Chili Spiced Slow Cooked Pili Chicken

This recipe is a play on a classic cashew chicken. While I enjoy the crunchy combo of cashews and crisp vegetables, the texture of the pili nut gives it a more nuanced flavor and the crunch is more subtle. With this recipe, I'm using a slow cooker instead of a wok like I do with most stir frys. I usually save the slow cooker for tougher cuts of meat like pork shoulder, but I really ought to use it more often with chicken breast. It makes for a melt in your mouth, fall apart piece of meat and doesn't take quite as long to cook. I might leave a pork shoulder sitting on low for 8-10 hours but two chicken breasts only take about 4.

This recipe has three basic parts: the chicken breast, sauce and rice (or whatever you decide to serve it on. Quinoa or riced cauliflower and/or riced broccoli will all work. More on that in a moment). Yes, there are also the veggies but all you need to do with those is chop them up and toss 'em in the slow cooker. Simple.

Prepare your mise. You'll need a cutting board, sharp knife, medium sized pan, slow cooker, oil, chicken and vegetables. Whatever rice variant you're using, we'll be cooking that in a few hours. You'll just need a pot and a bit of water for that.

We'll start by searing the outside of the chicken breasts in avocado oil over medium-high heat. This will lightly brown the outside and trigger the Maillard reaction, leaving behind a few crusty bits that add a different element of flavor that the slow cooker can't. A minute on each side will do. Bonus points if you use tongs to sear the sides as well as the tops and bottoms. Once browned, add to your slow cooker. Top with chopped purple onions, bell pepper, and serrano pepper. If you can find Thai chilies, I prefer those. Depending on your preference for spice, you can use just one chili that's fully seeded or up to three.

slicing onions and peppers on cutting board

Next, we'll make the sauce. You'll need 4T (tablespoon) soy sauce,* 1T fish sauce, 2t (teaspoon) rice wine vinegar, 1t red chili flakes and 4T water. No heating required, we'll just mix it together and pour it on top of your meat and vegetables. You can also add 2t tapioca or all purpose flour to the sauce to add some body, but I prefer to go without. 

*I typically stick with tamari but you can also use coconut aminos. Bear in mind, though, that coconut aminos are going to have a sweeter taste and you may need to add more salt to your liking. Tamari has half the carb count of the aminos as well. In my book, the gold standard is small batch, traditionally brewed soy sauce but it's often outside the budget.

asian pili nuts sauce with ingredients

Depending on the size of your chicken breasts, you may need to let them slow cook for up to four hours. Check for doneness at three; it should fall apart easily with a fork.

With half an hour to go, add your baby bok choy and pili nuts. Bok choy is more fragile than the onion and I'd like it to have a bit of crunchiness to balance out the texture. You can either use plain pili nuts or the coconut oil/salted variety, depending on how salty you want it.

Start on your rice. If you're using riced cauliflower/broccoli, put a tablespoon of oil in the bottom of a small pot and stir-fry on medium. You can then add a touch of turmeric and/or cayenne pepper to complement the flavors of your dish. While you stir-fry, add a splash of water, about a teaspoon, to help steam the mixture. It shouldn't take much longer than 10-15 minutes to cook through. The objective is to make the pieces tender but not mushy.

Once the slow cooker has worked its magic, remove the chicken and pull apart with a pair of forks and serve over your rice along with the vegetables. To prevent too much sauce pooling at the bottom of your bowl or plate, use a slotted spoon to serve. Top with sliced green onion if desired for an added bit of freshness.

Ingredients

  • 2 medium chicken breasts
  • 2T avocado oil
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 small purple onion
  • 1 baby bok choy
  • 1-3 serrano pepper or thai chili
  • 1/3c Pili Hunters' pili nuts
  • 1/2c rice of choice (cauliflower, quinoa, or basmati)
  • 1 green onion (optional, as garnish)

For the sauce:

  • 4T soy sauce/tamari
  • 1T fish sauce
  • 2t rice wine vinegar
  • 1t red pepper flakes or more if desired
  • 4T water
  • 2t tapioca starch (optional)

chopping peppers

Directions

    1. Brown the outside of the chicken using avocado oil over medium high heat, one minute each side, and place in the slow cooker, on low
    2. Chop the purple onion and bell pepper and stir into the slow cooker
    3. Make the sauce: combine all ingredients in a bowl, mix, and add to the slow cooker.
    4. Check for doneness at the 3 hour mark. Half an hour before the chicken is cooked through, add the bok choy and pili nuts. Stir.
    5. Right after you add the pili nuts, make your rice. If using cauliflower, stir-fry over medium heat for about 10-15 minutes until tender. Use 2T of avocado oil. Add a pinch of cayenne powder, turmeric and black pepper if desired. After a  minute or two of cooking, add a teaspoon of water to help steam the vegetable pieces.
    6. Remove chicken from the slow cooker and pull apart with a pair of forks. Serve the vegetables with a slotted spoon on top of your rice and add the chicken. Top with green onion if desired.