I am a staunch believer in ‘six degrees of separation’ and I believe that every Australian family is only two degrees of separation from a chow mein recipe. It seems to me that everyone has a recipe somewhere in their family tree and my family is no exception. There are least three versions I know of and I am sure there are others.
For a long time I refused to cook chow mein; only because it was too ‘retro’. But now I bring it back to the table, not because all things retro are back, but because it tells a story of where I come from and it is a shared culinary experience with other families. Many of my friends and family can recall when it was served at their family table. Some had ‘this’ in it, while others had ‘that’ in it. And this is why I have grown to love the dish, it tells a story of who we are.
This is not the recipe I grew up with. Instead, I’ve tried to take it back to a more authentic Asian style, rather than the westernised style that is common in Australia, the US and Canada. The noodles, which are a key ingredient, would not have been as readily accessible back on the 70s as they are today. And so most recipes from the era used chicken noodle soup; but I have used fresh chow mein noodles. I’ve also opted to use chili flakes for a small amount of heat rather than the generic ‘Keen’s Curry’ powder, which was used in copious amounts. I think it confuses the intent of the dish and was used in a time when there were not as many spices as we have available today.
180g bacon, diced with the rind removed
500g lean beef mince
2 garlic cloves
½ wombok (chinese) or savoy cabbage, sliced
200g green beans, tailed and halved
400g chow mein noodles or thin egg noodles
50ml chicken stock
2 tbs oyster sauce
1 tbs dark soy sauce
2 tsp coriander seed, ground
½ tsp chili flakes
Sea salt and cracked black pepper
Peanut or rice bran oil
In a large pan or wok, sauté the bacon, onion and garlic, ground coriander seed and chili flakes. When the onions are soft and the bacon has rendered, add the beef mince and break it up with a spoon. Sauté the meat until it is caramelised and continue cooking until the meat juices have reduced. You may need to turn the heat down while the sauce reduces.
Next, add the green beans and cabbage, followed by the dark soy and oyster sauce. Add the chicken stock and stir until all the flavours are mixed through. Add the noodles and gently toss the ingredients together to make sure the sauce is covering everything in the pot. Allow the chicken stock to reduce and the sauce to thicken.
When the cabbage has softened and the sauce has thickened, serve. Our family always served chow mein with rice, but I think the noodles in the dish suffice. And so, I serve a generous bowl and leave it at that.