Why It Works
- Cooking vegetables in batches allows for optimal flavor and texture development.
- Blanch your noodles first to soften them and make sure they stay separate when stir-fried.
- Using tons of veggies compared to the average amount of noodles in stir-fry means this dish is packed with even more flavor.
I've had noodles on the brain (in my noodle, if you will), ever since I read Shao Zhi Zhong's fabulous series on how to cook Chinese noodles. The arrival of my Wok Mon home wok kit served as the perfect catalyst for some recipe testing.
Remember that article Mark Bittman wrote for the New York Times a few years ago recommending that we flip the script on pasta, and serve it with a ton more sauce? I like to think of this dish in a similar way, though instead of extra sauce, it's extra veggies. While stir-fried lo mein is typically noodles with some vegetables for flavor and color, this version comes out with veggies and noodles in almost equal proportions. That means it's packed with more flavor, in this case cabbage charred until sweet, along with meaty shiitake mushrooms, and big stalks of chives.
Like Shao's Lo Mein with Beef and Broccoli, the noodles here are first blanched in hot water. Even though lo mien typically comes pre-cooked, this step will help soften them back up and separate the noodles so they don't clump or break when you stir-fry them.
Shao's recipe suggests you cook the noodles for three minutes, then shock them under cold running water. This works just fine, but I prefer to take the easier route: I blanch them until just tender (about a minute), then transfer them to a bowl and toss with a little oil to keep the noodles separated. The residual heat from the water will keep cooking them until they're perfectly al dente and ready to stir-fry a few minutes later.
The next step is frying the cabbage. Even with the aid of a tool like the Wok Mon, your home burner still has a severely limited heat output, which means the best strategy for getting nice charring and smoky wok hei at home is by cooking in batches.
I stir-fry the cabbage, letting it cook until charred around the edges. Charred cabbage gets an awesomely sweet, nutty flavor that will weave its way through the whole stir-fry.
Next, I empty the wok, reheat it with some more oil (making sure to get it smoking hot!), and add thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms. Mushrooms contain a ton of water and empty space in their spongy flesh, so you've got to cook them long enough to let that flesh break down, concentrating their flavor. They're ready when they've stopped steaming and exuding moisture and instead are sizzling and browning.
Once the mushrooms are ready, I add a handful of chives. These particular ones are flowering Chinese chives, but you can use regular Chinese chives, yellow chives, scallions, or even thinly sliced onions. Stir-fry them just long enough to tame their raw bite, but leave them nice and crisp. The shrooms and chives join the cabbage in the bowl on the side.
Next up are the noodles (after preheating the wok again, of course) for a quick toss.
All of the vegetables go back in, along with a few cloves of minced garlic. I toss and stir-fry everything together until the garlic becomes nice and fragrant.
Noodles at take-out restaurants are often swimming in gloppy sauce. I like my noodles very moderately sauced—just enough to lightly coat each strand, but not so much that it pools at the bottom of the bowl. This is just a mixture of light and dark soy sauces (you can use straight up shoyu if you don't have both varieties of Chinese soy sauce), along with some Shaoxing wine, sesame oil, and white pepper.
You can stir fry noodles with a spatula, but it's easier to ditch the spatula and use a set of sturdy tongs instead.
The array of flavors and textures you end up with—sweet and crunchy charred cabbage, tender chives, meaty mushrooms, and slippery noodles—makes eating your way through a plate into a fun game of who's-gonna-find-the-best-piece-first. (Hint: It's the person with the longest chopsticks.)
Actually, I ended up liking this high-veg noodle idea so much that maybe next time I'll take it to the extreme. I can read the Cook's Illustrated-style headline now: "The Best Chinese Noodles: The Secret is No Noodles!"
1 pound fresh lo mein noodles
1/4 cup vegetable, canola, or peanut oil, divided
4 cups shredded white cabbage
4 ounces shiitake mushroom caps, thinly sliced
4 ounces Chinese chives or scallions, cut into 2-inch segments
1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic (about 3 medium cloves)
Ground white pepper
1 tablespoon roasted sesame oil
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook noodles, stirring regularly with tongs or long chopsticks, until al dente and separated, about 1 minute. Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Toss with 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a wok over high heat until smoking. Add cabbage and cook, stirring regularly, until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Work in batches if necessary to get the leaves nicely charred. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside. Add 1 tablespoon oil to wok and return to heat until smoking. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring regularly, until lightly browned and tender-crisp, about 2 minutes. Add chives and cook, stirring, until lightly wilted, about 1 minute. Transfer to bowl with cabbage.
Wipe out wok. Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil and heat over high heat until smoking. Add noodles and cook, tossing and stirring, until hot. Add cabbage, mushrooms, chives, and minced garlic. Cook, tossing, until garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add sesame oil, light and dark soy sauces, and wine. Cook, tossing and stirring, until sauce coats noodles. Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Serve immediately.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 20g||26%|
|Saturated Fat 3g||17%|
|Total Carbohydrate 37g||13%|
|Dietary Fiber 6g||21%|
|Total Sugars 9g|
|Vitamin C 64mg||321%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|