Chicken chow mein, fried noodles with chicken. Use egg noodles, fresh or dried and parboiled, in the dish - rice noodles are better for soft saucy lo mein.
Is chow mein an authentic dish?
Well, it turns out it is apparently an original Chinese dish after all. I was convinced it was bastardised Chinese food, made outside of China for the western palate.
It is predominantly made outside of China, this much is true, but it does have its roots in Cantonese cuisine, chow mein meaning simply ‘fried noodles’. Chicken is the most popular meat topping for the noodles but pork, prawns, beef or tofu are all acceptable.
Noodles mon amour
What can I say? I adore noodles. I could live on noodles, be it wheat or rice, udon or glass. As long as they are dressed with some decent sauce, a few shreds of pak choi or beansprouts, I’m theirs until the bottom of the bowl.
Or the bottom of the box – because that’s one takeaway staple many of us couldn’t give up. My eyes go immediately to the very end of the menu, to where noodle dishes are, whenever I order a Chinese takeout.
It's hard to reproduce the Chinese takeaway flavour because we don't usually stock MSG at home. I'm joking there, of course, that’s one takeaway aspect you can do without. But both light and dark soy sauces, a random pinch of sugar; the crispy-almost-burnt noodles make for a deeply satisfying dish.
How to make a good stir fry?
Except for very saucy wok dishes (like lo mein), it is crucial to take things slow and not overload the wok. Otherwise the meat, the vegetables and the noodles will steam instead of frying. That's why chicken goes in first and is then removed, to make space for vegetables.
Get the wok smoking hot again and stir fry starting with the hardest vegetables. Soft and delicate ingredients like beansprouts, cabbage, spring onions should always be added at the very end. Watch the wok: when there's too much liquid at the bottom, it's a sign you have overloaded it.
You can rescue the stir fry by removing some of the wok contents and stir frying in batches.
How to get the noodles crispy?
That's the last addition to the dish. That's what the tall sides of the wok are for: push the contents up and around the sides to make space at the bottom. Add a little more oil if it looks dry and let the noodles sit there for a couple of minutes on one side, then on the other.
Finally, it all comes together with a pinch of sugar and a slosh of soy sauce. The best chicken chow mein - much better than the best takeaway.