International cooking for the youthful malcontent.

Cashew Chicken Curry

Cashew Chicken Curry

This is a good week-night curry. It’s very simple and takes only half an hour to prepare and cook from scratch. Baking a frozen lasagna takes twice as long. I won’t talk smack about lasagna (I’ll get in trouble with a lady) but I’d prefer this over it any day.

The sauce has the most basic foundation (onion) plus large flavouring ingredients (cashews and cilantro) and a small amount of spicing to provide nuance and warmth. Then we just simmer some chicken pieces in this sauce and we’re done. The smell is amazing (fried onion in butter, mixing with roasted nuts and spices, cooled off with fresh herbs – think about that for a few minutes) and the flavour is relatively complex for such a small list of ingredients.

It’s also a great way to get rid of cashews if you have a giant tin of them sitting in your cupboard like I do.

Edit: I’ve added a few more ingredients to this recipe. I’ve marked them as optional.

Ingredients:

  • 2 chicken breasts, cut into 1″ cubes, or strips 2-3″ long and 1/2″ wide
  • 2 onions, peeled
  • 1/2″ knob of ginger, peeled (optional)
  • 3-4 cloves garlic (optional)
  • 1/4 cup cashews, unsalted
  • 1/4 cup of tightly-packed cilantro leaves and stems
  • 1 cup of water
  • 2 tbsp ghee
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp garam masala (this one again)
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne chili powder

Serve with: chapati, steamed rice

What you will need: knife and cutting board, measuring cups and spoons, saute pan/ stir-fry pan/wok with a lid, and preferably not non-stick, a flat-edged spatula, two bowls for organizing ingredients, mini food-processor

Directions:

  1. Prepare the sauce: Take one of the onions and chop it into chunks about 3/4″ square (it has to be small enough to fit into the food processor so use your discretion) and add it to the mini-processor with the cashews. Rinse the cilantro under running water ( I just hold it in my hand when I do this) to remove the dirt that’s usually on the leaves (it won’t kill you, I don’t think, but it’s gritty). Add the cilantro to the processor. Add the garlic and ginger, if using. Add 1/2 cup of water to the processor as well, then grind the cashews, onion and cilantro until it’s a fairly smooth paste. It’ll look a bit like pesto at this point: small chunks of nuts, and specks of green herbs, etc. Pour this paste into one of the organizing bowls and keep it by the stove.
  2. Measure the salt, garam masala and cayenne powder into the second organizing bowl. Put this bowl beside the other one.
  3. Heat the ghee in the saute pan over medium heat (5 on my dial).
  4. While the ghee is heating, take the 2nd onion and slice it into half-rings. This means cut it in half, then slice each half into 1/4″ ribbons, roughly. This will leave you with a pile of C-shaped onion pieces.
  5. Add the sliced onion to the hot pan and fry the onions for about 4-5 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown and the onion itself has softened (they will lose some of their C-shape when this happens). Stir them around a bit to cook them evenly.
  6. Add the onion-cashew-cilantro paste to the pan, and stir the pan ingredients together. Let this sauce cook until the water in the paste cooks off, and the sauce thickens a bit. You’ll know when this happens because the sauce will start sticking to the bottom of the pan (that’s why we’re not using non-stick pans here – seared onions and sauce taste great!) somewhat and become lightly browned. Don’t worry about it, we will deglaze the pan in a sec. And I will tell you what “deglaze” means.
  7. Add the chicken pieces now. All we want to do here is seal the pieces. This means no pink on the outside (pink on the inside is fine, we’re not done cooking yet) Stir-fry the chicken in the pan until all sides are white and no major pink spots remain. This will take a few minutes. At the same time, the browned sauce should be darkening on the bottom of the pan, but not quite burnt.
  8. Here we go: add the salt and spice bowl, and the remaining 1/2 cup of water. Stir with the spatula to mix the spices into the sauce, and use the flat-edge of the spatula to scrape the browned bits of sauce off the bottom of the pan. Using a liquid as a solvent to remove carmelized bits of stuff from a pan – this is deglazing, and it is a technique used to make sauces (the kinds of fancy sauces you’ll find at French and Italian restaurants very often). So, scrape up all those bits from the bottom of the pan, they are full of flavour!
  9. Once you’re through deglazing the pan, the sauce should be simmering (as the water in the sauce is reaching it’s boiling point) Turn the heat to low (1-2 on my dial) and put the lid on the pan. Let the curry simmer for about 6-7 minutes. This is to finish cooking the chicken, and we put the lid on so that the water doesn’t escape the pan, yet.
  10. Now that the chicken is cooked through, take the lid off the pan, and crank the heat up to medium-high (6-7) so the sauce begins to rapidly boil again. Cook the sauce down (the sauce will reduce in volume as the water leaves the pan in the form of steam) until it’s thickened. You want it thick enough that it will stick to the meat, and not drip off when it’s too watery. This will only take 3-4 minutes. Stir the curry a few times to release steam and make sure nothing gets burnt.
  11. Once the sauce is thickened to your liking, remove the curry from the heat, and you are done.

Pretty simple, but I think you will agree the flavours are rich and layered. And for the 30 minutes it takes to prepare, well, that’s a bargain. A bowl of this and a few chapatis makes a great dinner.

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