Lo mein, like its cousin Chinese fried rice, is a versatile and easy dish that can be made with freshly-prepared ingredients or can give leftovers new life. Change up the ingredients and vary the sauce for endless combinations. You can also try this recipe with my homemade egg noodles from scratch recipe.
Give me a plate of lo mein noodles dripping with a well-balanced sweet-salty-spicy sauce to devour and I will instantly be transported to my happy place. Make that a super-crunchy-shrimp lo mein and I
might will eat multiple servings in one sitting.
Give my kids the same plate of lo mein and they would rather eat a loaf of bread. Sure, bread is great (I make that too). But as much as I’d like to chow down their servings of lo mein alongside mine, I feel that I have been negligent in teaching them the ways of the lo mein. When you’re an expat, you can’t let these things slide. You have to stuff tradition and culture into your kids faces as much as possible. Because there’s no one else to do it. Just you.
So I taught my kids how to make shrimp lo mein. And how to make the shrimp extra crunchy with baking soda and salt. And how to make their own stir-fry sauce. The more involved they are in a meal, the more they tend to like it. Sneaky? Or brilliance? I don’t know, you tell me.
What is Lo Mein?
“Lo” means to mix and “Mein” means noodles. So “lo mein” simply means noodles mixed with sauce. It’s a quick and easy dish to make and just like fried rice, you can make it with leftovers to breathe new life into leftover ingredients.
This Chinese New Year, in order to instill more culture and Chinese New Year traditions into my kids’ expat existence, I made lo mein with Longevity Noodles. Longevity noodles are just another way of saying really really really long noodles. It is a popular dish for Chinese New Year because the extra long length of the noodles symbolizes the eater’s long life.
To make these longevity noodles, I used my recipe for homemade Chinese egg noodles and left the strands extra long (instead of cutting the dough into smaller pieces). It takes about an 1 hour 15 minutes to make the noodles but an hour of that is resting time for the dough so really only about 15-20 minutes active noodle-making time for mixing the flour AND rolling out the dough.
For a super fast weeknight meal, you can of course buy store bought egg noodles (dried or fresh) if you don’t fancy making your own homemade Chinese egg noodles from scratch. But I find that it’s pretty easy to make the dough in the morning while my kids are at school as it takes just a few minutes to mix the dough. Then, when the kids get home, they’re in charge of rolling and cutting the noodles while I prep the rest of the lo mein ingredients. They’re pretty adept at noodle making now with the pasta machine!
Once caveat about homemade noodles: You will need extra time for the noodles if you don’t have lye water (aka “kansui”) or baked baking soda on hand. You need lye water or baked baking soda for the homemade noodles for springier noodles and so that they don’t fall apart in the lo mein sauce. You can buy lye water at a specialty Asian grocery store or Amazon. A large 16.9 oz bottle costs a few dollars and lasts a long while.
Here are my instructions on how to make your own baked baking soda if you don’t have access to an Asian grocery store. You can make a big batch and store it for future use.
How to Make Your Shrimp Crunchy
Crunchy shrimp is plump, juicy, has a nice bite to it and is not limp nor mushy. It helps to get the freshest shrimp possible. Defrosted shrimp is okay too. Whether fresh or defrosted, try to use it immediately so that you can get the crunchiest texture possible.
To make your shrimp crunchy, add 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda for every pound (450 grams) of shrimp and toss well to mix. The salt will flavor and brine the shrimp and prevent it from drying out during cooking. The baking soda raises the pH to make it the shrimp brown better when stir-frying.
Prep and Season Shrimp: De-shell your shrimp and clean it by rinsing in water and remove the black vein (or have your fishmonger do this). Drain and place in a small bowl.
To make your shrimp extra crunchy, sprinkle the salt and baking soda over the shrimp and gently toss. Set aside while your prepare the remaining ingredients.
Because you are using a small amount of baking soda, you do not need to rinse the shrimp before cooking it.
How to Make Shrimp Lo Mein
To make any kind of lo mein, get all your ingredients prepped and ready because once you begin cooking, things will come together super fast.
If you don’t like shrimp, use chicken, beef, pork, tofu or whatever you fancy.
If you are making fresh homemade noodles for shrimp lo mein, then mix the noodle dough before soaking the Chinese mushrooms because the dough will need to rest for 60 minutes. Again, the recipe link for the homemade egg noodles is here.
If using store-bought noodles, then the first thing I do is soak the dried Chinese mushrooms to re-hydrate them because they take the longest to prep. I soak them in boiling water for at least 30 minutes. If you use room temperature water, then they will take longer to re-hydrate.
Don’t worry if they soak more than 30 minutes. Sometimes I even soak them overnight because I run out of time to cook if I have to say, pick the kids up from school.
Next, I prep everything else:
- De-shell and clean the shrimp; Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of slat and 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda over the shrimp to make them crunchy and juicy;
- Mince the garlic and ginger;
- Cut up all the vegetables that I will be using into julienne strips so that they cook evenly (usually whatever is in my fridge like carrots, red pepper, cabbage, onions);
- Make the sauce.
Once all the ingredients are prepped and the noodles are boiled (make sure the noodles are boiled and ready to go!), I heat up my pan and start cooking. Yippee!
Mmm, I just love the smell of shrimp sauteing in oil and garlic. They cook up fast and you will know the shrimp is ready when it turns a vibrant orange and curls up into a “C” shape.
Again, if you don’t like shrimp, use any other protein you like or just keep it a vegetarian dish. Stir-fries are so versatile. You can even swap out the egg noodles with udon noodles. I have a recipe for homemade udon noodles from scratch and udon is another great option for making stir-fried noodles.
How To Customize/Fine Tune Your Your Stir-Fry Sauce
Stir-fry sauces are about individual taste, just like curry mixes. The one I have used in this recipe with soy sauce and oyster sauce is my go-to sauce and I use it frequently. If you don’t have oyster sauce, then swap it out for more soy sauce. I just like how the oyster sauce gives a little more complexity to the overall taste.
Stir-fry sauces use corn starch as a thickener so that the sauce will cling nicely to the noodles and other ingredients instead of pooling all lonesome at the bottom of you pan/wok. I find that I don’t need it when I use oyster sauce because it is quite thick already. You don’t need to use cornstarch but it does help with the final texture of the dish. Remember that corn starch will only thicken at high temperatures so you’ll need to bring the sauce to a simmer after adding the corn starch mixture. But you can’t add corn starch directly to hot sauce because it will clump, which is why it is always mixed with cold or room temperature water or sauce before bringing it to a simmer.
And if you like a little spicy in your food (or a lot of spicy!), you can add a little garlic chili sauce like sambal oelek or sriracha sauce or even sliced up mild chilies. My daughter turns her nose up at even the sight of black pepper so I add my spice kick at the very end to my own bowl.
To my basic sauce, you can mix and match other ingredients like dark soy sauce, sesame oil. It’s all a matter of individual taste.
I have been letting my kids mix their own stir-fry sauce. I give them guidelines and suggestions and always ask them to taste their sauce mixture just before pouring it over the noodles. And then I ask them to taste the noodles with the sauce.
Between mixing their own stir-fry sauce and making their own noodles, my kids can take more ownership of the meals they eat and as a result, they enjoy it more and eat more! Will they choose lo mein over bread now? More often than before. I’ll take that as a win.
Please save and pin and try out this recipe. I would love to hear from you if you have any comments!
Super Crunchy Shrimp Lo Mein
Prep Shrimp for Max Crunchiness:
- 1 lb Shrimp, cleaned and peeled
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Prep Remaining Ingredients:
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil (divided)
- 3 cloves garlic, minced (divided)
- 4 oz ginger, minced (12 g, about a thumb-sized piece)
- 1 small onion, sliced (red or yellow)
- 2 cups cabbage or napa cabbage (thinly sliced)
- 1 carrot (julienned-sized cuts)
- 1 red pepper (julienned-sized cuts)
- 7 g Chinese mushrooms (or 20 g which is about 8 medium-sized mushrooms or 4 large-sized mushrooms)
- 4 oz dried Chinese egg noodles
- salt and pepper, to taste
Prep Stir-fry Sauce:
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons oyster sauce (can replace with 2 tablespoons soy sauce if you don't have this in your pantry)
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons corn starch
- 1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine (Shaoxing wine) (optional, can substitute with a dry sherry)
- 1/2 cup water or chicken stock (cold or room temperature so corn starch doesn't clump)
- 2 green onions (chopped)
- Prepare Chinese Mushrooms: Re-hydrate the mushrooms in a bowl of boiling water. Set aside for least 30 minutes while your prepare the rest of the stir-fry ingredients. After 30 minutes, drain the mushrooms and slice thinly, discarding the tough center stem.
- Prep and Season Shrimp: De-shell your shrimp and clean it by rinsing in water and remove the black vein (or have your fishmonger do this). Drain and place in a small bowl. To make your shrimp extra crunchy, sprinkle the salt and baking soda over the shrimp and gently toss. Set aside while your prepare the remaining ingredients.Because you are using a small amount of baking soda, you do not need to rinse the shrimp before cooking it.
- Prepare Ingredients: Make sure all your stir-fry ingredients are cut, chopped and ready to go.
- Prepare Stir-fry Sauce: Make sure your sauce is mixed and ready to go. Note: Corn starch will clump if added to hot water so only use cold or room temperature water.Set sauce aside. You will need to mix it just before pouring it over the noodles as the corn starch will settle to the bottom of your mixing bowl.
- Prepare Noodles: Boil water and prepare the egg noodles per the package instructions. If you are using fresh egg noodles, boil them in water for a minute. Drain and set aside.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes.
- Add 1/3 of the minced ginger and 1/3 of the minced garlic and stir for 30 seconds.
- Add the shrimp and saute until they're just cooked – about 3-4 minutes depending on the size of your shrimp. Once the shrimps curl up then they are ready. Remove to a bowl and set aside. Do not clean the skillet before the next step because you want all that keep all that shrimp goodness to enhance the flavor to your finished dish.
- Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to your skillet as well as the remaining minced ginger and garlic and stir for 30 seconds.
- Toss in the vegetables: onions, cabbage, carrot, red pepper, and Chinese mushrooms. Add a sprinkle of salt to taste but not too much because you'll be adding soy sauce later. I added 1/2 teaspoon of fine sea salt. Add black pepper, to taste.Stir everything around until the veg are cooked, about 5 minutes.
- Add the shrimp back into the skillet along with the noodles. Pour the stir-fry sauce over the noodles and bring sauce to a boil then simmer for a a few minutes until everything is heated through and the sauce is thickened. (Corn starch will only thicken when the sauce is simmering/boiling).
- Garnish with the chopped green onions. Allow the green onions to sit in the skillet for 30 seconds before turning off the heat to remove some of the raw onion taste. Enjoy!
- to make your own homemade Chinese egg noodles from scratch, click here for my recipe and instructions
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