For many, Chinese food has become synonymous with the idea of MSG laden, high fat, high sugar, fried food. But this belief is not necessarily fair. Chinese cuisine is very diverse and not necessarily the fried greasy takeaway food you may think of it. There is however, one classic takeaway dish that even my mother (a health advocate of many years) would allow us kids to order on the rare occasions we were allowed to eat from the local Chinese takeaway when I was young. Chicken chow mein.
I have since figured out that chicken chow mein can be easily made at home and is in fact very healthy and very tasty – at least my method of making it is. It is packed full of veges and with this recipe only a tablespoon of oil is used to fry off the garlic and ginger.
In fact chicken chow mein is a fantastic way to eat your veg! With this home made version of chow mein, the sauce is made from reduced, thickened stock which is poured over steamed vegetables and served with rice or crispy egg noodles (I use the Highmark brand).
I devised this recipe to make use of some frozen chicken thighs I had forgotten to defrost for dinner. So if you too have frozen chicken that you wish to eat right there and then – then you may want to do what I did and make the chicken stock (actually broth if you use this method) by adding the frozen meat at the very beginning and boiling the meat in the stock instead of just the bones and skin as per the recipe.
The reason why I didn’t add this technique to the method section of the chicken chow mein recipe is fact that boiled chicken is not as nice in terms of texture as steamed chicken. Traditionally Chinese takeaways would use pre-cooked veges and meat which is why in this recipe I steam the ingredients first. That and the fact that it creates a sweeter less oily dish overall.
Feel free to substitute the chicken with tofu (add an extra onion to your stock), tempeh (again extra onion), pork, beef, fish or prawns. Or just eat your chow mein with veges and no protein. It is equally as delicious!
Ingredients (serves 2):
2 chicken thighs or breast (with bones)
3 medium carrots
1/3 head broccoli
1/5 head cauliflower
1/8 wedge cabbage
1 spring onion
4 cloves garlic
1/2 thumb ginger
1/2 chilli (completely optional tradional recipe does not have chilli)
1 packet of crispy egg noodles or rice to match
5 star anise
1 tbsp oil (coconut is best but you can use rice bran, peanut or sunflower if you don’t mind the issues they have)
1 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp corn flour (you can also use rice flour or wheat flour if you are desperate)
First step in making chow mein is the make the stock. In a pot put into one of the carrots cut roughly, one onion cut into quarters and the star anise. Cut the bones off the chicken and add them to the pot along with any chicken skin etc (just not the meat). Top up the pot with water – just enough to cover the ingredients, as you don’t need much stock and want it to be as concentrated as possible. Boil the stock at a slow simmer for at least 40 minutes. If you already have stock to use skip this step. You can also use other stocks like beef, fish or vegetable. Although chicken or vegetable stock works by far the best.
Cut the chicken (or tofu, tempeh, pork, beef, fish) into small strips and steam it over the boiling stock in a steamer for 10 minutes. Set aside the steam chicken once steamed for later use.
Slice up the vegetables – broccoli, cauliflower, carrot, spring onion (cut into 1 inch lengths) and cabbage – into regular sized pieces. Steam them over the boiling stock for 5-7 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked (should still be slightly crunchy) and then rush them under cold water and set aside.
Slice up the garlic, ginger and chilli (if you are using) into small pieces. Once the stock is ready add the ginger, garlic and chilli to a heated wok or pan with the oil and fry on a LOW heat until the garlic looks translucent – this should take about 3 minutes.
Then add two ladles-full of stock to the wok (or pan) along with the corn flour (or other thickener). Reduce the stock for another 3-5 minutes until thickened.
Add the chicken back into the wok (or pan) and heat for 1 minute and then add the vegetables and heat for another minute. Take the wok (or pan) off the heat and add into the crispy noodles so they can also be coated in the sauce – if you are using noodles.
And that is it – ready to serve. Seriously good chow!