There’s a reason chow mein is so incredibly popular, it’s a quick, satisfying dinner with a comfort factor that rivals mac and cheese. Everybody needs to know how to make themselves a great pan of stir fried noodles ~ it’s a quality of life thing.
chow mein: take-out style stir-fried noodles
If you’ve got the craving for take-out style chow mein, you’ve come to the right place because this simple vegetable chow mein is spot on. The texture, the flavors, the aroma…it’s just what you’re looking for. As I write this I’m having a bowl of leftovers for breakfast and thinking I wouldn’t change a thing.
is chow mein an authentic Chinese recipe?
While the dish has Chinese origins, its interpretation and ingredients have evolved in different parts of the world, leading to variations that might not always align with traditional Chinese cuisine. So In a word, no.
Different versions of chow mein are served all over the US (and the world) in Chinese-style restaurants. This one is inspired by Panda Express, which is my fave, and a good base recipe if you want to take it in different directions (see variation suggestions below.)
ingredients you’ll need for a vegetable chow mein
It’s important to prep all your ingredients because stir fry dishes like chow mein go fast once you start. Do all your chopping and measuring before you turn on the stove. The good news is, as Asian dishes go, this one is pretty simple.
- dry Asian wheat noodles ~ see what you store has, there are several different types that will work fine for chow mein. You can use lo mein noodles, chow mein noodles, or, in this case, I used Japanese ramen noodles because that’s what I had. Any long straight Asian wheat noodle will work.
- canola oil or peanut oil ~ these oils have high smoke points and makes them good for stir frying at high temperatures.
- toasted sesame oil ~ what’s the difference between sesame oil and toasted sesame oil? Regular sesame oil is light in color and made from raw sesame seeds. It has a very high smoke point and can be used for deep frying. Toasted sesame oil is one of my favorite ingredients: it’s made from toasted sesame seeds, is deep golden in color, and has an amazing aroma and flavor. It has a lower smoke point but can be used for stir frying. It’s also used as a table side condiment. Combine it with rice wine vinegar for an easy Asian salad dressing.
- fresh ginger and garlic ~ these two form the flavor base for so many Asian dishes. You probably keep garlic around, but fresh ginger is equally useful to keep in stock. You can freeze it in a zip lock freezer bag for convenience. I sometimes buy prepared ginger in small jars to keep in the fridge. It’s a good backup, but the flavor isn’t as pungent as fresh.
- onion and celery ~ one of the things I love about this dish is that it features these two humble veggies. It’s such a comforting meal, no exotics needed.
- cabbage ~ the cabbage almost melts into the chow mein, you hardly know it’s there because I slice it very finely. It cooks quickly this way, too. You can slice it thicker if you prefer a crunchier texture.
- scallions ~ these have such delicate flavor that I save them for the very end and scatter them across the finished chow mein as I give it a final toss.
chow mein sauce
The sauce is minimal because chow mein is not meant to be ‘saucy’. The sauce is important, though, because it adds tons of flavor. Note: I use fish sauce in place of the more common oyster sauce, and mirin (a Japanese cooking wine) in place of the Chinese Shaoxing wine because that’s what my store had. It worked out perfectly so I wouldn’t change it.
- soy sauce ~ I like to use Tamari, a naturally gluten free soy sauce. It’s a little richer and a little less salty than regular soy sauce.
- fish sauce or oyster sauce ~ don’t shy away from this classic sauce made from fermented fish and salt. It gives so many Asian dishes that authentic background flavor that you can’t quite place. Trust me on this one. Vegans and vegetarians can just use more soy sauce. Note: Oyster sauce is more traditional in chow mein, so use that if you prefer.
- chili oil ~ this is an essential Chinese condiment and comes in different forms. One is a clear red chili-infused oil, and the other has lots of actual chilis in it. That’s what you want for this dish. I hope I can convince you to keep a jar in your fridge always, and a back up in the pantry. Seriously this stuff is liquid gold. Fiery gold! In this case I just use a little, so all you’re going to get is a background hint of heat…perfect. This is the one you’re likely to find in a regular supermarket.
- mirin ~ mirin is a sweet Japanese wine seasoning. You’ll find small bottles in the Asian section of your supermarket and it keeps well in the fridge. Mirin is more widely available in the US than Chinese cooking wine, which is why I use it in this dish.
- brown sugar ~ no matter what you think about the alarming explosion of processed sugar in the Western diet, a touch of sugar in certain dishes makes all the difference.
do you need a wok to make chow mein?
I do think woks are fairly essential for successful stir frying, so I do recommend them. Theoretically you can do this in a giant skillet or frying pan, but a wok makes the whole process so much easier because of its wide shape and deep sides. I recommend a stainless steel wok, which will last you a lifetime. This one from Cuisinart is a good buy.
5 simple steps to stir frying chow mein
Cook the noodles while you stir fry the veggies and this meal can come together in no time. Better yet, cook the noodles, prep the veggies, and whisk together the sauce ahead of time.
- Cook and drain the noodles. A quick rinse will keep them loose and pliable, but Asian noodles don’t tend to get sticky like Italian pasta does.
- Stir fry the veggies and set aside.
- Stir fry the noodles separately.
- Add the sauce and veggies back into the pan and stir fry until everything is hot throughout.
Chinese noodles make the best leftovers!
Just reheat leftovers in the microwave, no harm, no foul!
how to add protein to your noodles
Adding protein to chow mein is a great way to make the dish more filling and balanced.
- Meat or Poultry: chicken, beef, pork, or thinly sliced steak.
- Cut the meat or poultry into thin strips or bite-sized pieces.
- Marinate the protein with your choice of seasonings, such as soy sauce, ginger, garlic, and a touch of sesame oil.
- Stir-fry the protein in a hot wok or skillet until cooked through. Remove from the pan and set aside.
- Proceed with the recipe and add the meat back into the wok at the end to combine and heat through.
- Seafood: like shrimp, scallops, or squid.
- Clean and devein shrimp if necessary. For other seafood, prepare them according to your preference.
- Quickly stir-fry the seafood in a hot wok or skillet until they’re cooked and opaque. Remove from the pan and set aside.
- Proceed with the recipe and add the seafood back into the wok at the end to combine and heat through.
- Tofu or Tempeh: for a vegetarian or vegan option.
- Cut tofu or tempeh into cubes and marinate them with your preferred flavors.
- Pan-fry the tofu or tempeh until they’re golden and slightly crispy on the edges.
- Proceed with the recipe and add the tofu or tempeh back in at the end to combine and heat through.
- Legumes: Legumes like edamame or cooked lentils can also be a protein source:
- Use cooked or thawed edamame beans or cooked lentils.
- Stir-fry them briefly in the pan with the vegetables to heat them through.
- proceed with the recipe as usual.
- Eggs: eggs are an easy and convenient way to up the protein in chow mein.
- scramble the eggs in a little toasted sesame oil and remove from wok.
- Add the eggs back in when you do the final toss of your chow mein.
Use my homemade Chinese scallion oil instead of sesame oil.
Use Homemade Chili Oil for a spicy chow mein.
Craving chow mein but don’t have Asian noodles? Use spaghetti!
Other veggies to use include bok choy, snow peas, carrots, bell peppers, broccoli, baby corn, mushrooms, water chestnuts (yes, they’re a veggie!)
If you love bean sprouts this is a perfect dish to enjoy them without the worry of food borne illness. Cooking renders fresh bean sprouts safe to eat.
more easy Asian inspired dinners
- Easy Korean Beef Rice Bowls (30 minutes!)
- Dan Dan Noodles ~ Easy Weeknight Recipe
- Quick Chili Oil Noodles
- Beef and Broccoli Noodle Bowls
- Weeknight Egg Roll Bowls
- Thai Chicken Salad
- Thai Chicken Satay Bowls with Peanut Sauce
- Japanese Chicken Katsu Curry Bowl
- 9 ounces dry Asian noodles
- 3 Tbsp canola oil, divided
- 3 Tbsp toasted sesame oil, divided
- 2 Tbsp fresh ginger, or jarred ginger paste
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 cups finely shredded cabbage
- 1 medium onion, finely sliced
- 2 1/2 cups celery, thinly sliced
- 6 green onions, sliced, for garnish
- Boil the noodles according to package instructions, then drain and rinse them and set aside.
- Make sure all your ingredients are prepped. Whisk the sauce ingredients together and set aside.
- Add 1 tablespoon of canola oil and 1 tablespoon of toasted sesame oil to the wok and heat over medium high until hot. Saute the ginger and garlic for a minute or two, stirring constantly.
- Add the vegetables and stir fry for a few minutes over high heat until the veggies are tender but still retain some crunch. Remove to a plate.
- Add the last 2 tablespoons of canola oil and 2 tablespoons of toasted sesame seed oil to the pan and stir fry the noodles over high heat, keeping them moving at all times so they don't stick. Don't worry if some of them stick to the pan, that's fine. Stir fry for a couple of minutes. Note: don't add dripping wet noodles to the pan, they should be well drained. I blot mine with paper towels.
- Add the sauce and toss with the noodles, then add the veggies back into the pan. Toss well and continue to cook just until everything is nice and hot.
- As you are stir frying make sure to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the wok, there's flavor there!
- Sprinkle with the green onions and serve asap.