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~ Chinese Chicken Chow Mein a la Melanie ~

Chow Mein #3 (Intro Picture with Fork)It is January the 15th here in Central Pennsylvania, literally the doldrums or the dead of winter. I've been feeding my family a lot of the usual comfort foods:  chili, hearty soups and casseroles.  I have a sixth sense telling me "the natives are starting to get restless", so tonight I've decided to make one of my favorite change-of-pace recipes guaranteed to get 'em their groove back: Chinese Chicken Chow Mein!  What makes this recipe a la Melanie ("a la" being French for "in the manner of")?  I learned a lot about chow mein last year (February 2010), when I had the great pleasure of meeting and spending time with Chef Martin Yan right here in Melanie's Kitchen.  Trust me when I tell you:  Yan is "the man" and Yan Can Cook!  One of the items he requested that I prep for him, as per his instructions, for his upcoming cooking demonstration at Penn State was chow mein.  Chef Yan was quick to explain to me that he has recipes for chow mein published in a few of his books, no two recipes are alike and that is pretty much the rule, not the exception to the rule.  He then went on to explain to me what the constants were:

Chow Mein #30 (Package of Egg Noodles) First I learned that "mein" in Chinese means "noodles" and "chow mein" is the Chinese term for a dish of "stir-fried/fried noodles".  Authentic chow mein is prepared using soft wheat flour and egg noodles, but in Americanized Chinese cuisine, you'll often find it made using thin, crispy noodles.  Second, I learned that it can be prepared using chicken, beef, pork or seafood, as well as  vegetable additions like bean sprouts, bell peppers, bok choy, cabbage, celery, carrots, onions &/or mushrooms.  Lastly I learned that in all cases, a flavorful brown sauce gets stirred in at the end and there are as many variations to the sauce recipe as there are cooks.  The chow mein we served to 100 guests at his demonstration was a great success, and thanks to Chef Yan, I wasn't the least guilty about "tweeking" the recipe and its ingredients to suit the palate of my family... in fact, I think he'd be proud. 

Chow Mein #1 (Intro Picture)I've served my Chicken Chow Mein 4-5 times so far and each time someone asks, "what is the difference between chow mein and lo mein?".  As it turn out, there is very little difference.  In Chinese, "chow mein" means fried or stir-fried noodles and lo mein means "tossed noodles".  In the case of chow mein, the noodles are either fried separately or are added to the wok with the rest of the ingredients, near the end of the cooking process, and briefly stir-fried.  When serving lo-mein the common practice is to place the cooked noodles in individual bowls, or a common bowl, and then top and toss the noodles with the other ingredients.  In both cases, both dishes are prepared using Chinese egg noodles.  So, what it all comes down to is your personal preference.  Whether you prepare the following recipe chow mein-style or lo-mein style, you and yours will be back for more.

Chow Mein #5 (Sliced Chicken & Marinade Ingredients) For the chicken and its marinade:

2  pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced as thinly as possible, keeping the knife at a 30 degree angle while slicing (chicken can be sliced a day in advance of marinating)

2  tablespoons Lee Kum Kee premium dark soy sauce

2  teaspoons firmly-packed cornstarch 

Chow Mein #8 (Sauce Ingredients) For the brown sauce:

This delicious sauce can be made a few days before you actually plan to make your chow mein.  This recipe makes 1 1/2 cups, which is more than you'll need for your stir-fry, but it is a great sauce to keep on hand in your refrigerator to use in all sorts of other Asian recipes.  I sometimes make a batch of it just  so I have it on hand at all times.

1  tablespoon cold water

1 1/2  teaspoons firmly-packed cornstarch

6  tablespoons Lee Kum Kee premium dark soy sauce

 8  tablespoons Lee Kum Kee hoisin sauce 1-2  tablespoons oyster-flavored sauce

2  tablespoons Chinese black vinegar (also known and labeled as Chinkiang vinegar)

2  tablespoons Chinese rice vinegar

2  tablespoons Chinese rice wine

2  tablespoons sesame oil

3  tablespoons sugar, more or less, to taste

1-2  tablespoons chili garlic sauce, more or less, to taste (optional) (Note:  this ingredient does not go into the brown sauce, it is just pictured with the pantry items and will go into the stir-fry later on in this post.)

Chow Mein #11 (Fresh Ingredients for Stir-Fry) For the stir-fry:

The following list is what I like to put in my chow mein.  Remember what I said earlier and feel free to add any variety of fresh vegetables that makes you or yours happy.

Some options:  bean sprouts, any color of bell pepper, bok choy, cabbage, carrots, celery, onions, scallions and any variety of mushrooms.  Be creative.


All of the sliced/marinated chicken (from above picture) 

2  tablespoons sesame oil

2  tablespoons vegetable oil

2  tablespoons minced, fresh garlic, more or less, to taste

4  tablespoons minced, fresh ginger, more or less, to taste

4  ounces very thinly sliced green onion, white and green parts, about 10-12 green onions

10  ounces julienne of red bell pepper, julienne strips cut in half, about 2 large peppers

1  ounce dried wood ear mushrooms, reconstituted in 2 cups of hot water

1-2  tablespoons chili garlic sauce, more or less, to taste (optional)

1  pound fresh, fully-cooked and unopened package, Chinese egg noodles, preferably at room temperature

For the garnishes:

1/2-1 cup chopped, unsalted peanuts, or, 1-2 tablespoons sesame seeds, lightly toasted (For detailed instructions, read my recipe for ~ How to:  Roast/Toast Some Nuts & Seeds ~, found in Category 15.)

1/2-1 cup minced, fresh cilantro leaves, no stems included

Chow Mein #13 (Reconstituted & Slice Wood Ear Mushrooms with my Hand In) ~ Step 1.  Prep and have ready all of the ingredients I have listed above, or the ones you plan to use, for the stir-fry and the garnishes.

If you are using the wood ear mushrooms, place them in a measuring container and cover them with 2 cups of very hot water.  Set aside for 15-20 minutes.  Drain the mushrooms then place them on a layer of paper towels to drain throughly.  Lastly, cut them into 1/4"-1/2" strips and set aside.

Chow Mein #6 (Place Chicken in Ziplock Bag) ~ Step 2.  Slice the chicken as directed, placing in a one-gallon food storage bag as you work.  In a small bowl whisk together the dark soy sauce and the cornstarch, until smooth.  Add the soy mixture to the chicken and zip or twist the bag closed, and...



Chow Mein #7 (Chicken Mixed in Bag) ... toss until all of the chicken is evenly coated.  Set aside, to marinate, for 15-30 minutes, but no longer than that.

While the chicken is marinating:

Chow Mein #9 (Adding Cornstarch to Sauce) ~ Step 3.  In a small bowl, whisk together the cold water and cornstarch until smooth.

In a 2-quart saucepan, combine all of the remaining sauce ingredients as listed (except for the chili garlic sauce) and bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat.  Whisk the cornstarch mixture into the simmering sauce and continue to cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce is "drizzly" and slightly thickened, about 1-2 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Chow Mein #16 (Add the Marinated Chicken) ~ Step 4.  To prepare the stir-fry, add the sesame and vegetable oils to a 12" chef's pan or stir-fry pan.  Heat oil over medium-high and add the garlic and the ginger.  Saute, stirring contantly, until both are fragrant and just short of beginning to brown, about 15-20 seconds.

Add the bagged chicken and all of the marinade to the pan...

Chow Mein #17 (Cook Chicken 3-5 Minutes) ... continue to stir-fry, stirring constantly, until the chicken is opaque in color and almost cooked through, about 3-5 minutes.

Now, as crazy as this is going to sound, to this point in the recipe, this entire recipe can be done one day in advance, meaning:  the vegetables are prepped, the sauce is made, and the chicken is cooked just short of adding the veggies, some sauce & the egg noodles!

Chow Mein #18 (Add Fresh Vegetables) ~ Step 5.  Add all of the bell pepper strips, sliced green onions and mushrooms to the sauteeing chicken.  Stir to thoroughly combine all of the ingredients.

Continue to stir-fry, stirring constantly, until the peppers and onions are slightly softened, but still crunchy, about 2-3 minutes, then...

Chow Mein #21 (Spoon in Sauce to Taste)


... turn the heat off.  Spoon in the brown sauce, a little at a time, until all of the ingredients are evenly coated without any of the brown sauce puddling in the bottom of the pan.  When all of the ingredients are coated to your liking, stir in the optional chili garlic sauce, to taste

Place the unopened package of egg noodles in the microwave, just to warm them, 45-60 seconds.

Chow Mein #23 (Add Microwaved Egg Noodles) 

~ Step 6.  Open the package of egg noodles.  Note:  because Chinese egg noodles are very long in length, using a pair of kitchen shears, I like to snip them in half, while they are still in the package.

Return the pan to medium-high heat, add all of the noodles and continue to stir-fry until the chow mein is steaming hot, about 2-3 minutes.  Garnish and serve.

Chow Mein #25 (Finished Closeup) 


Chinese Chicken Chow Mein a la Melanie:  Recipe yields 4 hearty large servings or 6 hearty smaller servings, as well as makes 1 1/2 cups of brown sauce.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife, 2-cup measuring container; paper towels; small bowl; small whisk; 1-gallon food storage bag; 2-quart saucepan; 12" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides or stir-fry pan or wok (although when writing this recipe, it was my goal to show you you do not need a fancy pan to make a great stir-fry); large spoon

Cook's Note:  While this recipe is best served immediately after it is made, leftovers reheat beautifully in the microwave.  Also, this recipe can be doubled or tripled to feed a larger group of people, just remember to increase the size of your pan accordingly.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2011)


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