Almond Chicken

This is almost as popular a Chinese restaurant dish as the more familiar cashew chicken. In China nuts are often paired with poultry, but I believe this dish is a Western innovation: in China almonds are rare. Nuts add a crunch and special taste to any dish. In Chinese restaurants only breast meat was served to Westerners. Chinese patrons prefer the more robust flavour and chewy texture of thighs and wings. In our restaurant, we saved the legs and thighs for our Chinese customers. However, almond chicken was always made with white breast meat.

Many of the traditional Chinese restaurants prepare a dark brown sauce, a sort of ready-made gravy that is artificially coloured to make our Western customers more comfortable with Chinese dishes, and that is what is usually served with almond chicken. But here I offer a lighter and, I believe, more delicious version without the heavy gravy.

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Ingredients

  • 450 g (1 lb) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons cornflour
  • 240 ml (8 fl oz) groundnut oil, or 480 ml (16 fl oz) water (see variations) and 1 tablespoon groundnut oil
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped spring onions
  • 55 g (2 oz) roasted whole almonds

Method

Cut the chicken into 2.5 cm (1 in) cubes. In a medium-sized bowl, mix the chicken with the egg white, salt and cornflour. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.

Heat a wok until it is very hot and then swirl in the oil. When the oil is very hot, remove the wok from the heat and immediately add the chicken pieces, stirring vigorously to keep them from sticking. As soon as the chicken pieces turn white, in about 2 minutes, quickly drain them in a stainless steel colander set in a bowl. Discard all but 1 tablespoon of the oil.

Reheat the wok (or heat it and swirl in 1 tablespoon of fresh oil if you used water instead of oil) and pour in the soy sauce, rice wine and drained chicken. Continue to stir-fry for 2 minutes, then toss in the spring onions and roasted almonds and give the mixture 2 stirs. Transfer the contents of the wok to a platter and serve at once.

Variation

If you choose to use water instead of oil, bring it to the boil in a saucepan. Remove the saucepan from the heat and immediately add the chicken pieces, stirring vigorously to keep them from sticking. When the chicken pieces turn white, in about 2 minutes, quickly drain the chicken in a stainless steel colander set in a bowl. Discard the water.

You can substitute cashews, peanuts or walnuts for the almonds.

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