Chinese Walnut Chicken
When Alona and I lived in Beijing (for four years mind you) there was a restaurant on the corner of her apartment complex called Meal and Grill. Now this was one of our favorite places in the city because it was authentic. It is not the ‘modern China’ that puts on a facade for the rest of the world, it was plastic tables and chairs right on the sidewalk. It was a shirtless cook standing over a wok in the open air. It was grilled meats on skewers and dishes cooked with oils of ill repute. One of our favorite dishes at Meal and Grill was this Chinese Walnut Chicken (or as they called it there, just Walnut Chicken).
Unfortunately the restaurant is no longer there as it was a casualty of the purge of everything not shiny and new within the third ring road. However this dish was not only available at that one restaurant, no. It is a popular dish overall. Luckily I made a few Chinese friends during my many years living there and one of them gave me his father’s recipe before I moved so now I can remake it whenever I have the craving.
I had some chicken thighs left over after using most of the pack making my popular honey soy baked chicken thighs and figured what better way to make use of them than by chopping them up small and making a stir fry.
I also had quartered white button mushrooms on hand, since I always do, and at this point I realized I’m going to make a delicious Chinese walnut chicken. It also doesn’t hurt that Alona’s grandmother has a few walnut trees on her property, so we always get a few bags full every year.
Now just like in my ROQUEFORT AND CANDIED WALNUT SALAD and my APPLE WALNUT SALAD, this recipe uses candied walnuts. If you’ve never made candied walnuts before have no fear, it is super duper easy. Plus you can make a huge batch and use them for things like salads, desserts, or of course this Chinese walnut chicken.
I use half a cup of sugar per cup of walnuts. You can even go so far as to do half a cup of sugar per two cups of walnuts, if you wanted to tone down the sweetness a little bit. Either way, its super easy to just melt the sugar in the pan. I do it on a medium high flame, and as soon as the sugar turns to liquid I add in the walnuts. Toss to coat (or use a rubber spatula if you don’t want to get molten sugar on your clothes) and then spread the hot candied walnuts on some parchment paper.
To make the marinade for the chicken is super easy as well. I mean, Chinese food in general is pretty simple. I use a tablespoon of MiJiu (a sweet rice wine), two teaspoons of Light Soy Sauce and a teaspoon of Dark Soy Sauce, along with a teaspoon of potato starch. I quickly whisk this together and add the chicken pieces. While it is marinating I start on the rest of the dish.
In a hot pan I add a splash of soybean oil, but you can use sunflower or another neutral oil if you prefer. Then I add in all the mushrooms. It’s really hard to overcook mushrooms, so just let them saute until they start to caramelize a bit. When browned, dump in the bowl of chicken, marinade and all.
I cook the chicken with the mushrooms stirring or tossing the pan often. After about 5 minutes you can put in the walnuts. A trick I like to do is roll the parchment paper with the candied walnuts into a ball and just start smacking it on the table until everything starts to break apart. Then add the walnuts to the chicken and mushrooms.
I toss the walnuts around with the chicken and mushrooms just enough to melt or soften any sharp edges of broken sugar. Plus, the melting sugar is what makes this sauce so addicting. Don’t worry, the final result is a good mix of sweet and salty. Last, I add in half a cup of canned peas (can also use fresh or frozen), some Beijing style Hoisin sauce, and a quick splash of sesame oil. I turn off the heat, give everything a good toss, and then plate.
Chinese Walnut Chicken
- pan or wok
- 2 Chicken Thighs Chopped into bite size pieces
- 1 cup Walnuts toasted optional
- 200 grams Mushrooms white button, quartered
- 100 grams Sugar (1/2 cup )white, granulated
- 2 tsp Light Soy Sauce
- 1 tsp Dark Soy Sauce
- 1 tbsp Chinese Rice Wine I used MiJiu which is sweetened, but you can use any style you prefer
- 1 tsp Potato Starch
- 75 grams Peas (1/2 cup) can be canned, frozen, or fresh
- 1 tbsp Hoisin Sauce to taste.
- 1 tsp Sesame Oil optional
- 1 tbsp Neutral Oil like soybean, sunflower, canola, etc
- In a saucepan on medium high heat add the sugar and allow to melt. You don't need to touch it. Once it is just melted add in all the walnuts and stir/toss the pan around so all the walnuts are coated. Pour the contents in one layer onto a sheet of parchment paper and let cool.
- In a bowl add the chicken pieces along with the soy sauces, rice wine, and potato starch. Mix everything up and let sit while you cook the mushrooms.
- Back in the pan add the oil and put the heat on medium high. When hot add in the quartered mushrooms and let cook. It's hard to overcook mushrooms so you don't need to worry with the pan too much. I let them brown on the edges and toss the pan every minute or so. After the mushrooms are sufficiently browned add the bowl of chicken and marinade.
- As soon as you add the chicken and marinade to the pan start stirring/tossing the pan. The chicken will only take 2-3 minutes to cook. While the chicken is cooking you can break up the walnuts.
- Take the parchment paper with the walnuts on it and roll it up into a ball. Smack the ball on the countertop a few times to break up the walnuts fused together with the sugar. Add the walnuts to the pan.
- Toss the pan around now with the walnuts, just to soften the hard or sharp sugar. I cook this for about a minute and then add the peas. Toss with the peas quickly, add the hoisin and sesame oil and turn off the heat. Give the pan one more good stir and then plate the dish.