Growing up, one of the dinner categories my sisters and I elevated to the top of the requested list was “Chinese food.” On nights when our parents conceded to our begging, we’d sit down to a table of two dishes, fresh from the wok: stir-fried noodles or fried rice and saucy chicken or steak tossed with equal parts vegetables.
Even though neither of them had traveled to China, they knew intuitively that the food there was richer in vegetables and lower in inch-thick General Tso Chicken-style crispy coatings than anything you could get at Hunan Balcony. In today’s parlance, I guess they were just making anything-goes stir-fries of the kind that got really popular at restaurants in the 2000s, but the perfect combination of ingredients and salty-sweet sauces always hit the spot.
In my diet, Chinese takeout has mostly given way to the less greasy Thai and Vietnamese–both of which have now crossed over, at least in New York City, from hole-in-the-wall joints to studied, elevated restaurants like Pok Pok and my new fave Uncle Boons. But an at-home dish of stir-fried chicken, in a thick sweet-and-sour sauce (borrowed from the ever-popular sweet-and-sour tofu), beats out any kind of takeout, almost any day. It’s got some oil, sure, but the dish also features a whole bunch of wintry turnips, both root and green, and a hearty portion of white meat chicken. Serve over rice for a takeout-style meal so nutritious you’d feed it to the people you love.
Serves 2 to 3
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
about 1/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons safflower, grapeseed, or other neutral oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 tablespoon grated garlic (3 cloves)
1 bunch turnips, bulbs peeled and sliced into half moons and greens washed well and cut into bite-sized pieces
3 scallions, white and green parts chopped and separated
Cooked white or brown rice, for serving
Cut the chicken into slices about 1/2 inch thick. In a baggie or on a wide plate, toss the chicken with the flour and salt until all the pieces have a thin coating.
Mix the lemon juice, honey, soy sauce, garlic and ginger in a small bowl. Add 1 tablespoon water.
In a frying pan, warm the oil. In one layer, brown the chicken (in two batches if your pan is small), about 4 minutes per side.
Return all the chicken to the pan if you browned it in two batches. Put in the white and light green parts of the scallions and the crunchy part of the turnips and cook for 3 minutes, stirring constantly, until turnips are soft. Add the green leaves and cook 1 more minute, then add the sauce.
Bring the chicken and sauce to a boil, then lower the heat and let simmer until the sauce has reduced and coats the chicken thickly, about 10 minutes. Garnish with the green parts of the scallions.
Serve with rice.