Chow Mein

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Treat yourself to homemade chow mein ready in under 30 minutes. These delicious wok-fired noodles are cooked with fresh vegetables and tossed in a savory sauce. Perfect for serving with your favorite Chinese dishes.

Bowl of chow mein with chopsticks

If you’re looking for a quick side dish that’s better than takeout, then you’re going to love this chow mein recipe. You can even add a protein like shrimp, tofu, or make my personal favorite, chicken chow mein. I’ll show you how to achieve authentic flavors with restaurant-quality results.

Once you gather all of your ingredients, the cooking process is fast. Just be sure to make enough for seconds or to have leftovers. Noodles are prevalent during celebrations like Chinese New Year. The seemingly endless strand of pasta is considered a lucky food symbol of longevity. So eat up!

Pre-portioned ingredients on a wooden board

What is chow mein?

Chow mein is a popular Chinese stir fry of noodles that can be served soft or crispy. Vegetables like cabbage, carrots, and bean sprouts are commonly tossed in. You can also add chicken, beef, pork, or tofu for extra protein. This dish comes together with a soy and oyster sauce coating.

Noodle selection

I use thin Chinese egg noodles to make this chow mein. If you venture into an Asian market, you’ll see many options like fresh or dried. The eggs give it the yellow hue and richness from the fat, like homemade pasta; however, some brands use just flour, water, and a colorant like turmeric. Still tasty but a bit blander in flavor, but don’t worry, there’s a bold sauce that will help with that.

Most major retail grocery stores sell dried chow mein noodles, which require boiling before using. Freshly made options are typically labeled as pan-fried or Hong Kong noodles. They have already been par-cooked to be added straight into the pan. Just separate them before tossing them in.

Cooking dried noodles

When using dried Chinese egg noodles, boil them until just tender. You want them to be able to hold their shape when stir-frying. Undercook them slightly, about 1 minute less than the package instructions say. Taste and test the texture and continue cooking if needed. Immediately drain the noodles in a colander and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process.

Cooking fresh noodles

When using fresh par-cooked noodles, use your fingers to break them apart if compressed together, then add them directly to the wok. If using raw fresh noodles, you will have to boil them for a few minutes, then rinse and drain well. Toss them in some oil if they are sticking together too much.

Metal tongs lifting cooked noodles out of a boiling pot of water

Pan selection

Are you ready to rock the wok? It’s my favorite cooking tool to bring together ingredient components in one pan. The round shape allows the heat to circulate the bottom and sides better for quicker stir-frying. A nonstick skillet or stainless steel skillet with sloped sides will work if you don’t have a wok. The angled sides make it easier to toss.

This chow mein dish cooks very fast. The aromatics like ginger and garlic are briefly fried in the hot oil to release the fragrant smell. The cabbage and carrots go in next for a quick saute, then the noodles and sauce.

How to make chow mein sauce

To make the noodles burst with flavor, simmer them in a savory stir-fry sauce. Just three ingredients make the flavors pop; oyster sauce, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Oyster sauce is sweet and salty, made from oyster juice, sugar, and salty seasonings. It has a unique flavor, and I wouldn’t skip it. Vegetable broth slightly dilutes the sauce, so it’s not overly salty. 

To lightly thicken the sauce, add some cornstarch. It’s not meant to be thick and heavy, just enough to coat and stick to the noodles. Together the umami notes with a hint of sweetness make you grab another bite until the bowl of noodles has disappeared. If you like a saucy coating, double the recipe.

Spatula moving around chow mein noodles in a wok

Stir fry the aromatics and vegetables

To add layers of flavor to the dish, start with sauteing the aromatics. Minced garlic and ginger are classic ingredients used in Chinese cooking. They add astringent notes with a robust aromatic perfume that infuses the oil. A brief sizzle in the pan, just 20 seconds or so, is all you need. You don’t want the delicate ingredients to burn! 

The chopped vegetables cook sequentially, from hearty and durable to light and delicate. The cabbage and shredded carrots are stir-fried first, as they are more fibrous and don’t fall apart easily.

Cook the noodles and sauce

Now it’s time to add the noodles to the pan. Add the sauce simultaneously so that the noodles soak up the flavor. In just a minute, the starches in the cornstarch swell, thickening the consistency of the watery liquid. This helps the flavor cling to the surface. 

Add the bean sprouts and green onions at the end of cooking to retain their integrity. The crisp and delicate bean sprouts and green onions are stirred in and cooked just to wilt them slightly to remove the raw taste.

Close up photo of noodles with pieces of carrots and cabbage

What’s the difference between chow mein and lo mein?

Over time chow mein has evolved by region, each using different types of noodles. Chow mein uses thin noodles that are either prepared crispy or soft. When crunchy in texture, it’s often ordered as “Hong Kong-style” with the sauce poured on top. When soft, it’s stir-fried and tossed with a savory sauce. Lo mein uses thick, soft noodles, stir-fried, and lightly coated in sauce.

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FAQ

What ingredients are used in chow mein?

Thin Chinese egg noodles add a nice chew to the dish. A savory sauce made of soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, vegetable broth, and cornstarch for thickening. Vegetables like cabbage, carrots, bean sprouts, and green onions. For extra protein, chicken, beef, shrimp, or tofu.

What noodles can be substituted for chow mein?

Lo mein, yakisoba, ramen, or thin wonton noodles. Fresh ones don’t need to be cooked before stir-frying. Dried ones need boiling. Depending on your preference, if your market is limited on options, you can use thin or thick spaghetti noodles.

What can I substitute for oyster sauce?

Hoisin sauce has a similar consistency and has an intense savory taste from fermented soybeans with some sweetness. Soy sauce with sugar (add 1 teaspoon at a time) and a splash of fish sauce to balance the flavor also works well. I would increase the cornstarch to 2 teaspoons to make up for the viscosity missing from the oyster sauce. You can also use teriyaki sauce, but it will be on the sweeter side.  A small amount of fish sauce can be added for a more robust seafood flavor.

What pan can I use if I don’t have a wok?

Use a large skillet with sloped sides to help toss the noodles and ingredients easier. A nonstick pan works well if you are concerned with sticking. Stainless steel can give a crispier texture if desired.

Chopsticks lifting chow mein noodles out of a white bowl

Why is cornstarch added to the sauce?

Cornstarch is a thickening agent widely used in Chinese cuisine to add body and shine to sauces. A small amount of cornstarch is dispersed into the sauce mixture to help it adhere better to the noodles. The starch swells when heated in the pan and turns the sauce into a light gravy consistency.

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Chow Mein

Chinese chow mein noodles tossed in an authentic savory sauce and stir-fried with fresh vegetables.
4.85 from 46 votes
Prep Time15 minutes
Cook Time10 minutes
Total Time25 minutes
Servings 4 servings
Course Side
Cuisine Chinese

Ingredients 
 

  • 8 cups water
  • 6 ounces dried chow mein noodles, or fresh (see notes)
  • 3 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • ¼ cup unsalted vegetable broth, or stock
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • ½ teaspoon minced ginger
  • 1 cup green cabbage, ¼-inch thick slices
  • ½ cup carrots, shredded
  • ½ cup bean sprouts
  • ¼ cup green onions, 1 ½-inch long pieces

Instructions 

  • In a large pot, bring water to a boil. Add dried noodles and cook according to the manufacturer’s directions until tender with some chew (al dente). Alternatively, if using fresh noodles, skip the boiling step.
  • Drain noodles into a colander and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process. Drain well and set aside.
  • In a small bowl, whisk together oyster sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, vegetable broth, and cornstarch. Set aside.
  • Heat a large wok or nonstick skillet with high sides over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the vegetable oil. Once the oil begins to shimmer but not smoke, add in garlic and ginger. Stir-fry for 20 seconds, being careful not to burn the aromatics.
  • Add the cabbage and carrots, stir-fry until just tender, about 2 minutes.
  • Add the noodles and sauce. Toss and stir to combine, cook until sauce thickens and coats noodles, about 1 minute. If using fresh noodles, cook until softened and tender, which may require a few additional minutes.
  • Add bean sprouts and green onions, stir-fry until just tender, 1 minute. Serve while still hot.

Recipe Video

Notes

  • Noodle Substitution: Yakisoba, ramen, lo mein, thin wonton noodles, thin or regular spaghetti.
  • Using Fresh Noodles: Skip the boiling step and add directly to the wok for par-cooked fresh noodles. Fresh noodles can be added directly to wok as directed. Raw fresh noodles need a few minutes of cooking, then drain well before adding. Toss in some oil if sticking together too much.
  • Soy Sauce Substitutions: Use coconut aminos or tamari.
  • Oyster Sauce Substitutions: Hoisin sauce or teriyaki sauce. Alternatively, ¼ cup soy sauce and sugar (add 1 teaspoon sweetener at a time, increasing to taste). A small amount of fish sauce can enhance the missing seafood taste but use it sparingly, a ¼ teaspoon to start.
  • For Saucier Noodles: Double the sauce ingredients.
  • Storing: Cool completely and store in an airtight container for up to 5 days. Reheat in the microwave, covered, in 30-second intervals until hot.

Nutrition Facts

Serves: 4 servings
Calories 331kcal (17%)Carbohydrates 31g (10%)Protein 4g (8%)Fat 22g (34%)Saturated Fat 3g (15%)Polyunsaturated Fat 12gMonounsaturated Fat 6gSodium 843mg (35%)Potassium 136mg (4%)Fiber 3g (12%)Sugar 4g (4%)Vitamin A 1800IU (36%)Vitamin C 9.9mg (12%)Calcium 30mg (3%)Iron 2.2mg (12%)

Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.

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Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

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16 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Kayla says

    This sounds tasty and easy 🙂 My hubs and I LOVE these kinds of recipes and load them up with tons of veggies (especially like napa cabbage or bok choy-yum!) I don’t know if you or anyone else knows but there are brands of Vegan Oyster Sauce out there to easily make this recipe vegan. I have the Wan Ja Shan Vegetarian Oyster Sauce (I get it at a local asian market but I just found out you can order it online like through Wal Mart). I personally cook without oil for health reasons but it seems like this recipe would be totally easy to skip the oil (also helps with less calories and less fat). I typically dry fry or add a touch of water or vegetable broth for cooking ginger, garlic, onions, etc. when replacing oil. I don’t mind adding a few drops of sesame oil for flavor or ground sesame seeds. I’ll keep this recipe in mind for future dinners 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing <3

    • Jessica Gavin says

      You are so welcome Kayla! Those are great tips for vegan eaters and to stir-fry without oil. Thank you for your tips!

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Hi Patti- Fish sauce is extremely potent, so you can use a very small amount until you get the flavor you are looking for to replace the oyster sauce. However you may have to balance it will a little more soy sauce, and the sauce with be less sweet and thickened.

  2. Judy says

    Hi Jessica,

    I thought I had commented on this before but I must have missed doing that.

    This is now one of our favorite recipes. In fact, I have most of the ingredients in the cupboard and this past week in WA while I was getting ready to head back to California I kept thinking I can’t wait to get home and make this for Timothy and I.

    I used oyster sauce for the first time and is it ever good. Yummy! We are so happy you introduced us to it.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      I’m so happy to hear that you tried a new ingredient Judy. I grew up eating oyster sauce, as it is a very common ingredient in Chinese cooking. So happy to hear that you enjoyed the recipe!

  3. Adel says

    Is there anything I can use as substitute for unsalted vegetable broth? I don’t think it is available where I live…

    • Jessica Gavin says

      You can use unsalted chicken stock or unsalted vegetable stock. You can also use 3 tablespoons salted vegetable broth and 1 tablespoon water.

  4. Wendy says

    The recipe looks very good but I noticed when you describing how to cook this you said that the ginger and garlic go in at the end ,so they keep their fresh flavor but in in instructions they go in first. Please clarify which is correct. I might be tempted to put the ginger in at the beginning and the end.

    • Jessica Gavin says

      Please add the garlic and ginger according to the recipe instructions. The dish cooks very quickly so you won’t have to worry about losing the aromatics.

  5. JJ says

    I cooked this last night and it was INSANELY delicious. I served it with your Chicken Piccata and that was equally as good. My gosh, you’re making me look like a GREAT cook!!
    I love using the Dorot frozen, minced garlic and ginger. I put the required number of each directly into the sauce combo (by mistake, but I think I’ll do that from now on) and it worked out very well. I looked into the Lo Mein noodles, and bc I already had Angel pasta (ultra thin), I used that and it came out perfect. We’re not Chinese food connoisseurs, so we didn’t miss anything (“in the chew of the noodles”). It was great.
    I’ll be visiting this again…!

  6. Flora P Flowers says

    Excellent recipe , just tried it today , so easy specially if you cut the vegetables ahead of time …. so delicious my family felt in love with it
    Thank you very much

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