A crispy Cantonese beef chow mein recipe, loaded with a saucy beef, peppers, and onions on top. A popular and delicious takeout dish that's easy to re-create right in the comfort of your home!
Chow mein, there's a gazillion different kinds out there and different ways to enjoy it so what makes Cantonese beef chow mein different? Not much really, except that it's crispy! I personally think that's the best part of it. 🙂
Another main difference between normal chow mein and Cantonese chow mein is it is a bit more on the dry and crispy side and the noodles are usually not tossed in with the sauces. The process is simple and usually done in 2 steps: crisping up the noodles then topping it with the sauce, beef and, veggies. This gives you a choice to have a crispier noodle with a bit of sauce by eating off the edges, or going full hog saucy by digging in the middle!
INGREDIENTS FOR CRISPY CANTONESE BEEF CHOW MEIN
- Chow Mein Noodles - Chow mein noodles can be found at any Asian grocery store, in the refrigerator section where they sell fresh noodles. They are yellow in colour and are usually made with wheat flour and egg. Since we are using fresh pre-steamed chow mein noodles, we don't need to boil them before using them. I like to run hot tap water over the noodles in a colander for 2-3 minutes to soften it a bit before pan-frying it in the pan.
- Oyster sauce - You can find oyster sauce at an Asian grocery store or online. There is no true substitute for the slightly sweet, and briny sauce but if you can't find oyster sauce you can try to substitute it with 2 tablespoons of hoisin sauce, and 2 tablespoons of soy sauce.
- Maple Syrup - I like to use maple syrup or honey as sweeteners in the kitchen, but you can substitute this with sugar if that is all you have in the kitchen. If you use sugar, use half the amount.
- Beef - For this beef chow mein recipe, you can substitute it with any kind of meat. You can also make this vegetarian by omitting the meat (and the marination) steps. I like to use flank steak for this but this recipe also works well with any type of steaks, as long as it's cut into smaller pieces
When you are cutting the beef, you want to cut it against the grain to keep it tender (without the use of a tenderizer). When you lay your meat down, you will notice the meat grains will go a certain direction, you want to cut against it to create shorter fibers per slice. This works with beef, chicken, and pork.
CRISPING UP THE NOODLES
To crisp up the chow mein, you will essentially have to do a mini deep fry. Before we do this, you should quickly run the noodles under hot water for a minute to loosen up the noodles and make it a bit more pliable. It will also make the crisping of the chow mein easier and it will generally give the noodles a less chewy texture. We want to aim for crispy and soft 🙂
You don't need anything special for this step except oil and your softened noodles. Depending on how thick your pan/wok is you may need to adjust your heat accordingly. For thinner pans like a wok I usually set my pan to medium but for thicker wall pans like a frying pan, I like to adjust the heat to medium-high.
You don't need to evenly crisp it up as well, I like to haphazardly flip it with a wide spatula when it starts to turn brown on the bottom - usually every 1 minute or so for about 5-8 minutes or until the noodles are crispy.
Don't worry if your noodles are super crispy and dried looking, when you add the sauce on top it will soften up the noodles 🙂 and you want the edges to be crispy as well.
SIMPLIFYING THE BEEF CHOW MEIN SAUCE
Normally, the proper way to make the sauce is to mix the sauce in a bowl and keep the corn starch slurry (the sauce thickener) separate to put in at the end. To simplify this (and to save us some dishes) I combined the sauce and the corn starch slurry but to make this work without lumps you have to mix the ingredients in a particular order.
Order of Operation:
- In a bowl add ¼ cup of water
- Mix in the corn starch and stir until it has dissolved into the water
- Add in the oyster sauce and mix well until the sauce is smooth
- Once the sauce is smooth add in the maple syrup and the rest of the water and mix
- Set aside for the very end
THE BEST CHILI SAUCE, THAT GOES WITH EVERYTHING!
Serving this with a bit of chili oil makes this dish super duper flavourful and gives it a little something-something. It's something I swear by and always do whenever I have any kind of beef chow mein.
A staple chili oil I have at home that I pretty much use on everything is the "Spicy Chili Crisp Chili Oil" made by Lao Gan Ma aka The Godmother.
I have found that they will occasionally have this in English or Chinese labels. I find the best way to find it by looking for her famous face that's plastered right on the label. 🙂 It's an intricate and complex flavour that doesn't pack a lot of heat (mildly spicy) with hints of caramelized onion flavours. This stuff is like crack.
There is an awesome post 'Meeting Lao Gan Ma, “The Godmother”: China’s Best Chili Oils and Sauces' by Taylor Holliday on this famous chili sauce that goes into detail on the story behind this hot sauce and how to look for knock offs. 🙂 It's a good read!
LOOKING FOR MORE CHINESE TAKEOUT RECIPES? TRY THESE!
- Sweet and Sour Pork
- Chilli Chicken
- Sweet and Sticky Crispy Beef
- Sweet and Sticky Char Siu (Chinese BBQ Pork)
DID YOU TRY THIS CANTONESE BEEF CHOW MEIN RECIPE?
If you made this, I want to see! Follow Pups with Chopsticks on Instagram, snap a photo, and tag and hashtag it with @pupswithchopsticks and #pupswithchopsticks. I love to know what you are making!
Crispy Cantonese Beef Chow Mein
- ½ lb beef flank steak (or any kind of beef steak)
- ½ lb fresh Cantonese style steamed chow mein noodles (approximately ½ package of a 16oz/454g package, which is about 3-4 cups)
- 4-5 tablespoons oil
- 2 slices ginger
- ½ green pepper (approximately 1 cup)
- ½ yellow onion (approximately 1 cup)
- Spicy Chili Crisp Chili Oil
Preparing the Vegetables and Noodles
- Slice the green peppers and onions into strips and set aside
- Add the chow mein noodles into a colander and use your hands and to loosen it up gently. Pour hot water over it to slightly soften it. I find it easiest to use hot tap water and run the noodles under it for 2-3 minutes. Set the noodles aside once the noodles are soft.
Marinating the Beef
- Cut the beef against the grain into thin slices and put it in a bowl
- Add the 'Beef Marinade' ingredients into the bowl with the beef and mix well and set aside to marinate for 15 minutes in room temperature
Making the Sauce
- In a bowl, combine ¼ cup of cold water and corn starch and mix until the corn starch has dissolved well with no clumps
- Add in the oyster sauce and mix until the sauce is smooth
- Add in the maple syrup and the rest of the ¾ cup of water and mix well and set aside
Crisping the Noodles
- In a wok or frying pan, set the heat to medium to medium-high heat (adjust this according to your stove and the thickness of your pan)
- Add 4 tablespoons of oil to the pan and wait for the oil to smoke or shimmer. (The oil needs to get really hot to 'deep fry' the noodles)
- Add in the noodles and let it 'pan fry' untouched for 1 minute. Flipping once every minute for around 5-8 minutes. Our goal is to get the noodles dried and crispy. If you are noticing that the noodles are burning, lower the heat a bit. (A little burnt is okay 🙂 )
- Once the noodles are crispy and done, remove it from the pan and spread it out on a serving plate
Putting it Together
- Set the stove to medium, to medium-high heat again and add a tablespoon of oil
- When the oil is hot, add in the slices of ginger and roast it until it is golden brown
- Add in the beef and fry it for 2-3 minutes until the beef is cooked. It's okay to have the beef medium rare for this dish 🙂
- Add in the onions and green peppers and toss it with the beef for about 2-3 minutes (we don't want to overcook the veggies)
- Give the sauce a quick stir in the bowl - corn starch likes to settle at the bottom so we want to make sure the sauce is evenly mixed before we use it.
- Push aside the veggies and beef on the pan and pour in the sauce
- Once the sauce gets enough heat, it will start to thicken, keep stirring with your spatula until it thickens and starts to bubble. You will know the sauce is done when it becomes a darker colour, translucent and thick.
- Toss the meat and veggies over the sauce and coat everything with the sauce and cook it for about 1 minute
- Pour everything over the plate of noodles
- Enjoy with some chilli oil! 🙂
- When you are buying Cantonese chow mein in the grocery store, look for the ones that are pre-steamed. They usually come in a plastic bag in the refrigeration section where all the fresh noodles are. Buying the pre-steamed one lets us skip the step of steaming the noodles before deep-frying it.
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