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[Photograph: Diana Kuan]

When properly made, chicken chow mein is American-style Chinese comfort food at its best: stir-fried noodles, chicken, and vegetables doused in a simple, sweet and salty sauce will make any tired and hungry eater smile. All too often, however, chow mein comes slick with grease and full of over-cooked chunks of stringy chicken. Diana Kuan's recipe in The Chinese Takeout Cookbook solves these problems with ease. The chicken spends no more than four minutes on the heat, and the oil is reduced to a modest 3 tablespoons (just enough to keep the noodles from fusing to the pan). A quick soy and rice wine marinade adds more oomph to the chicken, and the use of dried shiitake mushrooms gives the final dish savoriness and depth.

Why I picked this recipe: Chicken chow mein is my favorite dish to order to-go. It's about time I just made it myself at home.

What worked: Kuan's lightly fried noodles made for an excellent base for the chicken, vegetables, and sauce, adding toasty dimension to the dish.

What didn't: The noodles soaked so much of the sauce that I ended up adding a bit more as I stirred in the vegetables. Next time, I might even double amount of sauce.

Suggested tweaks: You can substitute pork, shrimp, beef, or tofu for the chicken here. If you're going with tofu, I'd suggest increasing the initial pour of oil to 2 tablespoons and coating the tofu in a bit of cornstarch before frying. If your wok or skillet is on the smaller side, consider cooking the dish in two batches to avoid spill-over.

As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of The Chinese Takeout Cookbook to give away this week.

About the author: Kate Williams is a freelance writer and personal chef living in Berkeley, CA. She is a contributor to The Oxford American, Berkeleyside NOSH, and blogs at cookingwolves.wordpress.com.

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