When I was growing up in the northern suburbs of Sydney, Asian grocers and ingredients were hard to come by outside of China Town. Sure most neighbourhoods had the obligatory Chinese restaurant but finding the raw materials wasn’t so easy and that Asian ingredient aisle in the supermarket just didn’t exist. One day a new store opened in our local shopping centre. It was packed to the brim with exotic Chinese and Asian ingredients including a large fridge with the most amazing array of fresh noodles and dumplings. It was my new favourite store! On one shelf there was a small selection of Chinese cook books and my mother chose one to purchase. I still remember the cover of a smiling Chinese lady with large bouffant hair standing by a rice cooker. The book had no illustrations but every dish sounded amazing. The first recipe my mother recreated was this Chicken Chow Mein and now, many many years later, we still cook and love this dish. This is one of the few recipes we haven’t tweaked or changed from the original in any way and that’s saying a lot for a recipe we’ve been cooking for over 30 years. Knowing what I do now about Chinese cuisine it’s good to know that this recipe is actually quite authentic. Chow Mein dishes have been hugely modified over the years but this is pretty much true to its original roots. Don’t be fooled by the short list of ingredients – all the flavour you could wish for will be there. This recipe is quick and easy to prepare which makes it a great meal for mid-week. The only slightly fiddly element is the frying of the noodles, but I always make the sauce and boil the noodles first then 20 minutes before we want to eat I start frying the noodles – it’s shallow frying too so no deep frying to contend with. Unfortunately I’m not sure what happened to that cook book and I can’t remember the name or the author to give credit but I wish I could lay my hands on it now as I’m sure it would contain a treasure trove of other great recipes.
Ingredients – Serves 2 generously and leftovers heat up well
2 large or 3 small chicken breast fillets, shredded into thin 1cm sliced
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
¼ teaspoon black pepper
2 large pinches sugar
2 egg whites
2 large onions, peeled, cut in half and cut into thin slices (not too thin)
Vegetable oil – peanut or rice bran oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced or crushed with garlic press
1 cup water
3 teaspoons corn flour
1 teaspoon salt, extra
2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 cup frozen peas
400g fresh thin egg noodles
Drop the noodles into salted boiling water, loosen and cook for a few minutes until just done. Drain and rinse with cold water then set aside to cool. In a bowl whisk together the light soy, pepper, sugar and egg whites; add the chicken and marinate for 10 minutes
In a medium size saucepan heat about 3 tablespoons of oil. When hot add the onions and the first measure of salt. Saute for at least 5 minutes or until the onions have softened, being careful to not get any colour on them. Remove the onions with a slotted spoon and set aside. To the oil remaining in the pan (add a touch more if you need to) add the garlic and cook until the garlic is starting to brown, and in this instance it’s good to get a little colour on the garlic; then add the chicken and cook stirring often, over medium heat, until the chicken has changed colour. Return the onions to the pan and mix well. In a small bowl mix the water, cornflour, second measure of salt, dark soy sauce and sesame oil. Stir until the cornflour has dissolved and add the mixture to the chicken along with the frozen peas. As soon as it comes to the boil, reduce the heat to a low simmer and cook covered for 10-15 minutes. Whilst the sauce is cooking start frying the noodles (or you can make the sauce ahead of time and reheat when ready to serve).
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a small non stick skillet or fry pan – I like to use a pan that is plate size and make a noodle cake for each person but you can make larger cakes if you wish. When the oil is hot, add enough of the cooked noodles to thickly cover the base of the pan, a thickness of about 2-3 cm is good. Cook over medium high heat, undisturbed for a few minutes or until the base of the noodles has turned golden brown. At this stage the cake will be easy to turn as the base has set. Cook the other side for a few more minutes until golden as well; you will end up with a firm cake, crispy on the outside but soft in the centre.
Transfer to a serving plate and keep warm (I like to put the fried noodle cakes in a warm oven until they are all done). Fry the remaining noodles in the same way, adding more oil to the pan for each cake. You should end up with 2 -3 cakes depending on the thickness. When all the cakes have been fried place one on each plate and top with a generous serving of the hot chicken sauce and serve straight away.