Growing up in Southern California, I was lucky enough to get some pretty great Chinese and Asian food, owing mostly to the fact that my Dad loved it so much. I have wonderful memories of extraordinary meals in some questionable parts of downtown L.A. in the 50’s. Without question, my favorite dish was always that big platter of chow mein resplendent with succulent, tender slices of tasty meat and big, gorgeous chunks of celery, cabbage, mushrooms and other fresh veggies mixed with fat, saucy noodles. I loved it all while my brother ate a pile of fried rice with soy sauce. That’s about all he would eat until they brought out the fortune cookies. All the more for me! :) Even at the age of 9 or 10 those beautifully sautéed vegetables and noodles held me entranced in ways a burger never could.
And then a few years ago, we moved to the Midwest and I ordered chow mein, and what appeared before me was at once disconcerting and sadly disappointing. Yes, there were the meat and veggies, but mixed in were crunchy fried noodles instead of the soft, eggy Chinese noodles I was accustomed to. After asking a few questions, I learned that if I wanted that beautiful noodle dish that I loved, I would have to order the lo mein, which I’d never actually seen on a menu before. If memory serves me, all those years we were asked if we wanted our chow mein with soft or crunchy noodles, but as it turns out, chow mein and lo mein are two distinct dishes. Chow mein is supposed to be composed of crunchy, fried noodles, while lo mein is about the soft, saucy noodles.
Whatever you want to cal it, I finally decided to make my own thanks to Grace Young and her invaluable book, Stir-frying to the Sky’s Edge. For those who aspire to stir fry greatness, this is your text book! I’ve done my share of stir-fries through the years, but was amazed and inspired by her beautiful writing and simple, helpful instructions to create authentic dishes which she describes as culinary magic. Indeed.
Undoubtedly, my love for napa cabbage drew me to this recipe of hers, but I’ve come back to it over and over for the extraordinary flavors and textures created in this simple dish. And isn’t that the beauty of a stir fry well done? Simple, quick, extraordinary. That just about sums it up. Here’s the recipe…
Chicken Lo Mein with Mushrooms and Cabbage
Recipe courtesy Grace Young, Stir Frying to the Sky's Edge
In uncustomary fashion, I followed this recipe to the last little teaspoon, and am I ever glad I did. I wouldn’t change a thing and encourage you to round up some fresh Chinese egg noodles. I’ve also used dried Chinese egg noodles which are also wonderful. If you can’t find either, use a good quality spaghetti, but no matter what noodle you choose, please do not overcook them. So much better to undercook them for a minute or so… they will continue to cook as you add them to the pan. I’ve also used regular cabbage when Napa cabbage is unavailable and it works fine. I chopped up an extra scallion to sprinkle over the top for serving.
P.S. I make this quite often and have decided that I really like using rice noodles for this. I use the flat ones that are labeled for pad thai and they work great! I just soak them in hot water for about 7-8 minutes, drain them and then stir fry them in the pan before adding the meat and veggies back in. I also like to substitute peppers and broccoli and other veggies for the cabbage sometimes.
12 oz fresh Chinese round egg noodles (see headnote)
2 tsp sesame oil
For the Chicken:
12 oz skinless boneless chicken thighs, sliced ¼ inch thick
1 Tbsp grated ginger
1 tsp Shao Hsing rice wine or dry sherry
1 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp soy sauce
1/4 teaspoons salt
¼ tsp white pepper
2 Tbsp peanut or vegetable oil, divided
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
3 cups thinly sliced Napa cabbage
4 oz shiitake or crimini mushrooms, sliced (about 2 cups)
5 scallions, chopped (reserve some for serving)
2 tablespoons rice wine or dry sherry
3 tablespoons soy sauce
In a 3-quart saucepan, bring 2 quarts of water to a rolling boil over high heat. Add noodles. Return to a rolling boil and cook according to package directions until al dente (not quite done). Drain noodles in a colander and rinse several times with cold water, shaking well to remove excess water. Return noodles to unwashed pan, add sesame oil, and toss until well-combined. Note: if using spaghetti instead of Chinese noodles, do not rinse after draining the noodles.
Combine the chicken, ginger, rice wine, cornstarch, soy sauce, salt, and white pepper in a shallow bowl.
Heat wok (or 12-inch skillet) over high heat until a bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact. Swirl in 1 Tbsp oil; add red pepper flakes. Using a metal spatula, stir-fry 10 seconds or until pepper flakes are fragrant. Push flakes to sides of wok, add chicken mixture and spread evenly. Cook undisturbed 1 minute, letting chicken sear. Stir-fry 30 seconds more or until chicken browns. Add cabbage and mushrooms and stir-fry 1 more minute or until cabbage is just wilted. Transfer chicken and vegetables to a plate or bowl.
Swirl remaining 1 Tbsp oil into wok. Add noodles and stir-fry 15 seconds. Combine the sauce ingredients and swirl into the pan, combining with the noodles. Add the chicken mixture back into the pan with the chopped scallions. Sprinkle with the remaining ¾ tsp salt. Stir-fry 1 to 2 more minutes or until chicken is cooked through and noodles are heated through. Sprinkle with the reserved scallions to serve.