When you want an authentic Chinese food dinner, you can have homemade chow mein cooked and ready to eat in less than 30 minutes. Chow mein is the ideal quick and easy side dish, and you’ll find that it takes about the same amount of time to make homemade chow mein as it would take to order Panda Express chow mein.
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Gathering all of the ingredients takes longer than cooking for this chow mein recipe. Be sure to make plenty so that you’ve got leftovers for the next day. You can make chow mein to celebrate Chinese New Year or just for an everyday meal that’s great for busy weeknights. Ready to learn how to make chow mein? Let’s dive in.
What is Chow Mein?
Chow mein is one of the most popular Chinese noodles dishes, and you can serve the noodles either crispy or soft. It’s very common to toss in delicious veggies such as carrots, cabbage, and bean sprouts. To make this a full meal, you can cook chicken chow mein with chicken breast or chicken thigh, beef chow mein, tofu chow mein, or pork chow mein. The sauce is made with oyster sauce and dark soy sauce.
Selecting Your Noodles
To make easy chow mein, we recommend using Chinese egg noodles for a crispy noodle dish. If you go to an Asian market or a supermarket with a good selection of Asian foods, you can find many dried or fresh noodle options. The egg in the egg noodles gives a gorgeous yellow hue and rich flavor. Some brands make noodles with water, flour, and turmeric for color. If you go to large grocery stores, you can find dried chow mein noodles. If you can find fresh chow mein noodles, they will be labeled as Hong Kong noodles or pan-fried noodles.
How to Cook Dried Egg Noodles
If you use dried Chinese egg noodles (fried noodle), you need to boil them until they’re just starting to get tender. They need to hold up their shape when you stir fry them. You can undercook them just slightly, about a minute less than the instructions on the package. Test the texture of the noodles, then cook them a little longer if needed. Once they’re cooked, drain them immediately under cold running water to stop the process of cooking. Drain them in a colander.
How to Cook Fresh Noodles
To make chow mein with fresh par-cooked noodles, break the fresh egg noodles apart with your fingers and add them to the wok. If you use raw fresh noodles, they’ll need to be boiled for a few minutes, then rinsed and drained. You can toss your noodles with some oil if you find they’re sticking together more than you like.
Selecting a Pan
The best pan for making chow mein is a wok. A wok is so useful to have in the kitchen, and you can use it for lots of meals. The shape of a wok is round, and this allows for excellent heat circulation on the sides and bottom. If you don’t have a wok, you can use a large stainless steel skillet or a nonstick skillet. As long as it has sloping sides, it will work just fine. You need the angled sides so you can toss the ingredients.
Chow mein is a fast-cooking noodle dish. First, the aromatics are fried briefly in the hot sesame oil, so the fragrant aroma is released. Then, the carrots and cabbage are cooked just until they’re tender. And last, the sauce and noodles are added.
Making the Chow Mein Sauce
The secret to delicious chow mein is the incredible sauce. It’s the sauce that brings out the flavor of the noodles. You need just three ingredients for the perfect chow mein sauce: soy sauce, oyster sauce, and sesame oil. Oyster sauce has a unique flavor, and it’s made from oyster juice, salty seasonings, and sugar, which gives it a flavor combination of both salty and sweet. The vegetable broth dilutes the sauce somewhat so that it’s not too salty.
Stir Fry the Vegetables and Aromatics
Ginger and garlic are classic ingredients in Chinese cuisine, adding tangy notes with a lot of aromatic fragrance to infuse the oil. Just sauté them for about 20 seconds because you don’t want them to burn. The chopped carrots are cooked first, then the shredded cabbage or bok choy. If you add bell pepper, add them at this phase.
Cook the Stir Fry Sauce and Noodles
Once you’ve cooked your veggies, it’s time to add your chow mein noodles to the wok. You add the sauce at the same time so that the boiled noodles will soak up the sauce’s flavor. It takes just a minute for the cornstarch to thicken the liquid, and it helps the flavor really come out.
Once your noodles have been added, it’s time to stir in the green onions and mung bean sprouts. These veggies fall apart easily with this cooking method, so it’s important to add them at the very end.
What’s the Difference Between Lo Mein and Chow Mein?
The main difference between a lo mein dish and vegetable chow mein is the noodles used. Chow mein noodles can be either soft or crispy noodles, and a crunchy chow mein dish is called Hong Kong style. Lo mein noodles are thick and soft noodles and coated lightly in the lo mein sauce.
What to Serve with Chow Mein
Chow mein is great with any of these:
- Sesame Chicken
- Fried Rice
- General Tso’s Chicken Recipe
- Wonton Soup
- Beef and Broccoli
- Kung Pao Chicken
What types of noodles can you use to make chow mein?
You can use many chow mein noodle options, including yakisoba noodles, lo mein, rice noodles, thin wonton noodles, La Choy noodles, soba noodles or ramen noodles to cook chow mein. If you use fresh noodles, you don’t need to boil them before you stir fry them. However, dried noodles need to be boiled. You can also use thin or regular spaghetti noodles to make chow mein.
What ingredients do you need for chow mein?
If you use thin Chinese egg noodles, you get the perfect chew for this recipe. The savory sauce is made with oyster sauce, soy sauce, vegetable broth, sesame oil, and cornstarch. The cornstarch is to help the sauce thicken. Veggies for this chow mein recipe include carrot, cabbage, green onion, and bean sprouts. To make this a main dish meal, you can add tofu, beef, shrimp, or chicken.
Can you use a different pan besides a wok?
If you don’t have a wok for your stir fried noodles, you can use any large skillet with sloping sides. The slope is important so you can more easily toss the ingredients and noodles. If you’re concerned about sticking, use a non-stick pan. If you like a crispy texture, cook with stainless steel.
What can you use instead of oyster sauce?
If you don’t want to use oyster sauce, you can use hoisin. It has a similar consistency to the oyster sauce and a savory, intense flavor. The flavor comes from fermented soybeans and has a bit of sweetness. You can also use Chinese cooking wine or soy sauce with added sugar. Add the sugar slowly until it reaches the sweetness you’re looking for. A splash of fish sauce with white pepper will add the seafood flavor. If you do this, you may need to increase the amount of cornstarch you use to 2 teaspoons. Another option is teriyaki sauce, but you’ll have a sweeter dish if you use that.
Chow Mein Recipe
- 2-3 quart Saucepan
- 6 ounces fresh or dried chow mein noodles see notes
- 8 cups water
- 1 Tbsp. soy sauce
- 3 Tbsp. oyster sauce
- 1/4 cup vegetable stock or broth
- 1 tsp. sesame oil
- 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1 tsp. cornstarch
- 1/2 tsp. fresh ginger minced
- 1 tsp. garlic minced
- 1/2 cup shredded carrots
- 1 cup thickly sliced green cabbage
- 1/3 cup green onions or spring onion cut into 1.5-inch pieces
- 1/2 cup fresh bean sprouts
- Bring water to a boil in a large pot. Add the dried noodles, cooking according to the instructions on the package. Cook the noodles until they're chewy (al dente). If you're using fresh chow mein noodles, don't boil them.
- Drain the cooked noodles into a colander, and rinse thoroughly under running cold water. This is essential to stop the process of cooking. Drain the noodles and set them aside.
- Whisk together in a small bowl the soy sauce, oyster sauce, vegetable broth, sesame oil, and cornstarch. Set this mixture aside.
- Heat a large nonstick skillet or wok on the stovetop over medium-high heat. When the wok is hot, add the cooking oil. When the oil starts shimmering (before it starts to smoke), add the ginger and minced garlic. Stir-fry the garlic and minced ginger for about 20 seconds. Don't overcook or burn them.
- Add the carrots and cabbage to the wok and stir-fry until it becomes tender. This step will only take approximately 2 minutes.
- Add the sauce and noodles to the wok. Toss them well with the veggies to combine everything, stirring well. Cook all of this until the sauce becomes thick and is coating the noodles. It will take about 1 minute. If you use fresh chow mein noodles, cook the noodles until they're tender and softened, which can take a few extra minutes.
- Add the green onions and bean sprouts. Stir-fry for 1 more minute, just until the bean sprouts are tender. Serve while the chow mein is hot.
Substitutions for Soy Sauce: If you don't want to use soy sauce, you can substitute tamari or coconut aminos. Storing Cooked Chow Mein: Allow the chow mein to cool completely, then put it into an airtight container. It will keep well in the fridge for up to five days. To reheat, use the microwave, heating in 30-second intervals. Noodles with More Sauce: For saucier noodles, all you need to do is double the ingredients for the sauce.