Familiar Beef and Tomato Lo Mein

‘Mein’ is Cantonese for ‘noodles’, an everyday food eaten in southern China. However, in America it has been transformed into a typical Westernized Chinese combination. In China itself beef is rarely eaten, and tomatoes were not a staple in Chinese cuisine until one hundred years ago. In the West both foods are widely popular, and Cantonese restaurants, always alert to what the customers want, happily obliged by haphazardly mixing together much bigger portions than any Chinese person would expect. The dish became a standard on the menu of every Chinese-American restaurant. Beef, tomatoes and noodles are a wonderful combination, but they must be cooked properly to bring out their virtues. Frequently, the restaurant versions are greasy and overcooked. I offer here a recipe that captures the best qualities of these enduringly popular and nutritious foods.

Ingredients

  • 450 g (1 lb) flank steak
  • 2 teaspoons light soy sauce
  • 3 teaspoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • ½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon cornflour
  • 3 tablespoons groundnut oil
  • 3 garlic cloves; peeled and lightly crushed
  • 4 tablespoons Chinese Chicken Stock or store-bought fresh stock
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 3 medium-sized fresh tomatoes, cut into quarters
  • 4 spring onions, cut diagonally into 7.5cm (3 in) segments
  • 350 g (12 oz) fresh or dried Chinese noodles, blanched for 2 minutes

Method

Cut the steak in half lengthways, then cut into thin slices 5 cm (2 in) wide and 5 mm (¼ in) thick, cutting against the grain. Mix the beef with 2 teaspoons of soy sauce, 1 teaspoon of rice wine, the sesame oil, bicarbonate of soda, salt, pepper and cornflour. Let it sit for 20 minutes.

Heat a wok or deep pan until it is very hot. Swirl in the groundnut oil and, when it is very hot and smoking, toss in the beef and stir-fry for 3 minutes. Remove the beef with a slotted spoon and drain off all but 1 tablespoon of oil.

Reheat the wok, toss in the garlic and stir-fry for 1 minute. Then add the chicken stock, 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, 2 teaspoons of rice wine, the sugar and oyster sauce and bring the mixture to the boil over a high heat. Dump in the tomatoes and the spring onions. Now toss in the noodles, mix well and cook for 2 minutes. Return the beef to the wok and continue to cook for another minute.

Transfer the contents of the wok to a large platter and serve at once.

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