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It might sound dorky but I've loved chicken chow mein since I was a little kid. It was the first "exotic" food we ever had as take-out. I liked the little white boxes with metal handles but what really sold me was the transluscent paper bag of crunchy noodles. Chow mein is not chow mein without the crunchy noodles. I now realize that most takeout chow mein is green goo with little bits of diced meat on the top so I was happy to find a healthy and updated version a few years ago. In this recipe, the flavors are vibrant and the overall texture is very crunchy from crisp-tender celery, onions, and water chestnuts. Did I mention the shiitake mushrooms? Gourmet chow mein, indeed.
It might seem odd to post a chow mein recipe during the holidays but you can't eat cookies and fruitcake every day for the next month, right? Do your body a favor and give it something healthy to eat every once in a while. Six ounces of chicken for four servings doesn't sound like much, but chow mein has lots of vegetables too. I think you'll be surprised at really how much chicken there is per serving when you're done - much more than in the takeout versions.
If you haven't made many stir fries from scratch you might not be familiar with oyster sauce and dark sesame oil. Both are readily available in the Asian section of your grocery store and give the sauce wonderful flavor so don't be tempted to leave them out. Just be aware that sesame oil comes in two varieties - regular which is pale in color like other oils, and toasted which is dark in color. The flavors are completely different. The toasted variety may or may not say "toasted" on the label, so the most reliable way to know is simply to look at the color.
Left to right in the photo above you see oyster sauce, regular sesame oil, and toasted sesame oil. Oyster sauce is very thick and dark with a mild flavor that I can't describe, you just have to try it. (But it doesn't taste like oysters.) Regular sesame oil also has a mild flavor and is so pale it almost looks clear in the little glass bowl above. Toasted sesame oil is much stronger with a rich nutty aroma and flavor, and it's always used sparingly in recipes for that reason. If I come across a recipe that specifies sesame oil but not the specific variety, I make a decision regarding which they intended based on the amount called for - toasted sesame oil is rarely specified in amounts greater than a teaspoon or two. If you're intimidated by the unfamiliar ingredients, don't be. They come together in a very tasty sauce and you would never guess the specific ingredients.
Like all stir fries, once you start cooking everything goes fast and you can't stop, so prep all your ingredients in advance. The whole recipe takes maybe a half hour to prepare from start to finish with most of the time spent slicing ingredients, so this could be a great weeknight meal.
Chicken Chow Mein
Note: prep all ingredients in advance – cooking goes really fast once you start.
½ cup low-sodium chicken broth
3 T. oyster sauce
1 T. dark soy sauce, plus more for the table
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon sugar
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, about 6 ounces, cut into thin 2” long strips
1 teaspoon dark (toasted) Asian sesame oil
2 T. peanut oil
1 heaping tablespoon minced peeled fresh ginger
3 cloves of garlic, minced
4 scallions, white and green minced, divided
½ medium yellow onion, thin sliced
2 stalks of celery, thin sliced on the diagonal
10 fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded and caps thin sliced
1/3 cup thin sliced canned water chestnuts
6 ounce bag of chow mein (rice) noodles
6 ounces fresh bean sprouts
Whisk together the chicken broth, oyster sauce, soy sauce, cornstarch, and sugar in a small bowl and set aside. Season the chicken with the dark sesame oil, salt and pepper and set aside.
Heat a large skillet or wok over high heat. Heat the two tablespoons of peanut oil until hot, then add the ginger, garlic and one minced scallion and stir fry for 30 seconds. Add the chicken and stir fry until lightly browned, about 90 seconds. Add the onion, celery and mushrooms and stir fry until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Add the water chestnuts and spread the ingredients to the outside of the pan to make a well in the center. Pour the chicken broth mixture into the well, bring to a boil, and stir to coat all ingredients. Remove from the heat and season generously with black pepper.
Place approximately one cup of chow mein noodles on each plate, then top with the chow mein mixture, bean sprouts, and remaining green onions. Serve with additional soy sauce, if desired.