Subgum Chow Hein

‘Mayonnaise’ is the first French word most Americans learn; ‘chow mein’ are their first Chinese words. In either case, one could do worse in terms of cookery.

This familiar and all-encompassing Chinese dish appears on the menus of coundess Chinese restaurants – I am tempted to say that every Chinese-American restaurant is required by culinary law at least to list it. Only sweet-and-sour pork matches it in popularity.

Chow mein entails a smart and very efficient marketing ploy on the part of Chinese restaurant owners. Simply take the same ingredients as for chicken subgum, stir-fry the mixture with noodles and you have something completely different – or so it pleasingly seems.

Ingredients

  • 350 g (12 oz) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 egg white
  • 2 teaspoons cornflour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil, plus extra to toss with noodles
  • 450 g (1 lb) chow mein noodles
  • 120 ml (4 fl oz) groundnut oil, or 240 ml (8 fl oz) water (see variation) and 2 tablespoons groundnut oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed
  • 1 small onion, peeled and sliced
  • 115 g (4 oz) celery heart, sliced crossways
  • 125 g ( oz) small courgettes, cut into 1 cm (½ in) slices
  • 2 red peppers, seeded and cut into 2.5 cm (1 in) squares
  • 115 g (4 oz) fresh or canned water chestnuts, peeled and sliced
  • 70 g ( oz) bok choy, cut into 5cm (2 in) sections
  • 5 spring onions, cut into 5cm (2 in) segments
  • 70 g ( oz) coarsely shredded Chinese leaves
  • 1 tomato, cut into 8 wedges

For the Sauce

  • 4 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
  • 4 tablespoons Chinese Chicken Stock or store-bought fresh stock
  • 1 teaspoon cornflour mixed with 2 teaspoons water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

Method

Cut the chicken into 2.5 cm (1 in) cubes and mix it with the egg white, cornflour, salt, pepper and sesame oil. Refrigerate for at least 20 minutes.

Blanch the noodles in salted boiling water for 2 minutes. Drain, rinse under cold water and toss immediately with sesame oil. Set aside.

Heat a wok until it is very hot, and then add the groundnut oil. When the oil is very hot, remove the wok from the heat and immediately add the chicken pieces, stirring vigorously to keep them from sticking. As soon as the chicken pieces turn white, in about 2 minutes, quickly drain them in a stainless steel colander set in a bowl to catch the oil. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the drained oil.

Reheat (or heat) the wok or a large frying pan over a high heat until it is hot. Swirl in the reserved 2 tablespoons of oil (or add 2 tablespoons of fresh groundnut oil if you cooked the chicken in water) and, when it is very hot and slightly smoking, toss in the garlic and onion and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Then scatter in the celery, courgettes, peppers and water chestnuts and continue to stir-fry for 2 minutes. Mix the bok choy, spring onions, Chinese leaves and tomato, then toss into the wok and continue to stir-fry for a further 4 minutes, until the vegetables are just tender. Now pour in the sauce ingredients and bring it to a simmer. Add the blanched noodles and mix well. Return the chicken to the sauce with the noodles and give the mixture a few turns to mix well. Serve at once.

Variation

If you choose to use water instead of oil, bring it to the boil in a saucepan. Remove the saucepan from the heat and immediately add the chicken pieces, stirring vigorously to keep them from sticking. When the chicken pieces turn white, in about 2 minutes, quickly drain them in a stainless steel colander set in a bowl. Discard the water.

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