Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >
Jan 30, 2011 12:42 AM

Cantonese Chow Mein recipe

Would anyone have any idea how to make the white sauce in cantonese chow mein? I've scoured the internet, but I can't really find a website that seems to know what it's talking about. It's too bad I can't read Chinese, I'm sure it's all over Chinese websites. In fact I'm just curious how to make the chinese white sauce, that you often get with other stir fries such as chicken with cashew nuts.

It's likely a chicken broth base, but whether restaurants add oyster sauce, soya sauce, or sesame oil...I have no idea. The sauce never seems too dark, so I can't imagine that too much of soya or oyster are used...what else is there besides that?

Anyone care to shed some light?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. It's a cornstarch slurry (tablespoon of cornstarch and some cold water) which is added at the very end. It thickens as it becomes heated, don't over heat or it can break down. Usually I add soy sauce, oyster sauce or whatever and the cornstarch slurry is the last ingredient before serving.

    12 Replies
    1. re: monku

      Arrowroot starch is also used in the same way in Chinese cooking.

      1. re: monku

        Growing up, my best friend's family owned the most popular Chinese restaurant in the area (Northern New Jersey). Here's their basic recipe for Chicken Chow Mein:

        1. Peanut Oil in heated Wok

        2. Minced Garlic

        3. Ground Pork .....browned

        4. Sherry / Shao Xing Wine

        5. Chicken Stock

        6. Vegetables.....Celery, Onions, Bok Choy Cabbage (White Only) and Bean Sprouts

        7. Season ......Soy Sauce, Salt and a pinch of Ground White Pepper

        8. Cornstarch Slurry

        9. Topped with Diced White Meat Chicken

        This was the classic preparation for Cantonese cooking in NY/NJ area restaurants and take-outs in the 50's- 80's.

        As an added bonus, if you use the basic preparations above....garlic, ground pork, chicken stock and slurry, once thickend, add a broken egg and sliced scallions and you now have Lobster Sauce. At the time of the step where you add the ground pork, if you add shrimp, you will have Shrimp in Lobster Sauce. If you add a cut up Maine Lobster, you will have Lobster Cantonese.

        1. re: fourunder

          Now that's interesting...never had ground pork in chicken chow mein or even thought of using it. Worth a try some time.

          Lobster forgot the fermented black beans.

          Chinese friend who cooks Asian food at a card club here swears everything tastes better with a little oyster sauce...must be that umami.

          1. re: monku

            Re: Lobster Sauce....

            My experience is in the NY/NJ area, Lobster Sauce was always white unless requested otherwise. My friend's Uncle owned a restaurant in Boston's Chinatown where it was always served brown with the addition of Dark Soy and Oyster Sauces, but no Fermented Black Beans. Lobster Sauce with the addition of black beans was known as Lobster Black Bean Sauce.....or Lobster Cantonese with Black Bean Sauce.

            I'm in agreement with your friend.....and a fan of Oyster gravies/sauces or simply dresses on top of items.

            Did you ever try the recipe of brown gravy?

            1. re: fourunder

              Did you ever try the recipe of brown gravy?

              Not yet, but thank you again for the tip.

              My experience back in the old NYC Chinatown days was lobster sauce always had black beans. I wouldn't think of making it without it.

              1. re: monku

                Re: Fermented Black Beans

                While not always, I do enjoy FBB with most seafoods......but the for me I would not think of having Beef Chow Fun or Steamed Spare Ribs... without the addition of them included.

            2. re: monku

              Chinese friend who cooks Asian food at a card club here swears everything tastes better with a little oyster sauce...must be that umami.

              Can't disagree with that. It's like the Chinese version of ketchup.

            3. re: fourunder

              Curious what the OP's version in Canda is.

              In the American upper midwest, no garlic, onions, bok choy, nor wine. Bean sprouts can be added before plating/boxing (otherwise they will wilt and get overly mushy in the steam table). Molasses added to darken the entire mixture and add just a trace of sweetness. Ground turkey sometimes used instead of pork.

              Then when a customer orders the Chow Mein (Plain, Chicken or Shrimp) the ground chicken (processed chicken meat) or cooked shrimp is added on top.

              1. re: scoopG

                (otherwise they will wilt and get overly mushy in the steam table)

                that's my impression of all Chow Mein vegetables. At my friend's family place, the vegetable concoction was kept in a porcelain insert. It served as the base for three chow mein dishes.....chicken, shrimp and red roast pork. Deep fried hard egg noodles were served on the side.

                1. re: fourunder

                  With basically only celery and ground meat in this Upper Midwest version, limp celery for the masses demanding this dish was not a concern! It would be served over the crispy La Choy style noodles along with with a scoop of rice. Lunchtime combos would include an eggroll as well.

                  1. re: scoopG

                    Who could forget this chow mein thread.....


                    The dish shown in the picture would be known as Cantonese Shrimp/Sea Food Chow Mein in any restaurant I have ever been to in NJ/NYC. If Beef was ordered, the sauce would be brown with the addition of Dark Soy and Oyster Sauce.

              2. re: fourunder

                This is a great recipe, very NY style, however, your timing is wrong...You aren't old enough to know...They did it this way in the 30's & 40's also. Thanks for the recipe


            4. Thanks for the replies...I don't think the sauce is too complicated, but I've never been able to make it quite the same.

              I'm referring to the traditional Canton chow mein, which is a crispy egg noodle covered in a white sauce with shrimp, bbq pork, squid, scallops, and an assortment of vegetables.

              I guess there's variations to this in each city, especially in the US.

              Here's a picture of what I'm thinking about:

              20 Replies
                1. re: michaelngo85

                  The sauce is white and the noodles look like the Cantonese pan fried type. I assume you are in Toronto. You could check the place where you had it - assuming it is close by.

                  1. re: michaelngo85

                    To me the chow mein in your picture is "Hong Kong" style....everything is piled on top of the noodles.

                    To me "Cantonese" style is with all the ingredients stir fried together.

                    You're "white sauce" fascination is just a corn starch slurry nothing else...many people despise it and call it "Gloppy sauce".

                    1. re: monku

                      Furthermore, that dish in the picture should be called jin mein 煎麵 or fried noodles on menus while chow mein is 炒麵

                      If you want to keep the sauce white, then no soy or oyster sauce. Start by cooking the meats and vegetables separately. I'd just blanch the vegetables and not bother stir frying them. Make a sauce by frying some ginger in oil. Add inch long sections of the white part of green onions. Add wine/liquor and let it boil off. Add (unsalted) chicken stock and let it reduce. Remove the ginger if you want. Add a bit of starch slurry, let that thicken up some and then add more as the sauce gets glossy. When the consistency is right, salt to taste. Add in the meats and vegetables and bring up to temperature.

                      1. re: PorkButt

                        Furthermore, that dish in the picture should be called jin mein 煎麵 or fried noodles ...

                        That's what some people consider Chow Mein ... in a faux bird's nest style.

                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          The Port Arthur's chow mein recipe in this post is great, I have made it many, many times every bit as good as any take out Cantonese Chow Mein.
                 , (the stinamond5 post)

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            煎 Jian, not Jin in pinyin. Nominally means to pan-fry in shallow oil or water.
                            Many types of 煎麵 styles:


                            1. re: scoopG

                              Somehow that link doesn't work anymore. Perhaps anywhere here:


                              1. re: scoopG

                                Yes, I realize that.

                                I'm just noting that different demographic and geographic regions in American have their unique and sometimes parochial notions of "chow mien" -- none of which is necessarily wrong, or right.

                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                  I was replying to PorkButt...or meant to.

                                  1. re: scoopG

                                    Pinyin is for Mandarin, not Cantonese. Why don't you complain about my use of mein instead of mian as well? Jin is the word in the Yale system and a straight reading of that sounds much like the actual word. Admittedly, if I were consistent, mein should be spelled mihn.

                                    1. re: PorkButt

                                      Who uses the Yale Romanization system anymore?

                                      I am more familiar with Jyutping, developed in Hongkong, by the Cantonese in the 1980's. Then of course there is the Guangdong Cantonese romanization system created in the mainland. Are you familiar with either? "Mein" and "Chow Mein" are so widespread in use now that they are accepted as English. Like "salsa" or "siesta."


                                      1. re: scoopG

                                        What's with the lecture? I was just pointing out that two styles of chow mein are properly called different names in written Chinese.

                                        You win, pan fried in shallow oil Hong Kong bird's nest style chow mein is called zin min. That'll really help the casually curious Chowhound who might want to pronounce the words.

                                        1. re: PorkButt

                                          Lecture? What's with the thick skin? There are many types of "Chow Mein"...

                                          1. re: scoopG

                                            Yum. I like thick-skinned noodles for chow mein ...

                                            1. re: scoopG

                                              When I lived in NYC a long time ago, the Chinese restaurants in the Upper West Side didn't have chow mein on the menus but did have an odd dish with the thick skins that you obliquely referred to which was called lo mein.

                                              Never heard of it before coming from the West Coast and I didn't read Chinese characters at the time. Do you know what this is in Pinyin? Jyutping?

                                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                                  No disrespect to anyone, but it is amazing how a request for a recipe goes so far astray.

                                                  1. re: cookkevin

                                                    Your courteous way of responding to the above, shall we say voracious postings is perfect. Obviously, people will argue & dispute over anything, even a simple recipe. "fourunder" was very specific in saying that was NJ/Ny style. Oh well, as long as there are 2 people, there will be fighting, one way or another.


                            2. re: monku

                              Well, your picture is the basic way that most noodle dishes (egg noodles or rice noodles [wide or skinny]) would be prepared when ordered as, e.g. "ngou yook cheen heong meen" (or "mei") (or "hor") back in SE Asia/Malaysia, in distinctly Cantonese areas. "Chow mein" or "Chow mei fun" would result in the ingredients being stir fried together.
                              (BTW: "Hong Kong style" by default would tend to *be* Cantonese style.)

                          2. I am from NJ and moved to Georgia. I came here searching I think for the white sauce I had in Jersey. Chow Mein in Jersey was onion, celery and bean sprouts in a white sauce a Corn Starch slurry from what I read here. Also crunchy noodles are served on the side. Pork and chicken are popular varieties. In Atlanta they put noodles in their chow mein, like lo mein noodles. Weird!!