For many of us, one of the brightest moments of our childhood was happily munching on noodles from a Panda Express takeout container. Whether it was for a family movie night, a weekday dinner when your mom didn’t have time to cook dinner, or just any time you had a craving for Chinese food, Panda Express was there. Among the many delicious favorites is Panda Express Chow Mein, which is one of the most famous and one of the tastiest dishes on the menu.
Panda Express Chow Mein is beautiful in its simplicity, it’s just noodles tossed with celery, cabbage, onions, soy sauce, and oyster sauce. The veggies are quickly stir-fried so they have a little bit of caramelization but are still nice and crunchy. The oyster and soy sauces create a tantalizing combination of salty, rich, and savory flavors that gently coat the soft, slightly chewy noodles in a tasty, addictive sauce. Luckily, this cult favorite from Panda Express is easy to replicate at home, requiring less than 10 ingredients to put together and less than half an hour to make.
This Chow Mein recipe is a surefire copy to match the Panda Express version, hitting all the same notes of flavor and texture. The only thing this recipe doesn’t emulate from the Panda Express version is the oily residue that seems to linger at the bottom of the takeout box.
How to Make Panda Express Chow Mein
Amazingly, Panda Express’ Chow Mein is just as easy as to make as it delicious. All that’s required is a few simple ingredients and a couple of easy steps. The principal ingredient in Chow Mein is of course, the noodles. For true Panda Express Chow Mein, you have to go with Yakisoba noodles. Yakisoba are thin, mildly flavored noodles made from wheat flour that are very popular in Chinese and Japanese cooking. You can easily find these noodles in the international aisle of your grocery store or in your local Asian market.
The other critical ingredient that Panda Express uses in their Chow Mein is oyster sauce. Oyster sauce is a thick, dark brown sauce made from the extract of fresh oysters along with sugar, salt, and water. In Chow Mein, the oyster sauce adds an incredibly rich, deeply flavorful umami essence to the dish along with an appealing savory brown color. Contrary to the name, oyster sauce does not actually taste like seafood, it just creates a profoundly flavorful backbone to many Asian staples. Again, oyster sauce is fairly easy to find in the grocery store or in the Asian market.
Other than those two specialty ingredients, all that you need to make Panda Express’ Chow Mein is celery, white onions, Napa cabbage, and oil.
First, when you slice the vegetables, they need to be as thin as possible, so they’ll cook quickly. The onions should be sliced thin, the cabbage should be in long, thin strips, and the celery should be thinly sliced on a medium bias. Next, you should cook the Chow Mein in a wok if you have one. For those who don’t know, a wok is a large, thin pan with sloping sides that conducts heat quickly. It is an especially popular cooking implement in Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese cuisines. The wok is specifically designed for cooking stir-fries, curries, fried rice, and many other Asian dishes very quickly at high heats. If you don’t have a wok, just use the largest pan you can find with curved sides.
Finally, you need to use very high heat when cooking your Chow Mein and stir constantly so that the veggies quickly cook and keep their texture. Here are the few simple, easy steps to making Panda Express’ Chow Mein:
1. Thinly slice Napa cabbage, white onions, and celery.
2. Boil yakisoba noodles according the instructions on the package. Drain and cool to room temperature.
3. Heat a little oil in a wok, quickly stir-fry the veggies for a few minutes, add the noodles, and cook for 2 more minutes.
4. Add the soy and oyster sauces, cook for 1 more minute, and serve immediately.
Armed with this easy recipe, you can now make your favorite Panda Express Chow Mein at home. It’s simple, easy to put together, and is outrageously delicious. Some may argue that it’s even better than the original. So, next time, save yourself the trip to get takeout, skip having to tip the delivery driver, and just whip this up at home nice and quick. With just a few ordinary ingredients and a little bit of spare time, you can create this masterpiece and serve it with orange chicken, sesame chicken, beef and broccoli, or any of your other Chinese food favorites.