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News / Life / Food

Mushroom chow mein full of umami flavor

By Gretchen McKay, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Published: May 15, 2024, 6:04am

There’s just something about a warm bowl of noodles that puts a smile on a person’s face.

Toss them with some crisp and colorful veggies and a rich sauce in quick fashion, as this recipe from “Kitchen Sanctuary Quick & Easy” does, and the pleasure is only double — tripled, if you’re able to pinch a few pennies and clean out your refrigerator crisper in the process.

One classic staple for noodle aficionados is chow mein, a quick stir-fry of meat, vegetables and noodles that came to the U.S. sometime during the Gold Rush era of the mid-1800s via Cantonese immigrants from southern China’s Guangdong province.

An Americanized version of Chinese “ch’ao mien,” or “stir-fried noodles,” chow mein has been a favorite American-Chinese takeout dish for many decades. The tasty combination of crispy noodles, crisp-tender vegetables and savory meat just works. And for those trying to re-create the flavors at home, it’s also fairly easy to pull together once you’ve gathered and prepped all the ingredients.

Cantonese chow mein is traditionally made with beef and green peppers, but I had neither and felt completely comfortable substituting what I had on hand instead: a big bag of shiitake mushrooms left over from a marathon dumpling-making session and red and yellow bell peppers.

If you grew up on those super-crunchy chow mein noodles La Choy famously puts in a can, you might be disappointed. In this recipe, the curly egg noodles are boiled before going into the stir-fry with the vegetables and sauce, so they’re still fairly soft.

Chow mein is often only as good as its sauce, and this homemade version — made with two kinds of soy sauce, rice wine and hoisin sauce — is a sweet and salty delight.

Mushroom Chow Mein

Serves 4. Adapted from “Kitchen Sanctuary Quick & Easy: Delicious 30-Minute Dinners” by Nicky Corbishley (Kyle, $27)

For noodles:

5½ ounces dried chow mein or fine egg noodles

3 tablespoons oil

5 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, cut into thick slices

3 cloves garlic, minced

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 small onion, peeled and sliced

1 carrot, peeled and sliced into matchsticks

½ bell pepper, deseeded and sliced

¼ green cabbage, thinly sliced

3½ ounces fresh bean sprouts

For sauce:

1 tablespoon cornstarch

2 tablespoons dark soy sauce

1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine

2 tablespoons kecap manis (sweet soy sauce), or 1 tablespoon soy sauce mixed with 1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons hoisin sauce

1/3 cup vegetable stock

1 tablespoon sesame oil

¼ teaspoon white pepper

To serve:

Chopped spring onions

Toasted sesame seeds

Red pepper flakes

Cook noodles in boiling water according to package instructions. Drain and run under cold water to keep them from sticking together. Set aside.

While noodles are cooking, make sauce. In small bowl, mix together cornstarch, soy sauce and Chinese rice wine until cornstarch is fully incorporated. Then add in kecap manis, hoisin sauce, stock, sesame oil and white pepper. Mix together to combine and set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a wok over high heat. Season the mushroom slices with salt and pepper, then add to the wok and fry for 2-3 minutes, turning once or twice, until they are just cooked. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl.

Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to wok. Add onion, garlic and carrot and stir-fry for 3 minutes, regularly tossing everything together with a wooden spoon or spatula.

Add pepper, cabbage and bean sprouts and stir-fry for a further 2 minutes, keeping everything moving in the wok with your spatula or spoon.

Now add the mushroom strips back to the wok, along with the noodles. Pour chow mein sauce over the top.

Stir-fry everything together for 2-3 minutes, tossing regularly with a set of tongs or pair of chopsticks, until the noodles are hot.

Serve topped with chopped spring onion, sesame seeds and chili flakes.