Cantonese beef chow fun is a classic dish you'd find at restaurants serving dim sum or Chinese takeout! The combination of wok-tossed flat rice noodles, pieces of savory and tender beef, and crunchy bean sprouts make this one of my favorite Cantonese dishes of all time.
What ingredients do I need to make Cantonese beef chow fun?
- flank steak is a great accessible option for beef chow fun; flap steak also works, and is what my parents use! these are lean cuts, but the marinade will keep them tender throughout stir-frying.
- Wide, flat rice noodles
- If you have access to fresh, wide, flat rice noodles at your grocery store (they should look similar to the picture above), these are the best to use for this recipe! However, I know these aren't accessible to everyone -- you can sub dried flat rice noodles. Try to find the widest ones you can, and make sure to rehydrate them before stir-frying.
- For fresh rice noodles, try to buy them the same day that you plan to make this beef chow fun. They shouldn't be stored in the fridge (they'll harden), and they're not as great the next day.
- Onions, garlic, ginger, and scallions add subtle but delicious fragrance and flavor to this dish -- don't skip them!
- Bean sprouts
- Fresh mung bean sprouts add a refreshing crunch throughout the dish. It's added near the end of cooking to preserve most of its texture.
- Soy sauce (both light and dark), oyster sauce, and sugar will be the main seasonings for this dish
- Cornstarch and baking soda
- Cornstarch and baking soda are both used in the beef marinade to help tenderize, or "velvet" the meat. The cornstarch, along with the liquid seasonings and water, creates a hydrated starch layer that coats each slice of meat, keeping it tender despite it being a lean cut.
- Baking soda is commonly used in marinades for Chinese stir fries for certain meats. It helps tenderize the meat, especially tougher and leaner cuts like flank steak.
Notes / FAQs:
What’s the difference between regular soy sauce and dark soy sauce?
- Regular (light) soy sauce: the one you probably already have at home — the default! I only specify soy sauce as "light" in a recipe if the dish also calls for dark soy sauce.
- Dark soy sauce this is what gives this dish (and many other Asian dishes) their dark brown, caramel color. It’s really pigmented, so a little goes a long way. It’s slightly more viscous and actually not as salty as regular soy sauce, despite its deeper color.
What does “slicing against the grain” mean?
- When slicing flank steak (and any piece of beef or meat), it’s always best to slice against the grain. The grain is the direction the muscle fibers are running — if you look closely at your steak, you’ll see long-running fibers going one direction. You want to slice perpendicular to that, so that each slice has short muscle fibers, which will make each piece easy to chew!
Why do I need baking soda?
- Baking soda is commonly used in marinades for Chinese stir fries for certain meats. It helps tenderize the meat, especially tougher and leaner cuts like flank steak. I also use it to keep chicken breast tender (like in my tender chicken & broccoli recipe), as well as provide shrimp with a snappy texture. Just a little bit goes a long way!
How do I keep the noodles in tact and prevent them from breaking while cooking?
It’s inevitable that they’ll break, especially the longer they're cooked, but here are a few tips to keep most of the noodles long and in tact.
- Make sure to gently separate them out of the package before even putting them into the pan. You can do this by massaging them gently with oil, or if they're very fragile, you'll want to pull them apart individually.
- Cook time is important! The longer you have the noodles cooking in the pan, the softer they get, and the more likely they’ll break. You’ll want to follow the directions and have all the sauce ingredients prepared before cooking so that you minimize any prep tasks while the noodles are in the pan.
- Mixing method matters! At a restaurant, these are typically expertly tossed in a round-bottom wok over high heat. At home, I try to be as gentle as possible to prevent breakage, so I opt for a mix of chopsticks and a wooden spatula to gently scoop and lift the noodles up and over to mix. You can also use two wooden spatulas to scoop them up from both sides.
Cantonese Beef Chow Fun
for marinating beef:
- 1 tablespoon light (regular) soy sauce
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 teaspoon neutral oil
- ½ yellow or red onion (sliced)
- 3 cloves garlic (lightly smashed, sliced, or minced)
- 3-4 slices of ginger
- 3-4 stalks scallions (cut into 2 inch pieces)
Marinate the beef + prepare the ingredients
- Slice the flank steak against the grain (about ¼ inch thick slices). Put the sliced steak into a bowl with the ingredients for the marinade: soy sauce, sugar, cornstarch, baking soda, and water. Mix well, then add neutral oil to seal in the marinade. Mix and set aside while you prep the other ingredients.½ lb beef flank steak, 1 tablespoon light (regular) soy sauce, ½ teaspoon sugar, 1 teaspoon cornstarch, ¼ teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon neutral oil, 1 tablespoon water
- Use this down time to get all your other ingredients sliced and ready: slice the onions and ginger, crush the garlic, chop scallions into 2-3 inch pieces, and wash your bean sprouts.½ yellow or red onion, 3 cloves garlic, 3-4 slices of ginger, 3-4 stalks scallions, 1 cup bean sprouts
- Prepare your noodles by taking them out of the package and separating them by hand or massaging them gently — be careful, the fresh ones are fragile!1.5 lbs fresh, cooked flat rice noodles
- In a bowl, prepare the sauce for the noodles: mix together light (regular) soy sauce, dark soy sauce, sugar, and oyster sauce.2 tablespoon light (regular) soy sauce, 2 teaspoon dark soy sauce, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1.5 tablespoon oyster sauce
Stir-fry the beef and noodles
- Heat up a big skillet (or wok if you have one) to medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of oil. Once the pan is hot, add your marinated slices of beef in one layer. After 1-2 minutes, flip each slice. Cook until both sides are brown and slightly charred (shouldn’t be more than a few minutes). Remove the beef from the pan.1 tablespoon neutral oil
- Add a bit more oil to the pan, then add your aromatics: garlic, scallions (white parts only), ginger, and half of the sliced onions (we’re adding half now to flavor the oil and to develop caramelization — save the rest for the end). Cook for 1 minute or until slightly charred.3 cloves garlic, 3-4 stalks scallions, ½ yellow or red onion
- It’s time to add your noodles! I recommend using chopsticks and/or a wooden spatula to stir fry the noodles (instead of any sharp or metal utensils). With a gentle scooping motion, lift the noodles from the bottom from the pan and up to stir — this keeps the noodles in tact.
- Cook noodles for a minute, then add Shaoxing wine (this should deglaze the bottom of the pan), and mix everything together. Then add the sauce for the noodles. Mix gently with the same lifting motion, and make sure every noodle is coated in the sauce. This should only take a minute or less.1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
- At this point, taste the noodles! If it's not salty enough, add more soy sauce. If it's on the saltier side, add a bit more sugar to balance it out. If you like the color of your noodles darker, add a touch more dark soy sauce.
- Now the final steps: add the cooked beef, green parts of the green onion, bean sprouts, rest of the onion (we’re adding the rest now to get the flavor from fresh onion — slightly raw and pungent, which contrasts against the rest of the dish), and the sesame oil. Mix well, without breaking up too much of the noodles. Once the green onions and sprouts have softened a bit, it’s done!½ tablespoon sesame oil