Beef Chow Mein

Beef Chow Mein

The thing about Chinese food is that, in the UK at least, it’s ubiquitous. Go to any small town or large village in the UK and there will be a Chinese takeaway, or restaurant. Or restaurant with takeout. You get the picture.

It’s popular then, but yet outside the swankier districts of the major cities, it’s fair to say the food never reaches the status of ‘gourmet’. I know a lot of you will have examples where I’m absolutely wrong, but I know of up-market restaurants doing French, Italian, Thai, Indian, Japanese and British food, but none doing Chinese.

The thing is that Chinese food uses some of the planet’s tastiest ingredients. Amazing dim sum, peking duck, char sui pork, stir fired noodles. Need I go on. So what gives?

It’s fair to say that most Chinese takeaways vary widly, but the same suspiciously vividly coloured sweet and sour sauces remain a constant and the ingredients are rarely, and I’m sticking my neck out here, high quality. It’s why I don’t really go to them.

And so, armed with my Ken Hom e-book, I’ve been setting out to try and make the Chinese food I know and love without the luminosity, MSG and hydrogenated fat.

First on my list, a simple Beef Chow Mein. I used some left over rare beef from a Sunday lunch (which I will be posting in a St. George’s Day special) but other than that the ingredients were cheap and beautifully quick to cook.

The beef is important here as cheap cuts will turn to rubber – this was from a well-aged piece of sirloin. But most recipes call for fillet. It seems sacrilege to use such a quality (and expensive) piece of meat this way, but at least you don’t need much! I dipped it in cornflour before cooking to get a nice crispness.

Prepare all the ingredients first, it’s essential otherwise you lose it halfway through. This was on the plate in 6 minutes tops once the wok is going, so you snooze – you lose in this case…

Serves 3-4

  • 200g medium egg noodles
  • 3 tbsp oil – seems a lot but worth it
  • 150g sliced beef – must be a decent cut, seasoned, oiled and dusted in cornflour
  • 2 handfuls of beansprouts
  • 1 small onion thinly sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, finely diced
  • 1/2 green pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp Oyster sauce – a good one, it’s worth it
  • 1 splash & 2 tsp Soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp rice wine or sherry. I used sherry
  • Pinch of white pepper
  • 1 tsp Sesame oil

Prep all the ingredients. Cook the noodles as instructed until just done and not too soft. Rinse under a cold tap to cool and drain well.

Heat a wok with the oil until screaming hot and add the cornflour coated beef. Stand well back then get in there and stir! Add a splash of soy to colour the beef.

Add the onion and garlic and stir until coloured then the rest of the soy and rice wine/sherry. Evaporate off the liquid a bit then add green peppers, beansprouts and noodles.

Beef Chow Mein

Stir fry for a couple of minutes on a high, high heat. Pour in the Oyster sauce, and sesame oil. Serve it up! Phew



Chop Suey

One of my favourite ways of preparing vegetables, Chop Suey can be made as healthily as you want, providing you don’t drown the dish in oil.

My wife much prefers my attempt at Chinese cooking as it’s not as ‘greasy’ as the local takeaways, but I must admit I personally think good a restaurant dish is pretty difficult to copy faithfully.

The version here uses, chicken, a lot of veg, and Oyster Sauce. I’m not sure if there is an ‘authentic’ combination in a chop suey, so apologies people of China if not! I recommend using a ‘premium’ Oyster Sauce from a Chinese Deli. It’s a few pounds more, but far richer flavoured than the cheaper supermarket approximations. It’ll last a while if you get a large bottle and keep it in the fridge.

The key to Chinese food seems to be preparation and plenty of heat. Get everything ready so that when you start to cook, you only focus on that.

I’ve had many a tantrum in the kitchen before learning this, I think it has something to do with the panic induced by cooking in a super hot wok. Anyhow:

Serves 3-4


2 chicken breasts thinly sliced (and, if you can, marinated in 2 tbsp rice wine, good pinch 5 spice, soy sauce and a few drops of sesame oil for a minimum 20 mins).

1 Tbsp oil (you need more in a steel wok – I’m going for healthy here and used non-stick……)
2 garlic cloves, sliced finely
Thumb sized piece of ginger, finely chopped
Vegetables of your choice (Pak choi, carrot, mange tout, onions, bean sprouts etc) – I used tender stem broccoli, sugar-snap peas, onions, baby sweet corn and bamboo shoots, all sliced into bite sized pieces. About a handful of each.
Soy sauce
2 Tbsp Premium Oyster Sauce
About 150ml water mixed with a tsp cornflour
White pepper
2 Spring onions, chopped


Heat the wok and oil until hot and smoking.

Add the chicken (drained well if marinated) and brown well, until cooked through. Take out and set aside, retaining as much oil as possible.

Drop in the onion and garlic and ginger for a minute (don’t burn the garlic, keep it moving!)

Add the vegetables and stir fry for two or three minutes. Stir the chicken back in along with a good splash of soy sauce and the Oyster Sauce. Stir well, turn the heat down then add the cornflour mixture, mixing thoroughly and using more water if too dry. Taste the sauce and adjust as necessary using the soy sauce.

Season with pepper, add the chopped spring onion and serve with boiled rice (or egg fried rice if you’ve fallen off the wagon!). Yum.