While I don't remember very many specific illnesses I had as a young child, I will never forget catching the chicken pox. I was dizzy. My stomach hurt. And I was so itchy that my mother made me wear mittens all day so that I wouldn't scratch my bright red spots.
When the illness started to finally wane, my mom and I celebrated by taking the mittens off and—as a more typical part of our “first day feeling better” tradition—ordering take-out cashew chicken. But it was not cashew chicken like you've probably had, it was “Springfield-style” cashew chicken.
While I've been eating Springfield-style cashew chicken all my life, I didn't know anything about it's history until I started googling it a few weeks ago when we were all recovering from being ill.
Created by David Leong, a Chinese immigrant to Springfield, Missouri in the 1950's, Springfield cashew chicken is a fusion of Leong's native Chinese food and the fried chicken and mashed potatoes that he discovered that Southerners loved. In short, real Chinese food was a little too exotic for that era and place, so Leong brilliantly improvised something more palatable for his customers--a good businessman and a good chef!
In addition to the history, though, I found something even more valuable--recipes! No longer will I have to beg relatives heading our way to bring me take-out. Now I can make my own.
The following is an amalgamation of several of the recipes I found. Not only is it delicious when you're feeling well, the mix of protein, rice, and a mild sauce is also wonderful for a recovering tummy!
Springfield Style Cashew Chicken (Makes 4 servings)
For the chicken
- 2 large chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch chunks
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup flour salt and pepper
- 6-8 cups frying oil (vegetable and peanut are good choices)
For the sauce
- 3 cups chicken stock
- 2 Tablespoons oyster sauce
- 2 Tablespoons soy sauce
- pinch of pepper
- 2 Tablespoons flour
- 3-4 sliced green onions
- about ½ cup chopped cashews
- 3-4 cups cooked jasmine rice
Fill a large skillet with frying oil. The skillet should be big enough to allow the oil to be a few inches deep. Keeping little ones at a safe distance, heat the oil to 360-degrees Fahrenheit.
While the oil is heating, prepare your chicken. In a small bowl whisk 2 eggs with a splash of water. In a separate bowl, mix the flour with a pinch of salt and pepper. Dredge each piece of chicken in flour, then egg, then flour again.
Preheat your oven to 200-degrees. Prepare a bake sheet with a cooling rack on top as a place to drain the chicken once it's fried.
By now, your oil should be about ready. Unless you have a huge skillet, you'll probably have to work in batches. Carefully add several pieces of chicken to the oil and fry for 4-5 minutes or until golden brown—pay more attention to the color than to your timer. When the chicken is done, use a slotted spoon to remove it from the oil to your prepared bake sheet. Put the bake sheet in the oven so that the chicken stays warm while you prepare the remaining batches.
As you're working on the chicken, you can also begin preparing the sauce. Add the stock to a medium sauce pan and heat until boiling. Then whisk in the oyster sauce, soy sauce, and a pinch of pepper.
Add the 2 tablespoons of flour to a small bowl or jar. Add about ¼ cup of cold water and whisk (or put the jar lid on and shake) until the water and flour are well mixed. Add the mixture to the sauce, whisking constantly to incorporate the flour. (If you end up with lumps still, run the sauce through a fine mesh sieve to get rid of them.)
Plate the chicken with a scoop of rice, a few big spoonfuls of sauce, and a small handful of cashews and green onions.