So, I have a big list in my mind of dishes I'd like to conquer, and Hokkien Mee was pretty high up there. A friend on Facebook had been posting lots of amazing food photos (he has far more technique than me!) but when we got into conversation about this delicious South East Asian staple, he said dejectedly that he didn't have a good recipe that would allow a "cook at home" Hokkien Mee.
Now, I am aware that there is no hope of having as great a version as the true hawker style, side of the road, middle of the markets Hokkien Mee at home. The noodles have to be dark, almost black, with additional charring and dryness that you simply can't get from a domestic stovetop, there just isn't as much heat. However, it's still nice to have a "home version" of most things, so here is my take on the dish from a couple of weeks ago.
First I consulted the interwebs to get some inspiration and found two versions of the recipe, one I will refer to as the "Dark" recipe and the other as the "Lard" recipe.
In my mind, it's noodles, very fine slices of char siew and choy sum which sing out from this dish. The additional ingredients are somewhat flexible. So to start with I sliced a large piece of uncarved char siew (which my parents had kindly brought over last time we had a roast duck/bbq meats takeaway dinner) as finely as I possibly could, pulling off the fat first (see below). Then chopped the choy sum into fairly uniform pieces, splitting the stems and the leaves (as they cook for different amounts of time so this alters the order in which they should hit the wok). I can't remember what the packet instructions were for the noodles but I followed them as with any noodle dish (some need pre-boiling, others you can just pour over some hot water, some need soaking in cold water).
Then the standard taste combo of finely diced garlic, matchsticked ginger and long pieces of onion (but I used shallots as that was what I had in the fridge). As the "Lard" recipe was so adamant on the need for fat, I also chopped up the plump strips of lard/pork fat that I had saved from the char siew into a dice to add to the wok with these initial "flavour injectors".
I felt like I needed just one more texture so I went with a tin of oyster mushrooms that was rattling about in the back of the pantry. Again I opted for long strips which I find more pleasing to have in stir fried noodles (we've already discussed the importance of shape and grain in stir fry, and my hatred of inelegant chubby diced pieces they sell at the store, I'm sure).
So here is the recipe/pathway for My Hokkien Mee:
Oil - heat a generous couple of lugs of olive oil in a wok over high heat; add diced pork fat to render
Flavourings - in the oil, toss garlic, ginger and onion or shallot for a couple of tosses
(Normally I'd add marinated meat at this stage but this dish calls for none)
Vegies - add the choy sum stems and stir fry until a subtle colour change to glossy or tender; then the leaves; then the mushrooms
Precooked meat - add the slices of char siew to colour up and heat through. Agitate or arrange well to allow maximum meat to wok contact
Marinadey sauce - pour over some dry sherry or rice wine, a sprinkle of sugar then LOTS of dark soy sauce.
Noodles - add the prepared noodles and stir to coat with sauce and mix through the other "stuff" (in chinese we refer to the "stuff" that isn't rice or carbs as "soong" ie the vegies and the meat).
I ended up with a wokful of noodle stir fry:
...but it wasn't quite Hokkien Mee. I ended up adding LOTS and LOTS more dark soy sauce and it almost looked like the Hokkien Mee of my mind's eye. It was quite delicious!
In the end, the secret was discovered a day later, when I pulled out a smaller amount from the batch as leftovers and re-wokked it. Having a small amount in the wok allowed for much higher heat distribution and I managed the get the charred, dark, dry look I was hoping for; and the taste was even better than before. So if you are struggling to get enough heat despite having a thin, large wok with a large, hot flame, perhaps try making a teeny tiny batch, or pulling out smaller portions to char up after the initial batch is made. The re-fried leftovers were so delicious I completely forgot to take a photo of these later versions! A good endorsement!