One of my favorite food memories growing up was at least once a week going to either Mee Sum or China Royal to get a chow mein sandwich to go. Served on a hamburger bun, complete with crispy chow mein noodles, the sandwich originated in Fall River in the 1930s or '40s; you can find it in neighboring towns in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, but nowhere else. Once I left Massachusetts, I still had to have my fix, so my mom would send me boxes of Hoo-Mee Chow Mein mix, which includes the noodles and the gravy packet, so I could make my own.
I’ve since turned it into a main course that has become a family favorite, made from scratch using all fresh ingredients, including frying up my own crispy noodles. If you prefer to use store-bought chow mein noodles, you won’t get any complaints from me!
1. Heat at least 2 inches of vegetable oil in a Dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot to 350°F. Working in batches, fry the wonton strips until golden, about 30 seconds, stirring so they cook evenly. With a slotted spoon or a spider, transfer the fried wontons to a paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain, and season lightly with salt. Set aside while you make the gravy.
2. In a medium bowl, combine the stock, wine, black bean paste, cornstarch, soy sauce, sesame oil, and 1/2 teaspoon of the pepper, and stir to mix well. Set aside.
3. Heat a large skillet or wok over high heat. When hot, add the 3 tablespoons vegetable oil. When the oil shimmers, add the onion, celery, and mushrooms, and season with a pinch of salt and a pinch of black pepper. Cook, tossing occasionally, until the vegetables are crisp-tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
4. Add the ground meat to the hot skillet and season with a pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper. Cook, stirring with a spoon to break up any clumps, until the meat is nicely browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute longer. Stir the stock mixture, then add it all at once to the pan and cook, stirring, until the sauce comes to a boil and thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the vegetables and, when they are just heated through, serve the chow mein sauce in large bowls spooned over a mound of the crispy noodles.
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Emeril Lagasse is a chef, restaurateur, and televsion and radio personality. He is the chef-proprietor of 12 restaurants and the author of 15 cookbooks. He has hosted more than 2,000 shows on the Food Network, serves as the food correspondent for "Good Morning America" and has a radio program called "Cooking with Emeril." Lagasse has received numerous awards, including Best Southeast Regional Chef from the James Beard Foundation. In 2011, he was honored by the James Beard Foundation for his efforts to further the culinary arts in America, as well as his philanthropic work through the Emeril Lagasse Foundation.