Velveted Chicken and Cashews

Chicken stir-fried with miso sauce and cashews is another Chinese dish adapted to Japanese tastes. The technique of marinating the chicken in egg white, cornstarch, and a bit of sesame oil tenderizes the chicken and keeps it moist when it’s cooked. This is the secret Chinese restaurants use to achieve that special texture of meats in stir-fries. In many of the recipes I’ve seen online the chicken is fried but only partially cooked. This might be practical in a restaurant kitchen with pots of hot oil ready to be put to use. In this recipe the marinated chicken is put in boiling water until it turns white before it’s stir-fried. It’s less wasteful and messy than using oil!


As a newly-wed I learned this trick from the Time Life Foods of the World cookbook series. My new mother-in-law had a set and I borrowed The Cooking of China. For each country the series included a hardcover book discussing the culture and background of the food, and a separate wire-bound booklet with recipes. I don’t know if she had them all, but from what I can find out now, there were at least 30 of them. My mother-in-law never did get the book back, but unfortunately it’s been lost for years.

I learned another technique with a similar name: Chicken Velvet. Chicken breasts are chopped to a smooth consistency, almost like a pureé, and combined with egg whites and either fried or poached like quenelles in broth.

Chicken, Cashews, and Miso in a Wok
Nira-reba ItameTori to Kashunattsu no Miso Itame

serves 3 to 4

page 414
Velveting the Chicken:
  • 10 to 12 ounces boneless skinless chicken breasts,
    cut into 1″ cubes
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 Tablespoon sake
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 teaspoons potato starch or cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoons sesame oil
  • pot of boiling water, over high heat
In a medium bowl, toss the chicken with the above ingredients, adding them one at a time and mixing with the chicken. Cover and refrigerate 20 to 30 minutes. Drop the chicken cubes into the boiling water and let them cook just until they turn white. Remove and drain. Use the marinating time to prepare the other ingredients.
The Sauce:

  • 2 Tablespoons akamiso (brown miso)
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 3 Tablespoons sake

Mix the above ingredients in a cup.

Prepare the Vegetables:

  • 4 to 5 akatogarashi (or other small dried red chile peppers)
  • 1 Tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/2 medium onion, cut into thin wedges
  • 3 to 5 scallions, cut into 1″ lengths
  • 1 cup cashews (I just buy regular salted cashews, rinse them, and then toast to dry, but the recipe calls for “raw cashews” which I never have on hand)

  • 2-3 Tablespoons oil
  • about 2 teaspoons tamari
Heat a wok over medium heat. Add the oil, and when it’s hot add the peppers. Stir-fry until the skins darken (seconds!).
Remove the wok from the heat and add the garlic. Stir-fry for 20 seconds.
Add the chicken and stir-fry over high heat for a couple of minutes.
Add the onion, and stir-fry 30 seconds, tossing vigorously.
Add the scallions, and give the pan a few good tosses.
Add the sauce (miso mixture) and stir for a minute.Add the cashews and stir-fry for a minute or two.
Turn off the heat and season to taste with tamari.
Serve with white or brown rice.
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Mabo Tofu Japanese Style Veal Soup ~ Chikuzen-Style

4 thoughts on “Velveted Chicken and Cashews

  1. I love cashews and chicken and especially love them together. This goes on the To Try list. But the sake – what would be an acceptable substitute? Rice wine vinegar in slightly smaller amounts? Something else? Leave it out and don’t worry about it?

    My mom had those Foods of the World books too! Some of them, anyway, maybe a dozen or so. I remember that most of her cookbooks were just text, or had only a few photos (“plates”) in the center, and the Time-Life series really stood out to me for its photography. A used-book store I frequented in NH always had a couple of these on the shelves, so I wouldn’t be surprised if you’d find China on eBay or in a used-book store.

    • I’ve made this recipe quite a few times. Easy, nothing too exotic, delicious.

      For saké I’d sub a light sherry, but if it’s alcohol you want to avoid, then maybe apple juice—diluted with half water, half juice. Or just use chicken stock. Definitely not vinegar.

      I’d forgotten about those books until I started thinking about what to write to introduce the recipe. Yeah, I did see that though they’re long out of print, used copies are available.

      I wonder what happened to mil’s books? Maybe J’s sisters took them? Maybe her husband gave/threw them away. Could be still in the house. Maybe I’ll snoop around, but the one about China will be missing…

  2. I love, love, love the technique of velveting – it works so well! I was thinking of making something along those lines this week…. our minds are in harmony!


    • Yes, it’s like magic!
      (So it’s hard to believe, some people don’t like the texture!)

      Hey! If you ever heard me sing, then “harmony” would not come to mind.

      BTW I bought black beans but have not yet made your recipe…

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