Although I'm definitely more of a noodle person (as opposed to a rice or bread person), Chow Mein has never been a dish that's drawn my attention at Chinese-American restaurants. If given a choice my noodle order inevitably veers in the direction of Chow Fun or Singapore Noodles. That's probably because most Chow Meins I've had have been bland, soggy noodles with scraps of vegetables and meat, more like an Asian noodle pilaaf than a dish that can stand on its own.
Whether you're dining in a shopping center food court or at a proper restaurant, chow mein is often thrown on the plate as a mere afterthought to go with your Orange Chicken and Mongolian Beef. How many people do you know that would order a plate of Chow Mein as their main course for a meal?
The thing is, as a ramen fanatic and lover of stir-fried noodle dishes, I want to love Chow Mein. That's why I've reimagined it as a hearty main loaded with marinated chicken, vegetables, and plenty of glorious noodles.
The first thing I did was to tweak the ratio of noodles to stuff. Instead of a few dry strips of mystery meat, I loaded my chow mein up with tender morsels of chicken marinated in five spice and oyster sauce. Likewise, the vegetables get an upgrade from the wilted cabbage and stray bean sprout or two, to a vibrant medley of bok choy, carrots and scallions.
The finished chow mein is a bowlful of contrasting colors, texture and flavors coming together in different combinations with each bite. The big hunks of chicken are juicy with a caramelized glaze that's redolent of garlic and five spice. The vegetables are crispy, crunchy and flavorful, and the noodles bring everything together in a savory tangle of al dente curls.
Chow mein sauce
- Put the chicken thighs, 2 teaspoons oyster sauce, Shaoxing, black pepper, potato starch and five spice powder in a small bowl and mix well to combine. Let the chicken marinate while you prepare the other ingredients.
- To make the chow mein sauce, put the water, oyster sauce and soy sauce in a small bowl and stir to combine.
- Heat a wok or frying pan over medium-high heat until hot and then add the vegetable oil, marinated chicken and garlic. Spread the chicken into a single layer. Let the chicken brown and then flip.
- As soon as you flip the chicken, add the carrots. Stir-fry until the chicken is cooked through and the carrots are tender.
- Add the bok choy, noodles and sauce. If your noodles are stuck together, add a little extra water with the sauce, cover the pan with a lid and steam the noodles until they come apart. Otherwise stir-fry, until the bok choy is cooked through and the noodles are evenly coated with sauce.
- Add the scallions, toss to distribute evenly and then serve immediately.
For the noodles, there are so many fresh Asian noodles that would work for this, it's impossible to list all of them, but you want to look for Asian yellow noodles that are slightly kinky (get your mind out of the gutter). Here are some of the names they might go by: "Chinese Egg Noodles", "Canton Noodles", "Hong Kong Style Noodles", "Pan Fry Noodles", "Lo Mein", "Chow Mein", "Ramen", and "Yakisoba". They're all subtly different, but will work for this recipe. If they are not pre-cooked, you'll want to par-boil them by boiling them for 1 minute less than the time listed on the package.