Given the popularity of last month’s orange chicken and sesame noodles, I thought it’d be worth taking another crack at some Chinese “takeout” for under $2 a serving. (It should be noted that although it’s a smaller serving than what you’d receive at a restaurant, it’s not dramatically smaller.) Employing the help of Cook’s Illustrated, I think I was able to pull off a version that’s pretty dang close to the real thing. In fact, not only was it about three times as flavorful, it was missing about three times the amount of grease. As I recommend in the actual recipe, it’s worth investing in a large bag of dried shiitake mushrooms (available at all Asian markets) for this and other meals that call for shiitakes; they’re about one-third the price of fresh, and the liquid left over from reconstituting them makes an amazing mushroom stock or soup broth you can freeze for later.
Recipe adapted from Cook’s Illustrated. As below it makes about 4 servings.
• 12 oz.- 1 lb. thinly sliced pork butt, country-style pork ribs, or pork loin; whatever’s on sale: $2.38
• 12 oz. lo mein-style noodles (a word of warning: It’s almost not worth making this if you can’t find fresh noodles; they’re thick and chewy enough that they don’t get lost among the pork, cabbage, and mushrooms. I’ve simply accepted that I can’t make this unless I’ve been to the Asian market recently): $1.10
• 8 oz. shiitake mushrooms, sliced (these are so expensive that I’ve just resorted to buying dried shiitakes from the Asian market and reconstituting them*; a few large handfuls of dried equals about the same as 8 oz. fresh): $2
• 1 small head napa cabbage (or regular cabbage, if that’s what’s cheaper at your store), thinly sliced: $1
• 1 large bunch green onions (garden), sliced: $0
• 3 T soy sauce: 10 cents
• 2 T oyster sauce: 10 cents
• 2 T hoisin sauce: 10 cents
• 1 T sesame oil: 10 cents
• 1/4 tsp Chinese five-spice powder: 2 cents
• 1/4 tsp liquid smoke (optional; I just happened to have some on hand): 2 cents
• 1/2 cup chicken broth or stock (I used water and 1/2 tsp Better Than Bouillon): 3 cents
• 1 tsp cornstarch: 2 cents
• 3 T oil: 9 cents
• 2 large garlic cloves, minced: 2 cents
• 2 tsp minced ginger: 4 cents
• 1/4 cup Chinese rice cooking wine (or dry sherry): 25 cents
• 1 T sriracha: 7 cents
TOTAL: $7.45/4 = $1.86/serving
*Be sure to save (freeze it, if necessary) the liquid from reconstituting the mushrooms; it makes a truly exemplary stock or soup broth.
Mix the soy sauce, oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, sesame oil, and five-spice in a small bowl. Remove 3 T and transfer to a medium bowl with the pork. Add the liquid smoke (if using), stir to combine, and let sit for anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour.
Mix the broth and cornstarch into the remaining sauce mixture.
Mix 2 tsp of the oil into the minced garlic and ginger.
Heat 2 tsp of the oil in a large cast-iron or other heavy skillet (at least 12 inches) over high heat. Add half the pork and cook until no longer pink. Add 2 T of the Chinese wine or sherry and stir for about 30 seconds, until pork is well coated. Pour contents into a clean bowl. Repeat with another 2 tsp oil, the rest of the pork, and the rest of the wine or sherry. Cover the bowl with foil or a plate to keep warm.
Add another 2 tsp oil (still over high heat) and add the mushrooms. Cook until light golden (this should take less time if they’re reconstituted). Add the green onions and cook until wilted, about 2 minutes. Add to the bowl with the pork.
Add 1 T oil (again, over high heat) and add the cabbage. Cook until wilted and started to brown, about 5-7 minutes. Clear a space in the middle of the skillet and add the garlic/ginger/oil mixture. Cook until fragrant, just a few seconds, then stir into the cabbage. Add the pork, green onions, and mushrooms, along with any accumulated liquid. Add the rest of the sauce mixture and stir until thickened, about a minute. Stir in the sriracha and remove from heat.
Cover to keep warm.
Cook noodles according to package directions. (Fresh noodles should only take about 4-5 minutes.) Drain (do not rinse) and add to the rest of the lo mein mixture. Toss and/or stir to combine, serve immediately.