Cooking Lessons from The Kitchn

How To Make the Easiest Chow Mein in Just 20 Minutes

Image Credit: Joe Lingeman | Kitchn

Boil water and make the sauce. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, place the soy sauce, wine or sherry, cornstarch, sugar, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small bowl and whisk until the cornstarch is dissolved. Transfer 2 tablespoons of the sauce to a medium bowl.

Cut and marinate the chicken. If using chicken breast, cut it in half horizontally (also known as butterflying) first. Cut the butterflied chicken breast or thighs crosswise into thin strips. Place the chicken in the medium bowl and toss to coat; set the marinated chicken and the remaining sauce aside.

Cook the noodles. Add the noodles to the boiling water and cook according to package directions. When the noodles are ready, drain in a colander and run under cold water until cooled.

Stir-fry the vegetables.Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large nonstick skillet or wok over medium-high until shimmering. Add the onion, cabbage, carrot, and garlic, season with 1/2 teaspoon salt, and cook until starting to brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate; set aside.

Stir-fry the chicken. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in the skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the chicken and spread into a single layer. Sear undisturbed until the chicken is golden-brown on the bottom, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Stir-fry until just cooked through, about 1 minute more.

Finish the chow mein with sauce. Add the noodles and reserved vegetables. Cook, tossing with tongs, until heated through, about 2 minutes. Whisk the sauce again to recombine and dissolve the cornstarch, then add to the pan. Toss until the sauce evenly coats the noodles and vegetables. Garnish with the scallions if desired and serve.

Finished chow mein

Chow mein is one of my favorite foods. It always reminds me of my Chinese grandmother, who made a big batch every Sunday for our family lunch. I've eaten many (equally delicious) variations of chow mein over the years: deep-fried nests with saucy stir-fried meats and veggies on top, versions where the noodles are tossed with the sauce and protein, the list goes on. Now that I make it for my own family, the most important criteria is that it's fast and weeknight-friendly.

Here's exactly that — my go-to chicken chow mein recipe that comes together in just 20 minutes at the stove. It's chock-full of marinated chicken, crisp-tender veggies, and savory, chewy noodles, making it a complete meal the whole family will be clamoring for.

Image Credit: Joe Lingeman | Kitchn

Buying the Right Noodles

The Asian noodle section at the grocery store can be quite intimidating, so here are a few pointers for getting the right type of noodle.

  1. Check the label. Chow mein noodles, sometimes labeled stir-fry noodles, are thin, yellowish noodles made of wheat and sometimes egg. Don't confuse them with the cans or packages of the short, deep-fried noodles (also, confusingly, called chow-mein noodles) often used in Chinese chicken salad. If you're unsure, check the directions and make sure they call for cooking the noodles.
  2. Know your chow mein from lo mein. Chow mein noodles are not the same as lo mein noodles, which are wider and flatter. Chow mein noodles are designed for pan frying or stir-frying with very little sauce, whereas lo mein noodles are usually finished in much more sauce.
  3. If you can't find them, don't fret. You can use another wheat-based noodle, such as lo mein or udon. Don't use rice noodles, which are more delicate and stick together easily.
Image Credit: The Kitchn | Kitchn

Buy Shredded Veggies for Minimal Prep

The veggies in chow mein are quite flexible, but this quick weeknight version minimizes the chopping to an onion, some garlic, and some scallions. All you need to buy is shredded cabbage and carrots to round things out. Alternatively, you can also sub in bean sprouts, snap peas, or other thinly sliced quick-cooking greens like bok choy, chard, or spinach. You can even chop everything up a day ahead and store in the refrigerator if you want to come home and start cooking without pulling out a cutting board.

Get Everything in Place Before You Start Cooking

As with any other stir-fry, make sure you've prepped all the ingredients before you start cooking. It should take you less than 10 minutes, but will make this quick-cooking dish go smoothly. To get a nice seared flavor into the chow mein, everything is cooked separately: veggies first, then meat (tossed with a marinade that also doubles as a sauce), and finally a quick toss of everything together. You can use a wok or a large nonstick frying pan — just make sure it gets nice and hot before throwing anything in it. Don't be afraid to use pretty high heat for maximum flavor!

Boil water and make the sauce. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, place the soy sauce, wine or sherry, cornstarch, sugar, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small bowl and whisk until the cornstarch is dissolved. Transfer 2 tablespoons of the sauce to a medium bowl.

Cut and marinate the chicken. If using chicken breast, cut it in half horizontally (also known as butterflying) first. Cut the butterflied chicken breast or thighs crosswise into thin strips. Place the chicken in the medium bowl and toss to coat; set the marinated chicken and the remaining sauce aside.

Cook the noodles. Add the noodles to the boiling water and cook according to package directions. When the noodles are ready, drain in a colander and run under cold water until cooled.

Stir-fry the vegetables.Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large nonstick skillet or wok over medium-high until shimmering. Add the onion, cabbage, carrot, and garlic, season with 1/2 teaspoon salt, and cook until starting to brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate; set aside.

Stir-fry the chicken. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in the skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the chicken and spread into a single layer. Sear undisturbed until the chicken is golden-brown on the bottom, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Stir-fry until just cooked through, about 1 minute more.

Finish the chow mein with sauce. Add the noodles and reserved vegetables. Cook, tossing with tongs, until heated through, about 2 minutes. Whisk the sauce again to recombine and dissolve the cornstarch, then add to the pan. Toss until the sauce evenly coats the noodles and vegetables. Garnish with the scallions if desired and serve.

Finished chow mein

Chow Mein

Serves 4

Prep time: 10 minutes ; cooking time: 20 minutes

  • For the sauce and chicken:
  • 1/4 cup

    tamari or soy sauce

  • 1 tablespoon

    Shaoxing wine or dry sherry

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    cornstarch

  • 1 teaspoon

    granulated sugar

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    toasted sesame oil

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 8 ounces

    boneless, skinless chicken breast or thighs

  • For the noodles:
  • 8 ounces

    dried chow mein or stir-fry noodles

  • 3 tablespoons

    vegetable oil, divided

  • 1

    small yellow onion, thinly sliced

  • 2

    packed cups shredded green cabbage (4 ounces)

  • 1 1/2 cups

    shredded carrots (3 ounces)

  • 1 clove

    garlic, minced

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 2

    medium scallions, thinly sliced (optional)

Equipment

  • Large pot

  • Mixing bowl

  • Whisk

  • Wok or large nonstick skillet

  • Colander

  • Measuring cups and spoons

  • Cutting board

  • Knife

  • Tongs

Boil water and make the sauce. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, place the soy sauce, wine or sherry, cornstarch, sugar, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small bowl and whisk until the cornstarch is dissolved. Transfer 2 tablespoons of the sauce to a medium bowl.

Cut and marinate the chicken. If using chicken breast, cut it in half horizontally (also known as butterflying) first. Cut the butterflied chicken breast or thighs crosswise into thin strips. Place the chicken in the medium bowl and toss to coat; set the marinated chicken and the remaining sauce aside.

Cook the noodles and stir-fry vegetables. Add the noodles to the boiling water and cook according to package directions. Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large nonstick skillet or wok over medium-high until shimmering. Add the onion, cabbage, carrot, and garlic, season with 1/2 teaspoon salt, and cook until starting to brown, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate; set aside.

Drain and cool the noodles. When the noodles are ready, drain in a colander and run under cold water until cooled. Set aside to drain while you cook the chicken.

Stir-fry the chicken. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in the skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the chicken and spread into a single layer. Sear undisturbed until the chicken is golden-brown on the bottom, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Stir-fry until just cooked through, about 1 minute more.

Finish the chow mein with sauce. Add the noodles and reserved vegetables. Cook, tossing with tongs, until heated through, about 2 minutes. Whisk the sauce again to recombine and dissolve the cornstarch, then add to the pan. Toss until the sauce evenly coats the noodles and vegetables. Garnish with the scallions if desired and serve.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The vegetables and chicken can be cut and refrigerated up to 1 day ahead.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.

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