Gon chow ngau ho – dry-fried beef rice noodles – is a beloved dish in Hong Kong, where you can find it anywhere from food stalls to high-end restaurants. “Dry-fried” doesn’t mean the ingredients are cooked without liquid or oil; it’s just a term that differentiates this version of beef ho fun (rice noodles with beef) from another that is wetter and saucier.
In restaurants, chefs cook this dish in a large wok over an enormous gas fire. At home, where we use a smaller wok over a regular gas range, it’s important that you don’t cook too much at once – it’s best to stir-fry enough for a maximum of two people at a time, or the rice noodles will get soggy. Still, even using a household gas range, the ingredients take just a few minutes to cook.
Fresh rice noodles are different from dried rice noodles, which I don’t recommend for this dish. Fresh rice noodles are oiled and stacked before being sliced into strips (about 6mm-8mm [¼ inch to ⅜ inch] wide). When you get them home, separate the stacked noodles into single-noodle strips while they are at room temperature.
If they were refrigerated when you bought them, and therefore hard, put the noodles – still in the plastic bag – in the microwave and zap for about 30 seconds before checking to see if they are soft enough, or, after squeezing out the air, tie the top of the bag so water can’t leak in, and submerge it in hot water until the noodles are soft, then separate them; otherwise they will break apart.
You don’t want to put the noodles directly into hot water, or they will become soggy. The noodles should also be pliable when you cook them, so, again, if necessary, warm them, in the bag, in the microwave or in hot water.
This dish is primarily about the noodles; the beef is there to flavour them. Because of that, I’ve used a fairly small amount of meat. If you like a beefier dish, double the amount of meat and the marinade ingredients. The cooking time should be about the same. Choose a tender cut of beef, such as sirloin, oyster blade or flank.
If you were to ask a Hongkonger what to serve with this, the chances are they would recommend the Yu Kwen Yick brand of chilli sauce. It’s worth seeking out – it’s delicious.
If the noodles are hard, heat them until pliable, either in the microwave or by submerging the tightly sealed bag in hot water. Unwrap the noodles, separate them and put them into a bowl.
In a small bowl, stir the dark soy sauce with the kecap manis, sugar and salt. Pour this over the rice noodles and mix so they are coated evenly, then take them out of the bowl and lay them on a plate to air-dry while preparing the other ingredients. Save the liquid in the bowl.
Thinly slice the beef across the grain into strips. Put the pieces in a bowl and add the light soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, salt, white pepper, oyster sauce and sesame oil. Mix thoroughly, then add the cornstarch and mix again.
Thinly slice the onion. Cut the spring onions and chives into 3cm (1¼in) lengths.
Place a well-seasoned wok over a high flame. When the wok is hot, pour in about 10ml (2 tsp) of oil. Swirl the wok so it is coated with the oil, and when it’s hot, add the onion and stir-fry until lightly wilted (about 30 seconds). Add the spring onions and chives and stir-fry for about 15 seconds. Transfer the ingredients to a bowl, leaving behind as much oil as possible.
Heat the wok again over a high flame, then pour in about 10ml (2 tsp) of cooking oil. Add the ginger and stir-fry for about 10 seconds. Stir the beef in the bowl to recombine the ingredients, then add the beef and marinade to the wok. Stir-fry for about 30 seconds, or until the beef starts to lose its pink colour. Take the beef from the wok and add it to the vegetables.
Heat the wok again over a high flame and add 20ml (4 tsp) of oil, swirling it to coat the pan. When the oil is starting to smoke, add the noodles and a light sprinkling of salt. Stir gently so the noodles are coated with oil, then spread them to the sides of the wok so they heat evenly. After about 20 seconds, stir the noodles, then again spread them along the sides of the wok and leave for about 20 seconds.
Stir the noodles, then push them to the centre of the wok. Add the vegetables and beef and stir well.
Pour the liquid used to season the noodles into the wok along the sides of the pan. Add the bean sprouts and stir well.
Taste some of the rice noodles for seasoning, and if needed, stir in a little more salt and/or light soy sauce.
Transfer the ingredients to two dinner plates and serve immediately, with chilli sauce. Accompany with stir-fried green vegetables.