Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Springfield Cashew Chicken

Batter-dipped, deep-fried chunks of chicken, topped with a sauce based on oyster sauce, served over rice with a sprinkling of crisp cashews and a garnish of green onions - that's what I'm talking about. One of Missouri's great contributions to the culinary world, Cashew Chicken is a soul-satisfying melding of Chinese tradition with the Midwestern insistence that everything is better when it's battered and fried.

Springfield residents are justifiably proud of the dish, which must be ordered as "Springfield Cashew Chicken" outside of the area, lest one be served a batter-deprived stir-fried version with vegetables serving as a major component, rather than a garnish. Some residents of the city will claim that Springfield has the most Chinese restaurants per capita of any city in the United States - an unverified, unsourced and unlikely assertion if ever there was one, but it's nice to see Southern Missourians taking pride in something that doesn't involve large tires, guns, or strange interpretations of the Bible, so let's let that one slide, okay?

The important thing is that the dish is really good. Well-prepared, the sauce is a tiny bit sweet and a little more salty, the chicken pieces are crisp and light, the green onions add just enough bite, and the cashews add elements of crispness and richness. It's not pretentious in the slightest - this is food aimed to please, not impress.

According to most histories, the dish was invented by a man named David Leong, whose first restaurant was welcomed to the neighborhood with ten sticks of dynamite. (Asian-Americans weren't appreciated in southern Missouri in 1963, even if they had stormed the beach at Omaha.) No wonder he chose to please the local palate rather than challenge it.

On my recent vacation in Colorado, Ancillary Adams and his wonderful "lady friend" prepared a home-made version of the dish, and it may have been the best meal served in Breckenridge that evening.

Are there any good versions of this regional treat served at restaurants here in Kansas City?

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Blogger smh said...

I hate to disappoint, but I've yet to find an acceptable version outside of Springfield. I suggest China Wok at the corner of Republic & Scenic. In Springfield, of course.

9/15/2009 4:22 PM  
Anonymous Nuke said...

Never had it in its city of birth, bur used to like the offering at Andy's Wok on Holmes just south of 435. But it's a Thai place now.

No idea if the other Andy's has it or not.

9/16/2009 8:52 AM  
Blogger The DLC said...

I think there was a post on Fat City about this dish a year or so back. Of course a quick search of the site yielded nothing.

9/16/2009 9:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andy's Wok on 119th (behind Cheesecake Factory) has a decent version. Max's used to make one, but I'm not sure where he is now.

9/16/2009 11:49 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

Other than getting it from Ancillary Adams himself, I would say the 2.5 hour drive to Springfield is the only way to do it.

I've tried several places up here, and no one seems to get it right. That is truly a bummer.

9/16/2009 3:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dragon Inn II on Kimbrough in Springfield is my favorite and I typically eat dinner there at least twice a week. A plateful of cashew chicken and a drink is $5.00 even, tax included.

10/28/2009 5:42 AM  

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