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[Photograph: Nick Kindelsperger]

Eileen Yin-Fei Lo's Mastering the Art of Chinese Cooking is one of those enormous tomes that's intimidating to even get off the shelf. But each time I get the courage, I'm rewarded with a version of a dish I thought I knew, but realized is way more complex and engaging than I could have imagined. That's definitely true of this version of General Tso's Chicken, that staple of the Chinese buffet. But instead of the spongy pieces of chicken covered in a sticky-sweet glop, this one features crunchy little nuggets coated in a spicy and pungent sauce, full of fragrant ginger and garlic.

Why I Picked This Recipe: Honestly, I was just surprised to find a recipe for General Tso's Chicken in Mastering the Art of Cooking. When I found out it could be pulled together in about 30 minutes, I immediately set out for the store.

What Worked: The sauce is especially good. Though it has a little sweetness, it's perked up with ginger and garlic and laced with heat thanks to the dried red chiles.

What Didn't: This is all on me. The recipe calls for only chicken thighs, but on my first attempt (I made it twice because I liked it so much) I added some breast meat to see how it'd work. It didn't. Stick with the thighs; they stay juicier during the frying process.

Suggested Tweaks: I tossed the pieces of chicken with an additional tablespoon or so of the cornstarch, because the suggested amount didn't completely coat the pieces. I worried about adding more, but since you shake off any excess, it didn't turn out to be a big deal.

About the author: Nick Kindelsperger is the editor of Serious Eats: Chicago. He loves tacos and spicy food. You can follow him as @nickdk on Twitter.

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