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!
Vegetable oil, for frying, plus 3 tablespoons
12 ounces wonton wrappers (doesn’t matter which size), cut into 1/8-inch strips
2 1/2 cups beef stock or low-sodium beef broth
1/4 cup shaoxing rice wine
2 tablespoons black bean paste
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon plus 2 pinches freshly ground black pepper
1 large onion, cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch strips
3 ribs celery, trimmed and cut on the diagonal into 1/2-inch-thick slices
4 ounces shiitake or button mushrooms, stems removed (for shiitake) or trimmed and caps thinly sliced
1 1/3 pounds ground pork or beef
2 teaspoons minced garlic
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.
From Essential Emeril by Emeril Lagasse, Oxmoor House 2015.
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