Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Dry-Fried Rice Noodles With Beef

Dry-fried rice noodles with beef, a popular Cantonese dish.

Gon chow ngoe ho (dry-fried noodles with beef) is the greasiest noodle dish I can think of, so greasy that I can never finish a plate by myself. It looks simple--noodles, beef, bean sprouts and spring onions--but is one of the hardest dish to fry because the taste, flavor and texture has to be right. Too little oil and the noodles will stick to the wok. I always end up with this situation because it's hard for me to use so much oil when the noodles already come coated with oil. Too much oil and the noodles can swim in oil and this is usually the case, even in Hong Kong. Cooking with a non-stick wok just doesn't give the same flavor as an old-fashioned iron wok fired until it is red hot. The noodles have to taste of wok hei (heat of the wok, a smoky flavor) yet not be charred like char kwey teow. This means the heat has to be intense and your hands have to work quickly to make sure the noodles are well-fried and not burnt or broken up. The noodles have to be evenly coated with the simple seasoning of soy sauce so that every bite is uniformly tasty and flavorful. The simple seasoning means that the soy sauce can make or spoil the dish. The noodles should be an even golden color, not black like char kwey teow. Finally, when you eat the GCNH, it has to make you marvel at the cook's skills and your incredible luck to eat such a well-fried dish.

I figured that the most important thing in frying GCNH is to fry the noodles in individual portions so that the heat is kept high and the noodles are well tossed around in the wok. The wok has to be sufficiently big too or with all that frenzied frying, half the noodles could fly out the wok. Like I said, I wouldn't attempt this dish if I could eat it in a restaurant but I'm not in Hong Kong, Guangzhou or Canada. Canada gets a special mention because that's where I ate many plates of excellent GCNH , a dish Hong Kong students never fail to order. I had a Hong Kong roomie the first year and our fav orders were pizza, GCNH and Singapore fried noodles (which isn't truly Singaporean but North American-Chinese). In the middle of a -30 C night, nothing tastes as special as food delivered to your door. Canada was the favorite country of choice for migration for Hong Kongers which explains why this popular Cantonese dish is cooked to perfection there.

A good plate of GCNH depends not only on frying skills but also on the soy sauce and most restaurants have their own secret house blend. I used Yummy House's premium soy sauce but was disappointed that my noodles weren't golden like the ones in Hong Kong. Oyster sauce is not authentic to GCNH but I've added it in place of msg. And if you go to all that trouble to cook GCNH, make sure you serve chili oil sauce with it just like they do in Hong Kong and Guangzhou.

Attempt this dish only if your local restaurants don't serve it.

Dry-Fried Rice Noodles With Beef (for 2-3 persons)
400 g fresh rice noodles*
200 g beef fillet or sirloin
1 handful of beansprouts
1/2 cup of scallions (white-stemmed spring onions), in 4 cm lengths

sauce: Mix 2 T oyster sauce, 1 1/2 T light soy sauce & 1 T water/stock OR 2 T light soy sauce, 1 t chicken powder and 1 T water/ stock.

beef marinade:
1/2 t salt
1/8 t white pepper
1 t sesame oil
1 T cornflour
2 T light soy sauce
1/2 t dark soy sauce
1 t caster sugar
4 T water
1/4 t bicarb of soda**
1 T veg oil (preferably peanut oil)

* Slice the beef slightly thicker than for the usual stir-frying, about 0.4 cm thick.
**In Chinese cooking, beef is often marinaded with bicarb of soda to tenderize it and to make it swell into thicker slices. However, much of the flavor is lost so you may want to leave the bicarb out.

Prep: Mix the sliced beef with all except the last ingredient, kneading with your hands to mix evenly. Lastly, add the oil and leave for at least 1/2 hour. Loosen the noodles with your hands, separating the strands so that they can be fried evenly. Blot excess oil with kitchen paper. If you use chilled fresh noodles (like I did), they will break easily when you fry them so do try to use unchilled fresh noodles.

1) Put 3 T peanut oil into a hot wok, add the beef in a single layer and let it fry at high heat for about 15 seconds, then turn over, keeping the beef spread out in a layer. When beef is about 80% done, push to the side of the wok or dish onto a plate. You can also add the beansprouts and scallions now, plus a pinch of salt, and fry with the beef. This makes it easier to fry the noodles alone later.

2) When the wok is beginning to smoke (there will still be oil from frying the beef. If not, add a tablespoon of oil) throw in the sauce and let it bubble for a couple of seconds to develop the flavor, add the noodles and toss well so that every strand of noodles gets coated with the sauce. If the scallions and beansprouts were not added earlier, add them now and toss quickly. A frying ladle in one hand and a pair of chopsticks in the other can make it easier. Add the beef if you've removed it from the wok. If beef is at the side of the wok, push it back to mix with the noodles.

3) Dish onto a plate and pray that all your effort is not naught. Serve with chili oil sauce.


Sarah said...

I've watched quite a number of HK cooking shows and I noticed that they never use the caramel thick soy sauce that we often use to give colour but use dark soy sauce (called "lou chau" in Cantonese). So I think that's what's missing in your dish! I use Pearl River's superior dark soy sauce for this dish.

I also happened to watch one episode where the HK chef taught how to cook this dish. He used nothing but dark soy, light soy and a touch of salt and sugar. I've made it a couple of times and you should get the golden hue and the smoky smell on the noodles if you use the seasoning mentioned above. He also didn't use a lot of oil.

Here are some tips/steps I've learnt:
1) Add a little oil to fry the beef until 80% cooked, remove and set aside. Add a tiny bit more oil if you have to, add the noodles. Spread it out lightly and do not start tossing yet. Allow it to sit there to "toast" for a while. If your wok is hot enough, it shouldn't stick at all. Otherwise, you won't get the golden specks on the noodles.
2) Add the beansprouts, spring onion and red peppers. Add a touch of salt and sugar. Now you can start tossing it.
3) Add dashes of light soy sauce and dark soy sauce. It should sizzle. Keep tossing to mix, then add the beef slices. Add more dark soy sauce until you get the golden hue. If you think the noodles is not "shiny" enough, drizzle in a tiny bit of oil.

Hope that helps a bit!

ekeng said...

I will have this for my lunch.

Hi Terri. i am fine here in Labuan. How are you?

Zurin said...

Yes Ill have to try too....sounds simple. n all stir fried stuff are best done in single serving batches..always....wished I lived alone sometimes...heh

Zurin said...

Oh I meant not simple but .....Sarahs instructions makes it sound simple..but m sure its not..

Daisy in Arkansas said...

thinking of you. Happy birthday! xoxo

rei99 said...

i find myself keep coming here..then i get hungry :P

Anonymous said...

Terri, Happy Birthday!

Your friend from the state that is hi in the middle and round on both ends.

TeaLady said...

Looks really good. I am too much of a coward to try this one.

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