Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Make Your Own Chow Mein--No Sweat!

Shrimp-Tofu Chow Mein with Shiitake Mushrooms and Haricot Vert—or any variation on the Chow Mein Theme You Like

Tonight I made shrimp-tofu chow mein. No biggy, it's noodles, and I've made noodles kajillions of times in all their variations. But the Cantonese style was new for me. I'm always hoping to learn more about Chinese cuisine. Trouble is, it's INFINTELY COMPLEX. Safer to say, learn Szechwan, or Cantonese than to tackle all of thousands of years of culinary evolution.

So Cantonese--mellow, savory, subtle. Think oyster sauce. To make chow mein, which, by the way, look like spaghetti noodles (Marco Polo must have brought some back from his trip to Asia), you cook the noodles then cool them off with cold water so they won't grow.

Then, stir-fry your veggies, tofu, etc. in some oil and oyster sauce and soy sauce (equal parts--don't need much). Add in your shrimp (or chicken or pork--cut in strips to make it cook fast) and toss until cooked (only a couple of minutes). Make a light gravy with chicken stock (1 cup), more oyster sauce and more soy sauce (about 1 tbs. each), and a little corn starch to thicken. Cook only until thickened (about a minute). Before serving, zap the cold noodles in the microwave to warm them. Lastly, pour the veggie-sauce mixture onto the noodles and serve.

About what veggies to use: Never, and I mean NEVER use those nasty canned Chinese veggies you find in the ethnic section of the grocery store. I'm talking about baby corn, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts. Good Chinese restaurants do not use canned veggies. ICK! Any veggie that's not mushy is a good substitute: snow peas, green beans, onions, broccoli, peas, carrots, asparagus, mung bean sprouts, mushrooms of any kind (especially shiitake), etc.

About what meats to use: Shrimp, pork, chicken, beef, lamb--any will do nicely. But be sure to cut the meat in long, thin strips so that it cooks quickly. Short, chunky bits tend to get too dry inside before they are cooked through. Meat bits should be in bite sizes too--so that you can lift it with chopsticks--with no cutting--and pop it into your mouth. Cutting well is a way of showing consideration for your diners. Anyway, my fave is shrimp. I keep several bags of good frozen shrimp in the freezer at all times. I use half as much shrimp as most recipes call for (half a pound instead of a pound) and add a package of drained, cubed tofu. (Any way to incorporate more tofu into our diet is a GOOD way. Soy and other bean products can save the world. I do mean this.) Believe it or not, frozen shrimp are "fresher" than never-frozen shrimp. Plus they are handy, and you can get the kind that's deveined, shelled and ready-to-go. Frozen raw shrimp is good too because it absorbs the flavor of whatever it's cooked with. Your choice.

You can also use rice instead of noodles if you are on a wheat-free diet. A chow mein stir-fry is so easy, it really doesn't matter what starch you use--no intimidating and slavish adherence to recipe needed. Just remember oil to coat the pan, oyster sauce and soy sauce in equal parts and stir to cook only. Then make a little gravy and you are finished! Too easy and YUMMY YUMMY!