Chow Mein

Every kitchen has its own “clean out the fridge special.” And as did any respectable housewife in the 80’s, SUE! had a lovely casserole recipe just for this purpose: Kitty Stew.

If my memory serves me correctly, it had cream-of-something soup, mystery meat, whatever green stuff was in the fridge, and a crunchy topping of stuffing breadcrumbs maybe..? I don’t exactly remember. I haven’t had it in ages. (And I have a terrible memory.) She retired the recipe around the time when my brother was old enough to wonder why exactly it was called Kitty Stew. (Of course he was still young enough to take her seriously when she told him it was because she wrangled one of the barn cats into the house and made a stew out of it. Sort of like the time she told us that tapioca pudding was actually in fact fish eyes.) Ah yes, I do miss Kitty Stew.

While haven’t attempted to make this lovely casserole just yet (SM has a soft spot for cats and just wouldn’t think it was funny), I do have my own version of a fridge-clearing Blue Plate Special: Chow Mein. We didn’t eat much asian food on the farm, but I’ve developed a voracious appetite for the flavors and cook lots of asian inspired dishes. I doubt this is a particularly authentic version of Chow Mein, but it’s easy, flexible, and you can whip it up in less time than it takes to call the Szechwan Wonton up the street.

There are a few asian ingredients in the recipe, but they are generic enough that you can typically find them in the international aisle of your grocery store. Plus, if you like the recipe and end up experimenting with more asian-influenced dishes, they’re the basic ingredients that you’ll be happy to have in your pantry. It works well with lots of different vegetables, and a variety of proteins including tofu, beef, chicken, pork, and shrimp. (Though I’m going to steer clear of bad Chinese-food jokes and avoid Kitty Lo Mein.)  Enjoy!

Chow Mein

Click here to print this recipe
Adapted from the Weeknight Kitchen with Lynne Rossetto Kasper.
Serves: 3-4
Time: 30 minutes

½ lb Chinese egg or “lo mein” noodles (linguini will also work)
½ yellow onion, thinly sliced
3 – 4 cups of sliced vegetables (peppers, bok choy, zucchini, asparagus, bean sprouts, sugar snap peas all work nicely)
6 – 8 ounces of protein (optional)
1 tablespoon grated ginger (*see note below)
3 cloves grated garlic
Peanut or corn oil (*see note if using a non-stick pan)

For the sauce:
3 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon dark asian sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar

Put a pot of water on the stove to boil and make the sauce. In a small bowl, combine the water, oyster sauce, soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and sugar. Stir until sugar is dissolved.

Prep the veggies, protein, garlic, and ginger. This recipe goes together fast, so you need to have your mise en place set before you start cooking.

Organize the vegetables in bowls according to how quickly they will cook. As a point of reference, I typically cook onion and zucchini for about 4 minutes for the initial stir fry, and the rest of the listed vegetables for about 2 minutes.

When the water is boiling, parboil the noodles until just tender. Stir so they don’t stick together. Dried egg noodles typically take about 2 minutes. Drain, rinse in cold water and toss with 1 tablespoon of oil if you’re not ready to immediately stir fry them. They should be chewy.

Heat a wok or large frying pan over high heat until very hot. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil and stir fry the vegetables to about half desired doneness. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl.

Add the ginger and garlic to the pan (with additional oil if necessary) and stir fry until fragrant, about 5 seconds. Add the protein and stir fry until just cooked through, about 3 to 4 minutes. If not using protein, add the ginger and garlic with the noodles in the next step.

Add the noodles and stir fry until heated through, about 5 minutes, allowing them to brown slightly and stirring only occasionally. Return the vegetables to the pan, and add the sauce. Cook until the sauce thickens and coats the ingredients, about 5 minutes. Serve immediately.

Stir frying adds flavor by allowing the ingredients to caramelize (burn) on the sides of the pan. This happens much easier with a pan that doesn’t have a non-stick surface. The downside is that the recipe requires more oil. The oil quantities are estimated above – you’ll have to use your discretion to make sure there’s enough oil to keep things from getting completely stuck to the pan without getting soggy. If you’re concerned about the added fat from the peanut oil, use a non-stick pan and cooking spray in lieu the oil. Whichever method you choose, avoid constant stirring and allow the ingredients to brown a bit.

Fresh ginger can be purchased in most grocery stores, often found with the more exotic produce. It looks like a gnarled root (which it is). Look for pieces with tight, smooth skin that’s not dry or shriveled, and a bright butter-colored interior. To use, peel the skin with a vegetable peeler, and grate the ginger with a microplane or similar grater with very small holes. Ginger can be stored in the freezer, unpeeled for up to a year. To use, simply run the frozen root under warm water, pat dry, and peel the skin off the desired amount. Then return the unused portion to the freezer.

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