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.
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Diana Kuan's dry-fried green beans in The Chinese Takeout Cookbook are less embellished than versions seen at Chinese restaurants; she keeps things simple by skipping the ground pork and preserved vegetable that are often included. Instead, the beans are bolstered by minced and browned fresh shiitakes and the requisite Sichuan pepper, chili bean sauce, and dried red chiles. These changes not only make the dish easier to prepare with grocery staples, but they also give the beans themselves a greater chance to shine.
Far too often, beef with broccoli is a gloppy mess. In fact, I rarely order it for takeout as I fear the curse of over-thickened and excessively-sweetened brown sauce will ruin what would otherwise be a perfectly fine meal. But after making Diana Kuan's version from The Chinese Takeout Cookbook at home, I've learned I have nothing to fear from this dish. Her quick tricks--blanching the broccoli and marinating the beef with cornstarch--leave the beef tender and the broccoli bright green. The sauce? It's just thick enough to cling to the stir-fry without turning to sludge, and the minced garlic and ginger add bright punch to the mix.
Diana Kuan's egg drop soup in The Chinese Takeout Cookbook is a simple affair, just as the bare-bones soup should be. Her broth is flavored with just a bit of ginger, rice wine, white pepper, and sugar; bolstered with meaty dried shiitakes; and thickened (just barely) with a cornstarch slurry. The broth's simplicity allows the just-set sunny egg to shine. Turning off the heat while stirring in the egg keeps its texture tender and light.
Scallion pancakes are definitely in that category of "easier-to-make-than-you-think" foods. All those flaky layers point towards hours of work and folding (like homemade croissants or puff pastry), but in reality these babies can come together in no time. Diana Kuan's scallion pancakes in The Chinese Takeout Cookbook are a prime example.