Mary Cooks Cashew Chicken

Tuesday's dinner starts with an old recipe from our salad days, those happy golden years of our life together. While we weren't yet married, we were well on the way - out of his bachelor pad, out of the city, out in the suburbs. We were no longer working for Manpower or Kelly or Office Team. We had "real" jobs and a neat little row house just across the Harford County line.

When we look back on that time, we remember it as the time when I made a sincere effort to figure out what being a wife entailed. This included attempting to cook dinner. I relied heavily on Betty Crocker recipes, mostly for their simplicity and their versatility. The Peanut Butter Chili Chicken became a favorite, both as written and easily nudged into one direction or another. When Gareth requested cashew chicken, I initially drew a blank. Then, I pulled out this old recipe and began to improvise.

And ended up with a cooking experience that is more typical of my endeavors in the kitchen. I debated telling the full story behind tonight's dinner, or just posting the recipe and the photos and pretending everything went as planned. However, every failure has lessons to share, especially kitchen failures.

Mis en place

So, here are the base ingredients for Betty Crocker's Peanut Butter Chili Chicken:

Salt and Pepper

3 lbs chicken - I used about 6 thighs

2 tbsp oil - I used peanut oil

1/2 cup onion chopped - I used shallot

1/3 cup peanut butter - I used cashew butter

1/4 cup chili paste

1/2 tsp cayenne - I used 3 Thai peppers, minced

I also added:

1/3 cup coconut milk

1 generous tsp ground ginger

2 carrots, cut into matchsticks

a small bouquet of cilantro, chopped

I started out on the stove top as per the recipe, cooking my salted and peppered chicken thighs in the oil. I skinned them but did not bone them. Bone-in meat cooks differently than boned meat. This will cause me problems later.

Chicken cooking on the stove top. Unbeknownst to me, trouble is also cooking.

After about 20 minutes on the stove top, I transferred the thighs to a dish, let the oil cool, and set about making the sauce. The recipe says to saute the onion in the chicken drippings and then add the reaming ingredients and cook until smooth. I did except for the carrot, which I cooked separately, and the cilantro, which I added at the end.

While I noticed that the cashew butter seemed to separate much more readily than peanut butter does, I managed to keep the sauce smooth and creamy.

A smooth and creamy cashew coconut chili sauce

With the meat, the sauce, and the veg cooked, I assembled everything into a single pan to simmer for about 10 more minutes.

It smelled good. It looked good. I plated up.

Is it really done?

It tasted good, too. Until I cut into the thigh and saw that, true to form, the meat around the bone was still raw. I returned to the stove top, turned the back burner on low, covered the pan, and waited for the meat to finish cooking.

About that time, Gareth came home. He looked at what had become of dinner. He came to the rescue. While the meat was cooking, the cashew sauce proceeded to separate, the oil saturating the pan. Gareth rescued this by gradually adding milk to the sauce and mixing it in a little at a time. He also added some cabbage as my two carrots for 3 pounds of meat was a little off. The end result was some thing pretty good. He let me know that, despite my trials and travails, it looked like I had come fairly close to success.

The take-aways are mostly that boning meat is always worth the time, and that you can never have too much veg.