Cashew chicken is not a dish you’re likely to come across at restaurants in Hong Kong or China. There are chicken dishes here that are garnished with cashews, but they are not listed on the menu as cashew chicken.
That’s because cashew chicken is a Chinese-American dish – something you find primarily at places that cook up large batches of food at once, and keep it in warming trays under heat lamps or on steam tables. It's much better when freshly cooked. This version takes about 45 minutes to make, and has chunks of moist chicken, crisp-tender vegetables and plenty of crunchy cashews.
Use boneless chicken thighs or breasts, with or without skin, as you prefer.
Cut the chicken into one-bite pieces and put them in a bowl. Add the soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, salt, pepper and sesame oil and mix thoroughly. Set aside while preparing the other ingredients.
Halve the garlic cloves. Halve the onion, then cut it into bite-size pieces. Remove and discard the stem and seeds from the bell peppers, then cut them into bite-size pieces. Cut the spring onions into 2.5cm (1in) lengths.
Pour the oyster sauce into a heatproof bowl and add the vinegar and 150ml (⅔ cup) of hot water. Stir to combine.
Sprinkle the cornstarch over the chicken pieces and mix well.
Pour oil into a wok to a depth of about 8cm (3in) and place it over a medium-high flame. Heat the oil to 180°C (350°F). When the oil is hot, add the chicken pieces; cook them in three or four batches - do not crowd the pan. Stir occasionally, and fry the chicken until fully cooked, about four minutes for dark meat (thighs), while white meat needs only about two to three minutes. Use a large slotted ladle to remove the chicken from the wok and drain the pieces on paper towels.
Add the cashews to the hot oil and fry for about a minute, or until they are well-toasted and medium brown. Remove the cashews from the wok with the slotted ladle and drain them on paper towels.
Pour off almost all the oil from the wok; no need to wash it. Place the wok over a high flame and when it’s hot, add the garlic and ginger. Stir-fry for about 30 seconds, or until fragrant, then add the onion. Use a wok spatula to stir-fry the ingredients for about a minute, then add the bell peppers. Stir-fry for another 30 seconds, then add the chicken pieces to the wok.
Pour in the oyster sauce/vinegar/water mixture. Stir thoroughly, then push all the ingredients to the centre of the wok, cover with the lid and lower the flame to medium. Simmer for about three minutes, or until the onion and bell pepper pieces are crisp-tender, stirring occasionally.
The sauce should lightly coat the chicken; if it's too thin, turn the flame to high and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring often. Taste the sauce for seasoning and correct, if necessary.
Add the cashews to the wok and stir well, then mix in the spring onion.
Ladle the ingredients into a shallow bowl and serve immediately with steamed rice and green vegetables.