beef chow mein | old school cooking at its best

My mother-in-law Anne Corcoran is a wonderful home cook and has taught me a lot over the past 12 years since I’ve known her. It’s quite fitting that I write this post this week, considering Mother’s Day is this Sunday. Anne (or ‘Nee’ as my girls call her) cooks good, hearty, no-fuss, country style meals based on recipes from the early Australian Women’s Weekly cookbooks. Think spaghetti slice, tangy beef stew, fish with a crispy breadcrumb topping, curried sausages, sausage rolls, ginger fluff sponge cakes and shortbread biscuits.

The chow mein recipe that Anne has made for years comes from a CWLA (Catholic Women’s League of Australia) cookbook that was given to her by her mum, Lyn Barker over 30 years ago. We don’t know the date it was published or the name of the book because the cover has been lost for a long time. The chow mein recipe in this cookbook is by an ‘A. Bourke’ from Urana NSW. I am going to try and either track A. Bourke down or hopefully someone who knows her. It might of been their mum or grandmother and I would love to hear their experiences of either cooking or eating this dish.

By all means, if you’re reading this and know someone named A. Bourke or know anyone from Urana, a small town of only a couple of hundred people in the Riverina, please help me in my quest.

Recipes like this shouldn’t be lost with each generation and I’m passionate about trying to keep them alive. The chow mein isn’t the most attractive looking dish and there are certainly no trendy ingredients or cooking techniques here. I’ve enjoyed a steaming hot bowl of this mince and steamed rice too many times to recall and my girls now both love it too. It is one of those old recipes that country women in the bush would of made day in and day out. The ingredients are honest and readily available and it’s an extremely affordable meal to cook for your family.

I’ve tweaked the recipe a little by adding garlic and some grated carrot and have up’ed the soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce amounts. Trust me. It tastes SO good and is the easiest recipe in the world to make. I will continue to cook this for years to come and I wouldn’t be surprised if my girls end up cooking it for their kids one day too.

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The original recipe sent in by an A. Bourke for inclusion in the CWLA cookbook (over 30 years ago). 

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beef chow mein (serves 2 hungry adults and 2 kiddies)

500 grams of beef mince
1 x large brown onion, finely chopped
2 x cloves of garlic, crushed
Splash of olive oil, for frying the onions and garlic
2 x tablespoons of soy sauce
2 x tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce
1 x teaspoon of sugar
Salt and freshly cracked pepper
1 x heaped teaspoon of curry powder
1 x chicken noodle soup sachet
2 x cups of water
1 x carrot, peeled and grated
3 x celery stalks, finely sliced
A handful of green beans, ends trimmed and chopped in to 2cm lengths
1 x tablespoon of uncooked medium grain rice (to add to the mince uncooked)
1/4 of a white cabbage, shredded
Cooked medium grain rice, to serve (I use 1 x large mug full of rice to 1 1/2 of the same mugs full of water and cook in a saucepan for roughly 12 minutes)

  • Add a dash of olive oil to a heavy based saucepan and fry the onion and garlic until soft.
  • Add mince and cook, stirring, until browned. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Add 2 cups of water, the soup sachet, beans, carrot, celery, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, sugar, curry powder and 1 x tablespoon of uncooked rice.
  • Pop the lid on and simmer over a low heat for 35 minutes (being careful that it doesn’t burn on the bottom). You can add a dash more water if need be and remember – it has to be cooked over a very low heat.
  • Add the cabbage (and a dash more water if too dry) and cook for another 15 minutes until cooked through and softened.

Serve with steamed rice and some extra soy sauce if desired.

Lo’s tips

  • I normally don’t like to eat soggy veggies, preferring to keep them a little underdone. Please however, throw that notion out the door for this recipe. The cabbage and beans are lovely really well cooked. It just really works!
  • This recipe can easily be doubled to feed a crowd and can be made the day before and heated up in the microwave to serve piping hot when required.
  • A. Bourke’s recipe says to use 1 teaspoon of salt for 1 kilo of mince. I have instead said to season the mince with salt and pepper. As always, taste as you go but with the soy sauce and noodle mix – it can be salty enough without too much added salt.

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If you make this chow mein please leave your comments below, or post your pic on Insta, tagging #los_kitchen. xx

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