Accessible, familiar and comforting, this recipe will make you think differently about cooking modern Asian flavours at home, says Ann Maloney
Have you ever seen a recipe title and thought: say, what? Then, considered the source and immediately wanted to try it?
McKinnon, who also wrote Neighborhood and Family, was born to Chinese-immigrant parents in Australia, so in her cookbook, she describes her recipes as “Asian in origin, but modern in spirit” and the flavours as “Asian-ish”.
Would I consider making chow mein this way without her guidance? Unlikely. Under McKinnon’s tutelage, however, I could see how it would come together. She writes: “Cantonese chow mein is well known of its contrasting textures –crispy fried strands tangled with soft noodles, tender-crisp veggies, all smothered in an umami-rich sauce. While the wok is still the traditional (and arguably the best) cooking vessel for chow mein, a humble baking tray is also a handy way to rustle it up with minimal effort.”
I, along with a busload of other food writers and home cooks, have sung the praises of the baking tray for years, because as McKinnon points out you “simply throw everything on the tray and let the oven do the work for you”. Still, I was delightfully surprised by how well this reinterpretation delivered the expected flavours and textures of chow mein. It’s a great solution for folks who don’t have a wok.
McKinnon starts by roasting bell pepper, broccoli and carrots drizzled with sesame and olive oils until they soften. While they cook, you boil your noodles until al dente, drain and pat them dry, so they’ll crisp. Then, you push the softened vegetables to one side of the pan and add the noodles, baby corn and asparagus to other side and return the pan to the oven until the noodles are crispy where they touch the pan and a bit on top.
Quickly whip up a sauce of toasted sesame oil, soy sauce, vegetarian stir-fry sauce, white pepper and garlic, and when the vegetables and noodles are where you want them, remove the pan from the oven, pour the sauce over it all and toss it together. You can then sprinkle spring onions, coriander leaves and sesame seeds over, if you like.
It tastes best fresh from the oven, when the noodles and vegetables retain their wonderful textures, but it was delicious cold from the refrigerator the next day, too.
This recipe is an excellent way to use up bits and pieces of produce. McKinnon also suggests Asian greens as a substitute for the broccoli and sugar snap peas in place of asparagus. Dried or fresh thin egg noodles are best because they crisp so well, she said, but if crispness isn’t essential to your enjoyment, any noodles will do. She recommends ramen noodles, adding that you can make the dish vegan by using wheat noodles, too.
McKinnon made a promise in her cookbook, noting “the recipes in this book are accessible, familiar and comforting, but will also challenge you to think differently about the possibilities of cooking modern Asian flavours at home”.
This one made me do just that.
Traybake chow mein
Active time: 20 minutes | Total time: 45 minutes
Storage notes: Leftovers can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.
Where to buy: Thin dried egg noodles and vegetarian stir-fry sauce are available at Asian markets and online.
For the chow mein:
1 bell pepper, (any color, about 250g), thinly sliced
1 carrot, scrubbed and thinly sliced diagonally
1 broccoli head (about 170g), tough stems removed and cut into florets
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
Extra-virgin olive oil
250g dried thin egg noodles
1 (250g) can cut baby corn, drained
140g asparagus, woody ends trimmed and cut into 5cm pieces
1 spring onion, thinly sliced
Handful of fresh corianderleaves
2 tbsp white sesame seeds
For the soy seasoning:
1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
60ml low-sodium soy sauce, tamari or coconut aminos
1 tbsp vegetarian stir-fry sauce (optional)
¼ tsp ground white pepper
1 small garlic clove, minced or finely grated
Make the chow mein: position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 200C.
Place the bell pepper, carrot and broccoli on a large, rimmed baking tray and drizzle with the sesame oil and a splash of olive oil, and lightly season with salt. Toss to coat the vegetables, then roast for 10 minutes, or until the vegetables start to soften.
Meanwhile, bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the egg noodles and cook according to the package directions until al dente, 4 to 5 minutes. Drain and cool under running water. Drain well again and pat dry with a clean tea towel.
Make the soy seasoning: in a small bowl, whisk together the sesame oil; the soy sauce, tamari or coconut aminos; stir-fry sauce, if using; white pepper and garlic until combined.
Remove the baking tray from the oven and push the vegetables to one side. Add the noodles, corn and asparagus to the other side. Drizzle just the noodle mixture with olive oil, lightly season with salt and toss well to coat. Return the tray to the oven and continue to roast for 15 to 18 minutes, or until the noodles are crispy on the top and bottom – you are looking for a combination of crispy and non-crispy noodles.
Remove the baking tray from the oven, drizzle the soy seasoning all over and toss the ingredients well to coat. Scatter the spring onion, coriander and sesame seeds on top and serve family-style, or portion into shallow bowls.
Nutrition information per serving | calories: 431; total fat: 16g; saturated fat: 2g; cholesterol: 32mg; sodium: 1,096mg; carbohydrates: 59; dietary fibre: 9g; sugar: 7g; protein: 14g.
This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.
Adapted from ‘To Asia, With Love’ by Hetty McKinnon (Prestel, 2021).
© The Washington Post