Chinese cuisine is a vital piece of the American food puzzle. This is why we decided to dedicate a word or two to a Chinese dish which has recently gained a lot of popularity: Lo Mein.
What is Lo Mein?
The question “What is Lo Mein?” might not be the most suitable way of starting a text about a dish already defined as popular. However, a dish can be well-loved, yet people won’t bother understanding where it came from and what it consists of, as long as it is tasty. But, real foodies know that the magic of eating a scrumptious dish lies precisely in knowing its origins and the specific ways of consuming it.
Just like the original pizza or say, apple pie recipes have come to be different, this is the case with noodles in Chinese cuisine as well. Since Lo Mein consists of stirred noodles, knowing a thing or two about them and their history is crucial. During the Han dynasty, (somewhere between 206 BC and 220 AD), Chinese noodles were made out of millet grains, more specifically broomcorn, and foxtail, unlike the ones we know today made out of wheat flour. It was this change that made Lo Mein an even more popular dish and it spurred its popularity even outside of China. While on the topic of noodles’ history, a fun thing to know is that there has been a long debate over its country of origin, with China and Italy as the opposed parties. In 2005, however, a discovery of 4000-year-old millet noodles in China might have given the answer to the long asked question and put a temporary end to the long fused dispute (at least until new evidence comes to light).
Get the Facts Straight
“What is Lo Mein” seems like a viable question if you take into consideration the fact that the words don’t define a specific dish, rather a specific way of preparing a dish. If you are confused, maybe the literal translation will give you a clue: “mein” means “noodles”, and “lo” translates to “stirred”. So, the term literally refers to the fact that the noodles are added to a wonton soup just before it gets cooked. This will result in softer noodles that are going to absorb the sauces and seasonings, and the soup is then served separately.
What is Lo Mein and What is Chow Mein?
A common misconception of Americans is that Lo Mein and Chow Mein are one and the same thing. Well, if you find yourselves in this lot, don’t worry, now you will know that this is certainly not the case. The main difference doesn’t lay in the type of noodles that are used, but again in the different manner of preparing. While the Lo Mein recipes ask for noodles to only be tossed and boiled for 2 to 3 minutes, Chow Mein recipes call for fried noodles.
Tips and Tricks to Preparing the Best Lo Mein Recipes
Choose your noodles carefully
Since the Lo Mein dish is all about the noodles here are some things you should consider:
- Their texture has to be chewy, almost firm (al dente).
–> Don’t overcook.
- Cook the noodles last.
–> If you want the noodles to stay intact and not clump.
- Make sure to use the real deal (from an Asian supermarket).
–> Don’t settle for the vacuum-packed Chinese-style noodles
- If you don’t have an Asian supermarket in the immediate surroundings, then going for dried linguine would be a more suitable choice (better Italian than fake!)
–> Don’t fall for pasty and gummy noodles.
- Provided that you buy a load of Chinese Lo Mein noodles, make sure you keep them somewhere cold and dry.
–> Don’t let them sit more than a few months, though.
Be sure to implement Vegetables
Since the traditional recipe calls for vegetables and seasonings, be sure to always include them. Alongside carrots, onions, scallions and peas, the addition of the two Chinese cabbage varieties: the napa cabbage and bok choy is a must when it comes to Lo Mein recipes. These cabbage varieties will enhance the Chinese feel of the dish, and what’s more will boost its health content (they abound with vitamin C and calcium, at the expense of calories). Of course, don’t forget the ginger and garlic, since they will give a distinctive aroma and flavor, and make sure to use sesame oil.
Don’t forget the protein
Be it the well-known (and required) protein sources: meat and seafood, you can also add in mushrooms and tofu.
- The best way to go about cooking the protein ingredients is in small batches.
- Cut the meat, mushrooms, and tofu into cubes
- Preferably use a cast-iron skillet.
- Fry lightly
- Once all the add-ins are cooked, toss them together with the sauce, and only then proceed to add the noodles (as it is suggested above).
Feel Free to Experiment
The best part about Lo Mein recipes is they can never be boring. The recipe is so flexible that there are many different varieties. Those that call for add-ins, such as baby corn, broccoli, and mushrooms are a must! But you can let your imagination go wild and even come up with a variety of your own.
The Best Lo Mein Recipes
Now that we’ve established what Lo Mein is, revealed some tricks and tips, the natural way to go about it is to show you the best Lo Mein Recipes out there. However, in order to avoid being biased (since, of course, we truly believe the recipes on our website and app are the best ones), you won’t see a specific recipe, rather a guide to which cuts of meat you should opt for and what kind of sauces can accompany them.
Pork Lo Mein
When preparing a Lo Mein recipe with pork, the cut you should opt for is pork tenderloin or pork fillet. The tenderloin (as the name implies) is the most tender part of the animal, due to the fact that it doesn’t aid locomotion but is actually a muscle along the central spine portion used for posture. This, in turn, makes pork fillet suitable for cutting into small cubes and fairly easy to get cooked quickly. When it comes to the sauce, it is important to include some kind of broth (chicken is the one we chose) combined with cornstarch so that you get the proper thickness.
Note: The “sauces” part bellow refers to the actual sauces, not the sauce that the noodles are to be stirred into. The latter (let’s call it Lo Mein Sauce) is a combination of the “sauces” and “veggies” part.
Soy and oyster sauce are a must!
Napa cabbage, carrots, garlic and snow peas.
Chicken Lo Mein
Chicken breasts are the most commonly used cut for chicken Lo Mein recipes precisely because they are tender.
Light and dark soy sauce in combination with some Sriracha.
Baby spinach, carrots, mushrooms, red bell pepper, snow peas.
Ginger, ground black pepper.
Beef Lo Mein
The cut that we recommend using is the flank steak. Even though it comes from a rather peculiar part of the cow i.e. the buttocks (and sometimes the abdomen), it is extremely delicious and very suitable for a dish like Lo Mein. Make sure to trim off any fat and julienne prior to frying it, though.
Besides soy and oyster sauce, be sure to use a tablespoon of sweet chili Thai sauce (or go for a combination of3 tablespoons of honey and ¼ of rice wine vinegar).
carrots, red bell pepper, scallions, snow peas, winter bamboo shoots (sliced).
Ginger, ground black pepper.
Wonton Lo Mein
A wonton is a type of dumpling made of dough and a filling in the center. The filling typically includes meat (pork and shrimp), vegetables (green onion, garlic), and spices. Although not a “cut” of meat, we decided a recipe like this should have an honorable mention.
Soy and oyster sauce in combination with golden syrup.
Bean sprouts, chives, spring onions.
Ground black pepper.
Extra: Oils in Lo Mein Recipes
Whenever the recipe calls for oil, make sure to use sesame oil or peanut oil, or a combination of both.
Sesame oil is the number one used flavor enhancer in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Middle Eastern, and Southeast Asian cuisine. It will give the dish a distinctive aroma and taste.
Peanut oil has a slightly milder taste than that of the sesame type – this is why if you love edgy tastes you should go for a combination of the two. It is a vegetable oil derived from peanuts and due to its high smoke point as compared to other cooking oils, it is commonly used for frying foods. It is another staple in Chinese, South Asian and Southeast Asian cuisine.
From history to preparation, we’ve revealed all there is to know about Lo Mein in one place. We sure hope that we’ve inspired you to skip take out and prepare some delicious Lo Mein at home.