Chinese Almond Chicken is a local dish served at every Chinese food restaurant in Detroit, Michigan. It comes as several names including Detroit Almond Chicken, ABC Chicken (which is redundant because the C stands for “chicken” and Almond Boneless Chicken.
Whatever you call it, it is certianly a Chinese-American dish.
What's In This Article
What is Almond Chicken?
Chinese Almond Chicken, aka Detroit Almond Chicken, ABC and Almond Boneless Chicken, is a dish with fried chicken and mushroom gravy served over iceberg lettuce.
The request for Detroit Almond Chicken was from my dear friend Nathalie. Born and raised in a suburb of Detroit, she raves about Detroit Style Almond Chicken. Although served year round, this dish is also a Christmas Eve tradition in the region.
Nathalie has been trying to get our two friends, who also hail from the Detroit area and happen to own a Chinese food restaurant, to fess up the coveted recipe for Detroit Style Almond Chicken.
ABC Chicken and apparently there is a secret recipe for Egg Rolls that includes peanut butter, but that is another story for another time.
But It Isn’t Really Chinese At All…
As the story goes there is a man from the “old country” (China) who gave the secret recipe to the owners of the local Chinese Restaurants. He completes weekly rounds collecting a fee for this mystery recipe.
If ever leaked, they could face a penalty… or death. Sounds like a Detroit Almond Chicken mafia to me and I am not sure I believe it!
Unfortunately, she has not won the battle for the recipe to be leaked, nor would she like to see our good friends, Willis and Jimbo, be penalized, so one Friday night we decided it was “game on” for Chinese Almond Chicken.
Nathalie and I did our homework and relied on her eyes and tastes buds to recreate the famous Detroit Almond Chicken dish and then test it against our Chinese restaurant owning friends.
The Chicken & The Gravy
For all of those not from Detroit, you are probably expecting something like I was; similar to cashew chicken, but with almonds, served over fried rice. Detroit Almond Chicken actually doesn’t taste much like Chinese food at all. It is American all they way.
Instead of chicken pieces, it is served as a sliced chicken breast, battered and fried like southern style fried chicken. It is considered good luck to remove one of the center slices prior to serving.
The mushroom gravy tastes like brown gravy. And the big kicker? No fried rice! Although I made some as a side dish, Detroit Style Almond Chicken is served over iceberg lettuce!
I now see why Nathalie was so excited to recreate this dish. It was amazingly good. The chicken is crispy on the outside, but moist on the inside. Pure comfort food.
Seasoned perfectly with a little sherry, salt and pepper, it allows for the mushroom gravy to take center stage. Crisp, cold, fresh lettuce is the base and complements the other hot flavors.
What You’ll Need
Brace yourself, the list looks long, but it really just uses many pantry staples.
- Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast- I generally use 2-4 pieces, depending on size. Large ones can be cut into smaller, more manageable pieces. Or skip a step by purchasing thin chicken cutlets at the store.
- Salt and pepper- for seasoning.
- Sherry– A Spanish fortified wine, it is thought of as sweet, but often very dry. Because of this unique flavor profile, it is amazing in savory dishes. A little can go a long way and add immense flavor. Omit this ingredient if you aren’t planning to use it.
- Slurry- Made from water and cornstarch, it thickens the sauce while making it silky, shiny and preventing a grainy texture.
- Low-sodium chicken broth– Always use low sodium so you can stay in control of the saltiness.
- Shiitake mushrooms – Or any other mushroom blend.
- Dark soy sauce- Yes, this is different from lite soy, regular soy and the green capped stuff. This is an intense sauce that is thicker and more robust, but also less salty than traditional soy sauces.
- Unsalted Butter– There are a lot of ingredients with the potential to over salt this dish, so anytime you can reduce and control, please do so!
- All-Purpose Flour- We have not tested this recipe with any GF flours. If you do, please let us know how it went!
- Baking powder– Usually seen in baking, this powder gives the chicken batter a fluff.
- Eggs– The binding agent of the chicken batter.
- High smoke point neutral oil– Enough for 1-2 inches to pan fry. I tend to use vegetable oil, canola oil or a blended oil. Peanut oil can also be used.
- Iceberg Lettuce- This is the most traditional, but feel free to use a bed of any type of leafy greens.
- Sliced Almonds– The nut that is the namesake, it is pretty important to use. Otherwise, it is just chicken in a mushroom gravy.
- Scallions (Green Onions)– Adds a fresh crunch.
- Chinese Rice Noodles– Crunchy little fried noodles that are just as fun to eat as a snack as they are to top this Chinese fried chicken.
How to Make Chinese Almond Chicken
- Place the chicken breasts between two sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap. Using the flat side of a meat tenderizer, pound breasts to approximately 1/2 inch uniform thickness. Pieces may be very large, in this case, cut in half so they are easier to work with. Making chicken a uniform thickness helps it cook at the same pace so nothing gets over or undercooked and since chicken breasts are often not uniform, this fixes it. Skip this step if you bought thin chicken cutlets at the store.
- Place the chicken in a baking dish large enough for them to fit in a single layer. Season with salt and pepper and cover with cooking sherry, you might need a little more or a little less depending on the size of your chicken and pan, but this is essentially a marinade. Set aside until ready to cook, a minimum of 30 minutes, but not more than 2 hours or you’ll have some very pungent chicken!
- In bowl make a slurry by whisking together cornstarch with water until smooth.
- Heat the chicken broth, mushrooms, dark soy sauce, unsalted butter and cornstarch mixture over low heat until smooth. The sauce should start to thicken and become shiny while the mushrooms cook down and infuse this basic brown gravy with flavor. Do not bring the mixture to a boil, but do whisk every 2-3 minutes while making the chicken. When it reaches a gravy consistency, remove from heat or place on a “warm” setting.
- In dredging bowls, whisk the flour, baking powder and eggs. This mixture will be very thick. If it is so think you won’t be able to dredge chicken through it, add a small amount of milk or water, but make sure it isn’t too watery, you want it to stick to the chicken. Place salt and pepper seasoned flour in the other dredging bowl.
- Preheat the oven to warm setting and place a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet. This helps air circulate around the cooked chicken and the bottoms to not get mushy from sitting in oil.
- Heat 1-2 inches of vegetable oil in a large heavy bottom skillet over medium-high heat or 325°F using a deep fry thermometer. I highly suggest using a thermometer to monitor the oil. Winging it often leads to raw chicken with a burnt exterior.
- Remove the chicken from the sherry marinade and lightly coat each chicken breast in the flour and then dredge in the egg batter, tapping off any excess. Carefully lower into hot oil. Depending on size, chicken will take from 5-7 minutes per side.
- Remove to a wire rack suspended over baking sheet and place in the oven to keep warm. Continue with remaining chicken breasts. The cooking time can vary considerably depending on the heat of the oil and size of the chicken. Chicken needs to be an internal temperture of 165°F.
- Place the chicken onto a cutting board and cut using hard strokes and a cleaver. Doing this in a large hacking motion prevents the batter from coming off the chicken. And it’s fun.
- Create a bed of iceberg lettuce, top with a piece of chicken, mushroom gravy, scallions and Chinese rice noodles
Why Iceberg Lettuce Instead of Rice?
I’m told it started as a way to soak up extra oil from the fried chicken when plated, but since customers have started to devour it along with the chicken, it has become a staple. Topped with crunchy goodies, the textures are well balanced and palate pleasing.
Storage & Reheating
Make Ahead: As with any recipe that uses gravy, this Chinese Almond Chicken recipe is best enjoyed freshly made. The chicken loses its crisp and the gravy starts to infiltrate the crust. For this reason, please do not make it ahead of time.
Storage: But there might be leftovers and in this case, store in an airtight container for up to 5 days. It can be reheated in the oven at a warm temperature or in the microwave.
Freezing: I do not recommend freezing this recipe once cooked, but feel free to freeze just the gravy. Thaw in a saucepan on low heat or defrost in the refrigerator overnight.
More Asian Inspired Recipes
- Slow Cooker Beef and Broccoli
- Easy Fried Rice- Restaurant Style
- Slow Cooker Orange Chicken
- Authentic Dumplings
- Wasabi Chicken Potstickers
- Baked Sweet and Sour Chicken
Chinese Almond Chicken Recipe
- 2-4 boneless skinless chicken breasts , depends on size
- coarse kosher salt & pepper
- 1 cup dry sherry
- 4 tablespoons cornstarch
- 4 tablespoons water
- 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 8 ounces shiitake mushrooms , sliced
- 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 12 tablespoons all purpose flour , divided
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 eggs lightly beaten
- Vegetable oil enough to fill 1 inch of a Dutch oven
- 1 head iceberg lettuce shredded
- 1/3 cup sliced almonds
- 4 scallions ,sliced diagonally for garnish
- Chinese Rice Noodles
- Place the chicken breasts between two sheets of wax paper or plastic wrap. Using the flat side of a meat tenderizer, pound breasts to approximately 1/2 inch uniform thickness. Pieces may be very large, in this case, cut in half.
- Place in a baking dish large enough for them to fit in a single layer. Season to taste with salt and pepper and cover with cooking sherry. Set aside until ready to cook, a minimum of 30 minutes.
- In bowl, whisk together 4 tablespoons cornstarch with 4 tablespoons water until smooth.
- In a heavy bottom saucepan, heat the chicken broth, mushrooms, dark soy sauce, unsalted butter and cornstarch mixture over low heat. Whisk until smooth. Sauce should start to thicken and mushrooms will cook down. Do not bring to a boil, whisk every 2-3 minutes while making the chicken. When it reaches a gravy consistency, remove from heat or place on a "warm" setting.
- In a shallow bowl or pie plate, whisk 6 tablespoons of the flour, baking powder and eggs. This mixture will be very thick. If it is so think you won't be able to dredge chicken through it, add a small amount of milk or water, but make sure it isn't too watery, you want it to stick to the chicken.
- In a shallow dish or bowl place the remaining 6 tablespoons all purpose flour and lightly season with salt and pepper.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Heat 1-2 inches of vegetable oil in a large heavy bottom skillet over medium-high heat or 325°F using a deep fry thermometer.
- Remove the chicken from the sherry marinade and lightly coat each chicken breast in the flour and then dredge in the egg batter. Carefully lower into hot oil. Depending on size, chicken will take from 5-7 minutes per side. Remove to a wire rack suspended over baking sheet and place in the oven to keep warm. Continue with remaining chicken breasts. The cooking time can vary considerably depending on the heat of the oil and size of the chicken. Chicken needs to be an internal temperture of 165°F.
- Place the chicken onto a cutting board and cut using hard strokes and a cleaver. Create a bed of iceberg lettuce, top with a piece of chicken, mushroom gravy, scallions, almonds and Chinese rice noodles.
- If you've tried this recipe, come back and let us know how it was in the comments or star ratings.
I’m so excited to try this! We’ve moved all over the country after growing up in a suburb of Detroit. I’ve never been able to find anything like Kwang’s almond chicken in Southfield. This looks just like it. Thank you!
Let us know how it compares!
I’m from Seattle where Almond Fried Chicken or ABC Chicken (yes redundant) is huge. I am once again on the East Coast where it is non-existent. I actually had a restaurant try, and fail, to deliver. Thanks for the recipe. It’s time I do it myself!!!
man o man. i didn’t know this was a detroit thing. I grew up in MI, been there my whole life, now i’m stuck in the God forsaken land of Iowa, and i was jonesing for some almond chicken just to find this blog. now my life is ruined.
Let us know how it stacks up!
I am sorry but, I had forgotten the new name of the restaurant it’s now Lums Chop Suey. I was told that they were the original people that owned the restaurant when I lived in Michigan. I am afraid that Jon Lum has probably retired because, he was already pretty old prior to my moving to Florida. I definitely am going to try the recipe that you posted as I have eaten Detroit Almond Chicken before and I like it too.
You need to try Almond Chicken from alums on Van Born Rd in Dearborn Heights Michigan. They have a total different sauce. Their Almond Chicken is the best that I have had anywhere. I have lived in Florida for the past 36 years. Whenever I go back to Michigan I always get a few orders for my family and I. I wish that I would have tried to get the recipe years ago when I knew the owner very well. My children and I lived a block away from the restaurant for about 15 years. I did try to call the restaurant after reading your recipe for their secret recipe. There was no way that the young lady on the phone was going to share that recipe with me lol. The restaurant used to be Jon Lums carry out. Now it’s Lums something else that I don’t remember lol. If you happen to figure out their almond chicken recipe please share it with me.
Hi Sheila! I’ll ask my contacts there!
have got to try this Love ABC
Let us know when you do!
Absolutely delicious! My parents are from Detroit and always rave about the almond chicken. I prepared this recipe for them, and they were shocked about how similar it tasted!
This is making me really hungry! Your Chinese Almond Chicken recipe is perfect for our weekend meal.
I am glad that I don’t have to travel all the way to Detroit to get this tasty dish!
This is perfect for lunch Yum!!
Love this restaurant-style Almond chicken – so easy!
Amazing recipe Thank you
Glad you enjoyed it!
I am a Chef and originally from the Detroit area. I have been craving Detroit style Almond Chicken- War Su Gai and was eager to try your recipe. I am so glad I did, it was wonderful!! I wish I could post the picture I took of my finished dish, I did post it on Facebook. I loved this recipe, it tasted just like Liechee Gardens in Wyandotte did years ago. The only change I made was I didn’t have sherry so I used a tiny bit of brandy mixed with buttermilk to marinate the chicken breasts. Very quick and easy recipe and so delicious. Thanks, Chef Deborah Whitman
Nice! Thank you so much for the feedback, Deborah! We love this recipe too and I am super excited it hit the spot. Thanks for taking the time to come let us know. I’ll look into a feature to allow images to be uploaded.
I live in Traverse City, however, I come from Detroit area and then Royal Oak. We have a Chinese restaurant here in TC but their gravy is light colored and has chestnuts in it. I did make up your gravy last nite. Hope it’s as good as it should be.
Hi Donna! Hope you liked it. It’s my understanding that all of the restaurants have a slightly different recipe. This one is from a friend who owned a restaurant in MI.
I don’t know what the cooking sherry did but I did use it. Because of covid-19, couldn’t find green onions, did find the shiitake mushrooms. The chicken was tender, the gravy every bite you could taste the mushrooms. I’m trying to find a recipe for what we call in New Orleans “mandarin chicken”. No mandarin involved. Very similar to this, they also serve on a bed of lettuce and top with almonds. Thanks! I’ll be cooking this again!
Hi Barbara! Glad you liked it! The cooking sherry adds a subtle flavor. I haven’t heard of mandarin chicken, but I would bet you it means mandarin, like the dialectic of Chinese culture versus the oranges and is special to your geographic area. Much like this Almond Chicken is to Detroit. You won’t find the dish any place outside of Detroit, not even other areas around Michigan! I’ll keep an eye out!
If you love boneless almond chicken, you’ll love this recipe. However, it is time consuming & alot of steps but well worth it!
Thanks for the feedback! It is not a quick recipes by any means, but it is authentic and delicious 🙂
Hi, I grew up in Detroit and while I’ve never heard of this being a Christmas eve thing? I do know that it’s very popular all year round. Also, it generally comes with steamed white rice. Very impressive since you mentioned that you’ve never had it. Your ABC looks delicious. 🙂
Thanks so much! I can only go on their word- so X-mas eve it was (??) Did you test it out? What did you think?
It’s a Christmas Eve and Christmas day thing because all the chinese restaurants are open and the Jews all dine out. It is tradition on Christmas to get chinese and see a movie.
Yes, every once in a while we will celebrate jewish christmas
I have never had Almond Chicken gravy with mushrooms in it. Chopstick Inn in Riverview is the best. When Joe sold it to his nephew, he did not miss a beat. Still very good. I drive over an hour to get there (when i need to be in the area) Rainbow in Farmington Hills is a close second
I live in Kentucky now, but make a few trips to Detroit every year. When we come home we always brings back a few almond chicken dinners. Now, could you replicate their egg rolls. They use all bean sprouts, no cabbage and are super yummy!
Sorry for the late response- for some reason my comments weren’t being e-mailed to me for over 6 months! I can sure try! My friend who challenged me to make this recipe has family members that own a Chinese food restaurant in MI. I’ll see what I do!
Maybe you should talk to Nathalie, Willis and Jimbo. Sounds like you got jipped!
Why did no one tell me about this when I was living in Detroit? I am going to share this with all my Detroit friends, all 3 of them 🙂
I might even try to cook this one day. Maybe. Go Michigan!