Beef lo mein is a classic Chinese takeout dish that consists of wheat flour noodles stir fried with slices of beef and vegetables in a savory sauce. It’s a delicious combination of tender noodles, beef, and veggies that comes together quickly for a fast weeknight meal. But what exactly goes into this tasty noodle dish? Let’s take a closer look at the key ingredients that make up beef lo mein.
The foundation of any good lo mein dish is the noodles. Beef lo mein is typically made with wheat flour noodles, which can be fresh or dried. Fresh Chinese egg noodles are the ideal choice with their soft and chewy texture. But dried lo mein noodles or spaghetti can also be used with great success. The noodles soak up the flavorful sauce and provide that satisfying noodle slurp in each bite. Look for thicker, chewier noodles rather than thin strands to stand up well to stir-frying. Rice noodles or noodles made from buckwheat or other grains can also be used, but wheat noodles are most traditional.
Noodle Cooking Tips
* Bring a large pot of water to a boil before adding the noodles. Cook fresh noodles for just 1-2 minutes until tender yet firm. Dried noodles will take 3-5 minutes.
* Drain and rinse noodles under cold water to stop the cooking process. This helps prevent overcooking and makes the noodles easier to handle.
* Don’t add oil to the noodle cooking water as it can prevent sauce from sticking.
* Once cooked, toss noodles with a bit of sesame oil to prevent sticking.
* For the crispiest texture, cook noodles until just shy of done before adding to hot wok or pan to finish cooking.
Thinly sliced beef is the protein that sets beef lo mein apart from other noodle dishes. Flank steak is most commonly used, but other cuts like sirloin, top round, or chuck can also be sliced thin and used. Look for beef with nice marbling for tenderness and flavor. Lean beef tenderloin can also be used.
Beef Prep Tips
* Partially freeze beef for 30-60 minutes before slicing to make cutting thin strips easier.
* Cut beef across the grain in thin slices about 2-3 inches long.
* Velvet the beef by tossing in a bit of oil, cornstarch, and seasoning which tenderizes and helps it stay juicy when stir-fried. Let marinate 15-30 minutes.
* Cook beef in two batches instead of crowding for best browning.
* Stir fry beef just until browned outside but still pink inside, about 1-2 minutes total. It will finish cooking when added back to the wok.
The vegetable possibilities are endless when it comes to beef lo mein. Classic choices are mushrooms, cabbage, bean sprouts, onions, and bell peppers. But you can also add broccoli, snap peas, carrots, baby bok choy, snow peas, or other favorites. Mix and match different veggies to create your own signature lo mein.
Veggie Prep Tips
* Cut vegetables into thin, uniform slices for quick cooking.
* Add heartier vegetables like broccoli, carrots and onions first. Softer veggies like mushrooms and peppers go in later.
* Blanch tougher veggies like cabbage and broccoli in boiling water 1-2 minutes first to partially cook.
* Add a pop of color with red cabbage, orange carrots, or yellow bell peppers.
* For maximum flavor, sear aromatics like garlic, ginger and green onions first before adding other vegetables.
While the noodles, beef, and veggies are the stars of the show, it’s the sauce that brings beef lo mein together and gives it that characteristic flavor. The sauce is made up of:
Dark soy sauce adds rich, savory umami flavor as well as color to the dish. Go for a Chinese brand for authentic flavor.
Oyster sauce contributes even more savory depth but also a hint of sweetness. The oyster flavor is subtle.
Just a small amount of aromatic sesame oil gives the sauce a lovely nutty aroma. Add at the end for maximum impact.
Some beef broth thickens the sauce slightly and boosts the meaty flavor. Chicken or vegetable broth can also be used.
A splash of rice vinegar balances out the other assertive sauce flavors with a touch of acidity. Black vinegar also works well.
A pinch or two of white sugar softens the tartness of the vinegar slightly. Other sweeteners like honey could also be used sparingly.
A cornstarch and water slurry helps thicken the sauce beautifully and coat the noodles. It also protects the veggies and beef from overcooking.
Salt & Pepper
Finally, don’t forget the salt and white pepper to season the sauce mixture to taste. Black pepper can be used instead of white if you prefer.
Ginger, garlic, scallions, and sesame oil are often cooked briefly at the start of stir-frying which adds tons of aromatic flavor. They flavor the cooking oil that the rest of the ingredients are then tossed in.
Fresh ginger adds a sharp, bright flavor that counters the richness of the beef. It’s typically minced before stir-frying.
Garlic provides a pungent aroma and pairs perfectly with beef. It can be minced, sliced, or crushed before cooking.
Scallions lend a fresh onion flavor. The green and white parts can be used together or separately.
A small amount of sesame oil is often heated before stir-frying other aromatics. A little goes a long way!
The Cooking Process
Now that we’ve covered all the components, let’s look at the general process for making beef lo mein:
1. Cook the noodles – Boil fresh or soak dried noodles until just shy of done. Drain and rinse. Toss with sesame oil to prevent sticking.
2. Velvet the beef – Toss beef slices with oil, cornstarch, and seasoning. Let sit 15-30 minutes to tenderize.
3. Prepare remaining ingredients – Slice veggies, mince aromatics, make sauce.
4. Heat wok and add oil – Get wok very hot on high heat. Swirl in oil and coat sides.
5. Cook aromatics – Add aromatics like garlic, ginger, scallions. Cook just until fragrant, 15-60 seconds.
6. Stir fry beef – Cook beef in batches for 1-2 minutes until starting to brown but not fully cooked. Remove and set aside.
7. Stir fry vegetables – Add veggies starting with tougher ones first. Stir fry for a few minutes until crisp-tender.
8. Return beef and add sauce – Toss beef back in along with sauce mixture. Cook 1-2 minutes to allow sauce to thicken.
9. Toss in noodles – Add drained noodles and toss everything together until fully coated in sauce.
10. Adjust seasoning and serve hot – Add more salt, pepper, vinegar, or sugar if needed. Enjoy immediately!
Tips for the Best Beef Lo Mein
Here are some top tips for making restaurant-quality beef lo mein at home:
– Use a very hot wok or large non-stick pan and stir fry in batches for even cooking
– Let wok get piping hot before adding oil to prevent sticking
– Mix corn starch slurry well so it blends smoothly into the sauce
– Add more or less chili garlic sauce to adjust spice level
– Season each component as you cook for maximum flavor
– Don’t overfill the wok or pan to allow ingredients to char and caramelize
– Add napa cabbage for extra crunch and texture
– Garnish with sliced scallions, cilantro, chili oil, or chopped peanuts
– Serve immediately while the noodles are hot and sauce is clinging to them
While traditional beef lo mein combines sliced beef with noodles and veggies, the possibilities for variations are endless. Consider switching it up with the following ideas:
– Chicken Lo Mein – Substitute thinly sliced chicken breast or thighs for the beef.
– Vegetable Lo Mein – Omit the beef and double up on veggies like broccoli, mushrooms, baby corn, and snap peas.
– Shrimp Lo Mein – Use peeled shrimp instead of beef for a seafood twist.
– Combo Lo Mein – Use a mix of proteins like beef, chicken, shrimp and even pork or tofu.
– Spicy Lo Mein – Add chili paste or chili oil and spicy veggies like jalapenos for extra heat.
– Crunch Lo Mein – Top with crushed peanuts, fried wonton strips or crispy baked tofu for texture.
– Zoodles Lo Mein – Swap traditional noodles for spiralized zucchini noodles for a low-carb option.
The possibilities are endless! Play around with different proteins, veggies and garnishes to make beef lo mein your own.
Leftover beef lo mein holds up relatively well in the fridge but the noodles will gradually soak up moisture, causing the texture to soften. Here are some storage tips:
– Let lo mein cool completely before transferring to an airtight container. This prevents condensation from forming that can ruin the texture.
– Try to eat lo mein leftovers within 3-4 days for the best texture and flavor. The noodles start getting mushy after that.
– Adding a little oil to leftovers before reheating can refresh the noodles slightly.
– Reheat gently either on the stovetop or microwave until heated through. Avoid boiling or overcooking.
– Portion leftovers into individual servings before storing so you can easily reheat one portion at a time as needed.
– Freeze leftovers in an airtight container up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge before reheating.
– Cooked noodles tend to get soggy when freezing so undercook noodles slightly before making into a full lo mein dish for freezing.
Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about beef lo mein:
What kind of noodles are used in beef lo mein?
Wheat flour noodles of various thicknesses are traditional. Fresh chinese egg noodles are ideal but dried lo mein noodles also work well. Thin pad thai rice noodles are not the best substitution.
Is lo mein the same as chow mein?
Not quite! Chow mein uses crisp fried noodles while lo mein noodles are soft and lightly sautéed. Lo mein also uses more sauce compared to chow mein.
Can you freeze beef lo mein?
Yes, fully cooked lo mein can be frozen up to 3 months. Undercook the noodles slightly before stir-frying and freezing the full dish to prevent mushiness when reheating.
What cut of beef is best for lo mein?
Flank steak and sirloin are most common, but round or chuck can also be used. Slice very thinly across the grain for tenderness. Partially freeze beef before cutting.
Is beef lo mein gluten free?
Unfortunately no, since traditional lo mein noodles contain wheat. Rice noodles or zucchini noodles can be used to make a gluten free version.
Is oyster sauce vegetarian?
No, traditional oyster sauce contains oyster extracts. Vegetarian oyster sauce substitutes include mushroom sauce or soy sauce combined with sugar.
With its hearty noodles, tasty beef, crisp vegetables, and savory sauce, it’s easy to see why beef lo mein is such a beloved takeout staple. The keys are using high-quality ingredients and proper stir-frying technique. Look for thick, chewy noodles, very thinly sliced beef, and the freshest veggies you can find. A piping hot wok and searing temperatures are also essential for creating that restaurant-worthy wok hei flavor. Once you get the basics down, feel free to make the dish your own by switching up ingredients or adding spicy heat. Leftovers will keep for several days in the fridge or months in the freezer. Enjoy this faster homemade version of a Chinese restaurant classic any night of the week. Just be prepared for requests for seconds!