This is an extremely pretty and appealing Cantonese dish of lightly sweet, crystalline cashews—“nuts with waists,” as they are called in Chinese. The glaze is made with maltose, the same subtle, golden sweetener that characterizes the skins of Peking and Cantonese ducks. When it hardens, the nuts are like jewels.
Combine the water, sugar, and maltose in a small, heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil over moderately high heat, stirring to dissolve the sweeteners. Boil undisturbed for 1 minute. Add the nuts, swirl the pan to coat them, then reduce the heat to maintain a steady simmer. Simmer 6–7 minutes, swirling the pan occasionally to coat the nuts, until there are only 2 tablespoons syrup left in the pan.
While the nuts are cooking, heat a wok or deep, heavy skillet over high heat until hot. Add the oil and heat to the slow-fry stage, 275° on a deep-fry thermometer. Adjust the heat so the temperature doesn’t rise. Have an unlined jelly-roll pan or baking pan and a pair of chopsticks or two wooden spoons within reach.
Once the nuts are done, scoop them from the syrup with a Chinese mesh spoon or drain them in a fine-mesh strainer or metal colander. (Save the remaining caramel, if you like, for glazing ham or poultry.) Add the nuts to the heated oil. They will barely bubble. Fry for about 8 minutes, stirring constantly, until the cashews turn a deep golden brown.
Scoop the nuts at once from the oil with a Chinese mesh spoon or metal strainer, deposit them in the unlined pan, and separate them immediately with the chopsticks or the handles of the wooden spoons. While the nuts are warm, they stick to each other like glue. Once cool, they harden like glass.
When the nuts are fully cool and crisp, blot them with paper towels to absorb the excess oil. If you are not serving them immediately, store them in a cool dry place to keep them crisp.
The cashews are best freshly made. Leftovers may be refrigerated in a dry, airtight jar.
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.