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.
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.
Reprinted from The Chinese Takeout Cookbook: Quick and easy dishes to prepare at home by Diana Kuan. Copyright 2012. Published by Ballantine Booka, an imprint of Random House. All rights reserved. Available wherever books are sold.
- 6 dried shiitake mushrooms
- 10 ounces thin dried Chinese egg noodles
- 2 teaspoons sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1/2 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
- 1/2 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
- 1/4 cup chicken stock
- 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white or black pepper
- 3 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
- 1 medium onion or 1/2 large onion, thinly sliced
- 1/2 green bell pepper, sliced into thin strips
- 1 medium carrot, julienned
- 1 cup fresh bean sprouts
Soak the shiitake mushrooms in warm water for 15 to 20 minutes. Squeeze out the excess water. Discard the stems and thinly slice the mushroom caps.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the noodles 1 to 2 minutes less than stated in the package instructions, or just before al dente. Drain the noodles, rinse under cold water, and drain again thoroughly. Transfer to a bowl and toss with the sesame oil.
Prepare the marinade: In a small bowl, stir together the soy sauce, and rice wine. Add chicken, toss to coat, and let stand at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes.
Prepare the sauce: In a small bowl, stir together the chicken stock, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and pepper. Set aside.
Heat a wok or large skillet over high heat until a bead of water sizzles and evaporates on contact. Add 1 tablespoon of the peanut oil and swirl to coat the bottom. Add the chicken and stir-fry until no longer pink on the outside but not yet cooked through, 2 minutes. Add the onion, bell pepper, carrot, bean sprouts, and mushrooms. Cook for another 2 minutes, until the vegetables are tender-crisp and the chicken is cooked through. Remove from the wok and set aside.
Swirl the remaining 2 tablespoons oil into the pan. When the oil is hot and glistening, add the noodles and stir-fry until some of the strands turn golden, about 2 minutes. Make a well in the middle of the noodles and pour in the sauce. Return the chicken and vegetables to the wok and stir until everything is well coated and heated through. Transfer to a plate and serve.