Thai Cashew Chicken
Published Mar 31, 2020•Updated Dec 06, 2022
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Thai Cashew Chicken is tender bites of chicken in a savory and slightly sweet sauce. It’s better and healthier than takeout, made in 30 minutes, and full of crisp toasted cashews.
Okay, so I totally know what you’re thinking of when I mention Cashew Chicken. A Chinese food buffet version, right? Good but not great. This, my friends, is NOT that buffet cashew chicken. This is the Cashew Chicken of Thailand. In the world of stir fry dishes, this one is tops (perhaps only matched by the delicious Honey Ginger Chicken Stir-Fry). It is packed with flavor, full of sweet peppers and onions, tender chicken, and a sauce that will make you go back for seconds…and thirds…and look forward to leftovers at lunch. I’m certain you’re going to love this recipe as much as I do.
- Chicken Breast – Chop the chicken into bite-sized pieces and toss it with salt and flour. Chicken thighs would work well here too.
- Onion and Bell Peppers – Onion and bell peppers add flavor and color to the dish.
- Green Onions – Chop the green onions and add them in for fresh flavor.
- Cashews – Raw cashews work best here because you’ll toast them in oil before cooking. But roasted and unsalted cashews will also work.
- Cooking Oil – I like vegetable or peanut oil here for the high temperatures used during cooking.
- Stir Fry Sauce – This simple, savory sauce comes together fast. Check out the notes below and the recipe card for tips on light and dark sweet soy sauce which are both used in this recipe. This sauce does not use fish sauce, but like many Thai dishes, fish sauce would add a delicious savory flavor.
In Thailand, cashew chicken is still considered a Chinese-style dish but it is so common there that it’s become Thai food in its own right. The most noticeable difference in the Thai version is that the sauce is more complex – it is savory, slightly sweet, and with a little bit of tart flavor. Spice is optional, but as with most Thai chicken stir-fry recipes, a little heat is always welcome.
Light soy sauce (also called thin soy sauce) is the most common soy sauce used in Thai cooking. This is not the same as low-sodium, but it has a light color and more delicate flavor than Japanese or Chinese soy sauces that many of us have in our pantries. Dark sweet soy sauce has a thicker texture and color and a more rich flavor. It is a must-have ingredient for the beloved Thai noodle dish, Pad See Ew.
Check out my Guide to Essential Thai Ingredients for more details.
Like most stir-fry dishes, this is a weeknight favorite. A few minutes of prep means all of the ingredients are ready to go and the dish can be finished in the wok in 15 minutes or less. Cooking everything in the right order is key. Here we go!
How to Make Thai Cashew Chicken
Step 1: Make Sauce
Garlic, soy sauce, water, cornstarch, and red pepper flakes (optional) are things you probably already have in your pantry. You’ll also need Oyster Sauce. Don’t be afraid of it! You’ve surely had oyster sauce if you’ve had Thai or Chinese take-out. The finished dish won’t taste like oysters, but will have a savory flavor that shouldn’t be missed. You’ll also need Dark Sweet Soy Sauce. It’s inexpensive and available at any Asian market. This is the brand we keep in our pantry.
Step 2: Prep Ingredients
The ingredients list is short and sweet. Slice peppers, yellow onions, and green onions. Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces and toss with a bit of salt and all-purpose flour (to help it brown in the pan). Get everything ready before you start. This will cook FAST.
Step 3: Fry Cashews
Since cashews are the key ingredient of cashew chicken you really want them to shine. Add cashews to some hot oil over medium-high heat and cook for about a minute until they are golden brown. You’ll be amazed at how much toasty flavor and crunch this step gives the finished dish. It also gives the cooking oil some cashew flavor. Set cashews aside.
Step 4: Fry Chicken
Leave the oil from the cashews in the pan and add the chicken. Saute until golden brown and cooked through (6 to 7 minutes). Set chicken aside with cashews.
Step 5: Cook Peppers and Onions
To the hot pan, add those peppers and onions and saute until tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Add a splash of water if the pan starts to look dry.
Step 6: Simmer with Sauce
Here’s my favorite part. Add the stir fry sauce and let it bubble and thicken.
Step 7: Cook Everything Together
Add chicken and cashews back to pan with green onions. Toss everything to coat in sauce.
Dinner is served!
More Takeout Fake-Out Meals
- Thai Basil Chicken (Pad Krapow Gai)
- Instant Pot General Tso’s Chicken
- Honey Garlic Chicken Fried Rice
- Instant Pot Sweet and Sour Chicken
- Blackened Chicken
Favorite Tools for Asian-Inspired Recipes
- Joyce Chen Carbon Steel Wok – This affordable wok is the only one I use. I’ve had it for 10+ years and the only care it needs is to be washed out, dried well, and rubbed with oil before storing.
- Wok Spatula – This spatula fits perfectly around the curved edges of a wok.
- Splatter Screen – Perfect for keeping your stovetop (reasonably) clean.
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Thai Cashew Chicken
- Wok or skillet
- 2 cloves Garlic, chopped
- 1/2 cup Water
- 2 Tbsp Light Soy Sauce
- 1 Tbsp Dark Sweet Soy Sauce
- 2 tsp Oyster Sauce
- 1 tsp Cornstarch
- 1/2 tsp Red Pepper Flakes (optional – skip if you don't want the dish to be spicy)
- 1/4 tsp Ground White Pepper (optional)
- 1/2 Yellow Onion, sliced
- 1/2 Red Bell Pepper, sliced
- 3 stalks Green Onions, chopped
- 1 lb Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breast, chopped
- pinch Salt
- 1 Tbsp All-Purpose Flour
- 1/2 cup Raw Cashews (or use roasted and unsalted cashews)
- 1/4 cup Cooking Oil (like vegetable or peanut oil)
- Rice, for serving
- Make sauce:Whisk together garlic, water, light soy sauce, dark sweet soy sauce, and oyster sauce. Whisk in cornstarch. Add red pepper flakes and white pepper (if using). Set aside.
- Prep ingredients:Slice onion and bell pepper and combine. Chop green onions. Dice chicken and toss with a pinch of salt and flour.
- Set onions / peppers, green onions, chicken, sauce, and cashews near the stove. Place a paper towel on top of a plate and set that near the stove.
- Heat cooking oil in a wok over medium-high heat.
- When oil is hot, add cashews and saute until golden brown and toasted, 1 to 2 minutes (watch carefully to prevent them from burning). Set cashews on paper-towel lined plate. Leave oil in the wok.
- To remaining oil in wok, add chicken. Let chicken cook for 2 minutes without stirring (this will help it to brown on the bottom).
- Continue cooking, turning occasionally, until chicken is golden brown and cooked through, 6 to 7 minutes total.
- Transfer chicken to the plate with the cashews and return wok to heat.
- To any remaining oil in the wok, add onions and bell peppers.
- Saute until tender, 3 to 4 minutes. (Add a splash of water if the pan starts to look dry.)
- Pour sauce over onions and peppers.
- Simmer until sauce starts to thicken, 1 to 2 minutes.
- Add green onions, chicken, and cashews to pan. Cook everything together for 1 minute to coat in sauce.
- Serve over rice.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.