry:
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons grated ginger
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 lb chicken breast, cut into small pieces
2 celery stalks, trimmed and sliced
3 tablespoons chopped green onion
1 cup salted, roasted cashews, roughly chopped
Make sauce: in a small bowl, combine sherry, water, soy sauce, corn starch, sugar, and salt until dissolved and smooth.
Make stir fry: heat large skillet or wok over high heat and add oil. When oil is hot, add garlic and ginger and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add chopped chicken in an even layer and cook undisturbed for 30 seconds, then stir until no longer pink. Add celery and stir until it turns bright green, about 1 minute. Add cashews, green onion, and sauce. Stir to combine and cook until sauce thickens slightly, about 1 minute.
Serve hot over rice.