In Pittsburg, Kan., way down in the southeast corner of the state, there’s a little Chinese restaurant called Bamboo Palace that’s been in business for over 30 years. The restaurant’s claim to fame? An incredible plate of cashew chicken.
But this is not cashew chicken like you’ve probably eaten before. It’s a specific style of cashew chicken that’s called “Springfield-style” because it originated in Springfield, Mo.
While I’ve been eating Springfield-style cashew chicken all my life, I didn’t realize that it was anything other than regular cashew chicken until I moved to Lawrence and had a plate of the more traditional stuff. That experience set me to researching the history of the Springfield variety.
Created by David Leong, a Chinese immigrant to Springfield in the 1950s, 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 to his customers — a good businessman and a good chef!
In addition to the history, though, my research led to something even more valuable: recipes! No longer will I have to beg relatives heading our way to bring me takeout. Now I can make my own.
The following is an amalgamation of several of the recipes I found, and it’s a close copy of the delicious dish I grew up loving. Enjoy!
Springfield-Style Cashew Chicken
Makes 4 servings
For the chicken:
2 large chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch chunks
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
1/2 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. Heat the oil to 360 degrees, being careful to keep kids and pets away from the stove.
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 baking 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 baking sheet. Put the baking 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 saucepan 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 1/4 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.
— Meryl Carver-Allmond lives in Lawrence and writes about chickens, babies, knitting, gardening, food, photography, and whatever else tickles her fancy on any given day at mybitofearth.net.