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Plain Chow Mein is a simple fakeaway classic which is just as great served as a side or a main course. Plain in name but anything but plain in flavour. Plus choose your favourite ready-cooked noodle and its ready to go in less than 10 minutes.
I actually find it very difficult to replicate dishes from Chinese takeaways. There are a few exceptions like my Har Gow Dumplings but mostly the flavour is rarely the same. But lo and behold I think I’ve finally made chow mein just like the takeaway!
It turns out that the key was to keep it simple. It is easy with Asian foods to throw everything at it. But not every dish needs vinegar, rice wine, ginger, sesame oil and lashings of soy. The only flavourings in this basic chow mein recipe are a little garlic salt and a dash of light soy.
What is Chow Mein?
It generally depends where you are in the world. Like many Chinese takeaway dishes, chow mein isn’t a specific dish but a name given to a number of regional adaptations of a basic stir- fry noodle dish.
In the US, depending on where in the country you are, you might get a dish or soft or crispy fried noodles. If you are somewhere that is serving the crispy kind, you would need to order ‘lo mein’ to get the soft kind. Confused yet?!
So lets talk about we’ll call “British Chow Mein” instead. Here in the UK, chow mein is a dish of soft (usually egg) noodles which are stir fried with a onion and beansprouts and a little soy.
Most restaurants and takeaways will offer several varieties. So you might order chicken, prawn or vegetable varieties. But you will almost always be able to order a “plain chow mein” meaning one without any additions. This is usually served as a side dish rather than a whole main course.
And that is what I’ve recreated here. Firstly because I want to expand the range of simple sides on Feast Glorious Feast and also because it is so easy to adapt into a fuller meal.
How to Serve Plain Chow Mein
It is entirely up to you whether you use this recipe as a base for a larger meal or a side dish just as it is. It is also entirely up to you whether you serve it in a big bowl in the middle of the table or serve it individually.
I like to add a little garnish of sliced spring onion for a pop of colour and fresh flavour. Sometimes I’ll sprinkle on some sesame seeds for good measure.
Hot or warm is preferable. You can eat cold chow mein but it isn’t the greatest cold noodle dish. Soba noodles or rice noodles make much better noodle salads.
Make Plain Chow Mein into a Feast
I truly believe that you can make any dish into a proper feast! Whether thats a feast for one after work on a Tuesday, a casual feast for four on a Friday evening or a feast for 12 for a special occasion!
Chow mein makes an excellent substitution to rice in any of my Asian Feasts. Its both vegetarian and vegan so will work especially perfectly with my Vegetarian Asian Feast. It is also an ideal side with my vegan Teriyaki Tofu Stir Fry, Satay Sprouts or Chilli Ginger Courgettes.
Don’t forget to head over to my Feast Collection pages to find all of my tips and tricks to help you host a fun and stress-free feast. Plus remember to check out my recipe index to create your own awesome Feast!
Ingredients for Plain Chow Mein
You can use whichever type of noodle you like. They just need to be cooked. I buy the vac packed udon or egg noodles which are “wok ready”. You can also use dried noodles, but you will need to cook them first.
For the most “authentic” fakeaway, I would use thin or medium egg or wheat noodles. My favourite is actually udon but this makes the dish a bit of a different beast.
Rice noodles and soba noodles are better left for another dish but it won’t be a disaster to use them if thats what you have on hand.
To find out about more of my favourite Asian Ingredients, check out my guide to the Top 16 Asian Ingredients which I always keep stocked in my pantry.
I’ve also suggested a whole bunch of recipes to try once your cupboard is fully stocked!
I love garlic salt and use it all the time especially in dishes where fresh garlic might catch and burn. My Garlic Roast Sweet Potatoes are a classic example.
If you don’t have garlic salt, you can use fresh garlic or garlic paste instead. Just make sure that it is well crushed or grated.
Beansprouts are more commonly given their full name in the US – mung bean sprouts.
Fresh is best. You want them to retain a little texture even after they’re stir fried. They are available in most supermarkets in the veg fridges. You can use any leftovers to make my Korean Ramen.
You can also get tinned beansprouts and whilst the taste of these is fine, they start out soggy and aren’t going to improve. They are however better than nothing!
The basic recipe here is so basic, other than choosing your noodles, there isn’t a whole lot of varying to be made.
But what you can add to a Plain Chow Mein to make it a non-plain chow mein is basically endless. Leftover Roast Chicken or Belly Pork are ideal additions. Just throw them in along with the noodles and beansprouts. You can also add king prawns, sliced duck, leftover lamb or any other meats that you have on hand. I would be inclined to avoid my beloved bacon at this point.
Vegetables also make a great addition. Carrots, cabbage, sliced beans, mushrooms, peas, sweetcorn and anything else you can think of can be thrown in.
Make it Vegetarian or Vegan
My Plain Chow Mein is naturally vegan. There are no animal or dairy products in the basic recipe.
Obviously you need to pay attention to anything else you choose to add. Throw in some chicken and it is no longer suitable for veggies or vegans!
Make it Allergy Friendly
This recipe is naturally dairy and nut free.
Gluten Free: To make the recipe gluten free, you will need to choose your noodle wisely. Buckwheat or rice noodles would be the best option here. You will also need to use a gluten free soy sauce such as tamari. If you can only find gluten free dark soy, use half the amount and add make up the quantity with water and a little salt.
Egg Free: You just need to make sure that the noodles you choose do not include egg. Look for the white ones rather than the yellow ones. But still make sure to check the ingredients.
Please note that this recipe may contain other allergens not referred to above. For more information regarding any dietary information provided on this website, please refer to my Nutritional Disclaimer.
Equipment Notes for Plain Chow Mein
Investing in a good wok is my best piece of advice. Although I say “invest”, the best woks are not expensive at all. Look for a carbon steel wok rather than a fancy non-stick variety. A natural non-stick seasoning will build up with use. The thinner design will help the heat to transfer up the side of the wok effectively.
If you don’t have a wok you can use a large frying pan instead.
A comprehensive list of the equipment used to make this recipe is included in the main recipe card below. Click on any item to see an example. There are no hard and fast rules so many items can be sensibly substituted to achieve the same results.
This is such a quick dish to throw together that there isn’t any real reason to get too ahead of the game. If you are going to add in other ingredients, you can make sure that they are cooked and ready to go. The same is true if you are using dried and not “ready to wok” noodles.
If you do need to, you can make it all in advance and then reheat in the wok or microwave if you need to. Using a wok would be preferable.
Leftover Plain Chow Mein
Any leftovers can be reheated or frozen for later if needed.
It is possible to mix it up a little but hard frying the chow mein in oil and making the noodle super crispy is an option.
Plain Chow Mein Tips
Make sure to have everything ready to go before starting to cook. Have the soy and garlic to hand, the noodles unpackaged and the beansprouts ready to go.
Make sure your wok or frying pan is super hot before adding the oil or any ingredients. This is not a time to be shy of heat, you want the pan to be smoking.
Don’t add the oil too early otherwise you will just create a smoke cloud.
Don’t fry the chow mein for any more than a minute after adding the garlic and soy. Have the serving dish ready. You don’t want the garlic to get bitter or for the dish to dry out.
Don’t forget to let me know in the comments if you try making this recipe – I want to know what you think and if you made any substitutions, how did it turn out?
Step-by-Step Plain Chow Mein Video
Still Have Questions?
Simple! Just contact me and I will do my best to help as quickly as I am able. Head over to my Contact Me page, any of my social media channels or post a comment at the bottom of this page and I’ll see what I can do.
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Plain Chow Mein
- 1 Onions
- 1 tbsp Vegetable Oil
- 170 g Wok-Ready Noodles
- 70 g Fresh Beansprouts (Mung Bean Sprouts)
- ¼ tsp Garlic Salt
- 1 tbsp Light Soy Sauce
- 1 Spring Onion – optional garnish
- Chop 1 Onion into half moons or half lengths.
- Get 170g Wok-Ready Noodles and 70g Beansprouts ready to go next to the cooker.
- Put a wok or large frying pan on a high heat until it starts to smoke. Add 1 tbsp Vegetable Oil and swirl around the pan.
- Fry the onion for 2 minutes. Keep moving it around the pan.
- Add the noodles and beansprouts. Fry for a further 2 minutes.
- Add ¼ tsp Garlic Salt and 1 tbsp Light Soy Sauce. Fry for a further minute.
- And serve! Slice 1 Spring Onion and sprinkle it on as a garnish if you wish.
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