How About Chow Mein?

Weeknights suck for cooking food at home. That’s why so often I wind up doing a stir fry — even an inauthentic one on an American stove. Proper stir fries need a well-seasoned wok and a burner that can go really hot right in the curved bottom of the pan. American stoves simply don’t get hot enough — especially if, like me, you have an electric coil burner.

So, we cope: Knowing it won’t be hot enough, you don’t necessarily need a wok to do a decent stir fry. You lose a lot of the “breath” of the wok, that ineffable smoky flavor that comes from really rapidly cooking the food. But it still tastes really good — good enough to make it on just about any night of the week.

The secret to a decent, home cooked stir fry (or any, really) is to prep everything ahead of time first, then make sure to use enough oil so that the pan stays properly lubricated throughout. Then, it’s really just a question of throwing everything in and stirring (see where I’m going with this?) and then you’re done.

The other neat thing about these sorts of stir fries is how you can basically

Serves two.

2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil,

1 tablespoon freshly peeled ginger, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 serrano chile, minced

2 chicken thighs, sliced and cut lengthwise

1 tablespoon five spice powder

2 handfuls noodles (somen, shi, or even whole wheat spaghetti in a pinch)

2 heads pak choy, leaves separated and cut in half

1/4 cup julienned lotus root

1/4 cup whole water chestnuts, sliced in half

1 tablespoon oyster sauce

2 tablespoons light soy sauce

1/4 cup whole cilantro leaves

Sriracha, to taste

Prepare all ingredients. Mix the chicken with the five spice powder to marinate slightly. Set one gallon of salted water to boil. You’ll want to add the noodles so that they finish near the end of the dish — for shi or somen noodles it’ll be toward the end while for spaghetti it will be toward the beginning.

Heat a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the sesame oil. When it’s fragrant and shimmering, add the ginger, garlic, and chiles. When they’re fragrant, add the chicken. Let is sit for about a minute or two so it can get a crust on the bottom, then toss until it’s cooked almost through. When the noodles are almost done, add the pak choy and let it wilt. Drain both at the same time into a colander.

Add the lotus root and water chestnuts to the stir fry and toss. Add the oyster and soy sauce and stir. Toss in the noodles and pak choy and coat everything in the sauce. Serve into two large bowls, then top with cilantro leaves and sriracha, to taste. Lastly, drizzle with a tiny bit of fresh toasted sesame oil.

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