A classic Chinese restaurant staple, Lo Mein is a quick and easy meal that is perfect for busy weeknights. This favorite of ours does double duty, it cleans out the leftovers in the fridge and get’s dinner on the table fast.
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What Is The Difference Between Lo Mein and Chow Mein?
Lo Mein is an incredibly popular noodle dish originating from China. The word “mein” means noodles, so any dish you order with “mein” in the title or description will always come with noodles.
Lo Mein and Chow Mein are two very similar dishes that many people get confused. The main difference between Lo Mein and Chow Mein is how the noodles are prepared. “Chow” means “stir-fried”, and Chow Mein noodles are often made to be crispy. “Lo” means “stirred” or “tossed”, and these noodles have a softer, spaghetti-like texture.
For more information on the differences between these two dishes, check out my article on Chow Mein vs. Lo Mein.
What Is House Special Lo Mein?
One of the best attributes about Lo Mein is how open-ended the recipe is. As long as you use parboiled wheat-based egg noodles, you’ve got Lo Mein.
There are many varieties of traditional Lo Mein. Many variations of Lo Mein use sea food, such as shrimp or lobster, as the primary protein and source of flavor. If seafood isn’t your thing, look out for chicken, beef, pork, or vegetable Lo Mein. The possibilities are endless!
If you walk into a Chinese restaurant and you’re craving some delicious noodles, keep an eye out for “house special” Lo Mein. These dishes are different depending on the restaurant you go to, and house special Lo Mein can offer a brand-new culinary experience.
These Lo Mein recipes are often unique to that one restaurant. Since Lo Mein is a very flexible dish, the ingredients used in house specials are going to vary widely. One thing that’s common among all house special Lo Mein recipes is the use of many different meats.
Whereas shrimp Lo Mein might only use shrimp, a house special Lo Mein at the same restaurant might include shrimp, oysters, and lobster all in one. It all depends on which meats the cooks decide to use together!
What Kind of Noodles Are Used For Lo Mein?
Typically, a wheat based egg noodle is used for Lo Mein. You can easily find noodles labeled ‘Lo Mein Noodles’ in your average American supermarket that are probably priced much higher than pasta.
Yes, you can use pasta. Good pasta choices include fettuccine, tagliatelle, pappardelle, bucatini, linguine and even spaghetti. These pastas are wheat based and have egg. They have that nice, chewy texture that ‘Lo Mein’ noodles have and chances are, you have some of these pastas in your pantry right now.
Lo Mein Sauce
The sauce is up to you. If you shy away from making your own sauces you can buy pre-made Asian stir-fry sauce in your local market.
If you are more adventurous, make your own. Below are some common ingredients in Lo Mein or any stir-frys, not just Chinese dishes.
Just pick 2-6 ingredients and mix together. You will want a total of 1-2 tablespoons of sauce per person that you are cooking for. Be careful of the salty* ingredients, you may want to just stick to one or two of those ingredients.
- soy sauce*
- fish sauce*
- Hoisin sauce*
- Oyster sauce*
- vinegar – white, rice, white wine, apple cider or any of the lighter colored vinegars
- citrus juice and zest – lime, lemon, orange, grapefruit
- sambal – hot pepper paste
- Gochujang – Korean hot pepper paste
- Plum sauce – a sweet sauce
- miso paste* – fermented bean paste, umami in a jar
- Teriyaki sauce*
- sesame oil
Todays Weeknight House Special Lo Mein Version
This version is a clean out your fridge and pantry recipe that can be on the kitchen table fast. This version uses up leftover veggies in your fridge and pasta and Asian condiments you have lingering around. You can also throw leftover meat in there from other dishes such as rotisserie chicken, lunch meat and brisket.
If you don’t have leftovers, no worries. Just grab some of your favorite veggies at the supermarket and some meat of your choice. Meat that is already cooked is the easiest but you can buy raw meat too. It will require the extra step of slicing it thin or cutting into bite-sized pieces but should cook really quick in a hot skillet.
Cook your noodles until al dente, or just before it is finished. Just shave off two minutes of cooking time so that the noodles or pasta can finish cooking in the skillet. Drain the noodles and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. Set aside.
While the noodles are cooking, raid your fridge of veggies and meat. Chop and dice these and set aside.
Make your sauce. Using the list above mix a few ingredients for your sauce. If you are using a pre-made sauce such as Hoisin, just add one or two more ingredients such as an acid (vinegar or citrus) and a sweetener. Set aside.
Heat up a large skillet with some cooking oil in it over medium high heat. Add your most dense veggies first, typically onions, carrots, broccoli and stir frequently. Cook for a few minutes until they start to soften. Add the rest of your veggies along with garlic and ginger if using. Stir frequently. Set aside in a large bowl.
Add the meat to your skillet until heated or cooked through, add the veggies back, noodles and pour the sauce over the entire dish. Toss for one or two minutes. Serve immediately.
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Bianca is a graduate student at the University of Cincinnati. She is an Applied Behavioral Health Technician and a freelance writer. She spends her free time catching up with friends and scaling walls at indoor rock gyms.