The Secret To Make Your Chow Mein Taste Just Like Chinese Food Takeout

Our affinity for Chinese takeout food doesn't entirely revolve around it being so cheap — we cannot get over how delicious it (usually) is. However, one of the best things about Chinese food is that you can easily make plenty of dishes at home, and that includes chow mein.

First things first. Chow mein can mean different things depending on where you're from. On the East Coast, you might be served crispy, deep-fried noodles, but on the West Coast, the noodles are steamed and stir-fried. "Chow mein" translates to "fried noodles." In mainland China, the dish is stir-fried.

Stir-frying noodles with some vegetables, aromatics, and protein doesn't seem challenging, but making it taste just like takeout can be a bit difficult, even when you follow a recipe step by step. The devil is in the details, and in this case, they're in a bottle of Chinese cooking wine. Also known as Chinese rice wine or Shaoxing wine, it imparts a briny flavor with a hint of sweetness and gives chow mein that unmistakable takeout flavor. It is made by fermenting glutinous rice.

Since Chinese cooking wine is most often used in stir-frying, authentic Chinese chow mein recipes call for it. Adding a tablespoon (or two) of the cooking wine to your chow mein will enhance and balance the flavor. It imparts a slightly sweet and acidic taste. The wine's amber color gives the dish a delicious caramel hue.

An indispensable ingredient in Chinese cooking

Cooking wine is extensively used in Chinese cuisine. Along with chow mein, it is used to make wontons, vegetables, dumplings, broths, stir-fry sauces, and much more. Aside from enhancing flavors in dishes, Chinese cooking wine is also extensively used to marinate meats and remove the gamey odor. You can easily get your hands on this ingredient, but in case you don't have it, you can substitute the cooking wine with dry sherry, dry vermouth, and dry white wine.

The cooking wine might be key to nailing that authentic takeout flavor, but if you really want your chow mein recipe to shine, you will need a few other ingredients, including soy sauce. Regular soy sauce will give the noodles a flavor boost, and dark soy sauce will give it a nice brown color. Some people also like to add chicken stock or MSG to bring out an umami flavor. As for the pan, you can also use a regular one to make chow mein, but a wok is ideal for stir-frying since it heats up quickly and has enough space for you to toss the noodles.