Saturday, 27 June 2009

Chow mein a.k.a. fried noodles with prawns and green beans

Authentic Chinese food is an area that I'll admit a dearth of knowledge on, so I've often wondered if chow mein is an actual dish or something concocted for Western palates. According to Wikipedia, chow mein is the generic name for a stir-fried noodle dish, I guess in the same way that the term 'curry' is used, and has geographical variations depending on where the Chinese community have migrated to.
Anyway etymological issues aside stir-fried noodles are a great quick dinner option and this is my version. I think there are two key areas that make for a successful dish and they are- preparing all the ingredients in advance, and cooking them at the highest possible heat. As a non-meat eater I've used prawns and beans in this dish, but you could substitute Quorn or just add some different veg like mushrooms to make it properly vegetarian (or add meat if you eat it).
I like using fine egg noodles by a brand like Sharwoods as they are readily available, easy to manoeuvre in the wok and quickly incorporated with the rest of the ingredients. Cook one 'sheet' per person in boiling water for a couple of minutes until they are al dente (they'll finish cooking in the wok), drain and put to one side while you prepare everything else. You can add a teaspoon or two of oil to the noodles to stop them sticking together as they cool. The rest of the ingredients (enough for two) are:

A red or white onion, sliced
Two large handful of green beans, topped and tailed
About 16 large raw prawns, de-veined
3 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped or crushed
1 medium chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped (use more or less depending on how hot you like things)
3-4 tablespoons (approx) good quality soy sauce like the Kikkoman brand
2-3 tablespoons (approx) flavourless oil like sunflower
Salt (may not be required) and pepper (a generous amount) to season

The amount of oil you'll need for this will vary somewhat with the size of wok and the amount of ingredients that you're stir frying, but basically you need enough to have a thin layer covering the base of the wok and to swirl it up the sides. It's probably not going to rival those huge wok burners they have in Chinese restaurants, but keep your wok on the biggest burner your cooker has, with the highest flame, and when the oil just begins to smoke add the ingredients that will take longest to cook- in this case the beans and onions. If you've washed any vegetables make sure they are thoroughly dried, as hot oil and water are not a good combination. When these are starting to become tender but still crisp (after a couple of minutes), add the garlic and chilli. Make sure you keep everything moving at all times to stop it from sticking or burning, and after another couple of minutes add the prawns. As these begin to colour, add the noodles. As these are stir-fried they'll take on a nice, toasty flavour and be cooked through. Once the prawns are cooked add the soy sauce and a generous amount of black pepper. You probably won't need any salt but have a taste and add some (or more soy sauce) if you want. The entire cooking process shouldn't take more than about 10minutes, and cooking at a high heat should mean that you get that chow mein, fried taste without things being excessively oily.

My assessment of a couple of the key branded ingredients.

Cost: Sharwoods fine egg noodles around £1.18 (for six 'sheets')
I rate them 8/10.

Kikkoman soy sauce around £1.70 (150ml)
I rate it 9/10.

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