Beef Chow Fun is like your favorite takeout made right in your own kitchen.
For the last few years, I’ve collaborated with Mel Joulwan of Well Fed fame on a Paleo Magazine column. In it, we explore dishes from around the world, adapting them to be gluten-free and paleo-friendly. Mel writes the recipes, and I do the photographs.
I have to tell you, when I tasted this Beef Chow Fun, I was blown away by the flavors! You’ll love it.
What is Beef Chow Fun?
Mel writes, “In China, chow fun is similar to pizza in the United States: a ubiquitous takeout favorite that’s defined enough to be universally understood, but flexible enough to allow every cook to put his own spin on the ingredients.
In its most basic form, beef chow fun is a stir-fried dish of wide rice noodles (hor fun), marinated beef, and bean sprouts. It can be cooked “wet” with a sauce, or “dry,” stir-fried in a very hot wok with oil.
Unlike chow mein and lo mein noodles which are made from wheat flour, fun noodles are made from the rice starch. Another the key difference is in the shape: Chow mein and lo mein are round and thin, like spaghetti. Fun noodles are wide, flat, and usually cooked with other ingredients that are meant to be served as one beautifully-messy pile of food. Fun fact: “chow” means fried, so “chow fun” translates to “fried flat rice noodles” and, also, “a big plate of fun.”*
(*It does not really translate to “a big plate of fun.”)
Like most beloved, traditional dishes, the story of Beef Chow Fun’s true beginning may have been enhanced by the mists of time. By why let facts get in the way of a good legend?
The History of Beef Chow Fun
According to lore, Mr. Hui, a resident of Canton (now Guangzhou), traveled north to become a chef. This was during World War II, and he was eventually forced by the conflict to retrace his steps to the south. He joined his brother’s business, cooking food in the family food stall.
By 1938, the Japanese had occupied Canton, and Mr. Hui found himself responsible for feeding the military patrols that marched through town. One fateful night, the food stall ran out of the powder needed to thicken their flavorful sauces, just as a Japanese division commander demanded his dinner of wet chow fun.
The threat of a bullet inspired Mr. Hui’s creativity, and while his mother and brother attempted to distract the Japanese officer with sticky rice dessert dumplings, Mr. Hui stir-fried the rice noodles “dry,” in a pan with oil. Dry fried beef chow fun became the specialty of Canton and the Hui family stall.
How Did Beef Chow Fun Come to the United States?
The gold rush.
A wave of Chinese immigrants swept into California during the mid-1800s, and – lucky for us – many of them operated restaurants. As the railroad opened up the rest of the country, the Chinese population was dispersed throughout the U.S. and Chinatowns became a hub of Chinese culture transplanted to America.
In the 1920s, only hipsters and cool cats hung out in Chinese restaurants, but by the end of World War II, authentic Chinese dishes had gone mainstream, adapted to American ingredients and taste buds.
How We Made This Beef Chow Fun Paleo
In that vein, here’s a totally inauthentic but very delicious adaptation of the wet version of Beef Chow Fun.
We’ve replaced the rice noodles with wide zucchini noodles that grow meltingly tender after a quick sauté but still hold the sauce for plenty of flavor. The meat gets a quick marinade (called “velveting”) to produce a slinky texture, then the stir-fry is completed with plenty of ginger, chewy shiitake mushrooms, and the bright crunch of bean sprouts.
See Our Other Paleo Magazine Collaborations
Mel and I have collaborated on a bunch of other yummy paleo main dish recipes like:
Check them out and add them to your weeknight dinner rotation!
Beef Chow Fun (Gluten-Free, Paleo)
Beef Chow Fun is amazingly delicious with tender beef in a flavorful gluten-free sauce served over zucchini noodles. It's like take-out but healthier. Get the recipe today...it's paleo and whole30 friendly.
For the Beef:
- 1.5 lb sirloin steak sliced very thinly
- 2 tbsp coconut aminos
- 1 tbsp arrowroot flour sub tapioca flour
- 1 tsp rice wine vinegar unseasoned
- 3/4 tsp sea salt
For the Stir-Fry
- 2 lb zucchini
- 2 tsp sea salt
- 2 tbsp avocado oil
- 1 inch fresh ginger
- 2 oz shiitake mushrooms
- 8 green onions
- 1/4 cup coconut aminos
- 1/2 tsp sesame oil
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- Pinch coconut sugar
- 4 oz mung bean sprouts
- Toasted sesame seeds garnish
Velvet the meat. Combine the meat, coconut aminos, arrowroot powder, rice vinegar, and salt in a small bowl. Set aside to marinate while you prep the rest of the ingredients.
Prep the stir-fry ingredients. Using a veggie peeler, cut the zucchini into long, wide ribbons. (Stop when you hit the seeds.) Place the ribbons in a colander, sprinkle with the salt, and place the colander in the sink to drain, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, peel the ginger and cut it into very thin slices; set aside. Cut the green onions in half lengthwise, and the cross-wise into 3-inch pieces; set aside. In a small bowl, combine the sesame oil, coconut aminos, coconut sugar, salt, and black pepper; set aside.
Cook the beef. Place 1 tablespoon avocado oil in a large, nonstick skillet or wok and warm the oil over medium-high heat, 3 minutes. Add the beef to the pan and cook, undisturbed, 1-2 minutes. Stir and cook another 1-2 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
Start the stir-fry. In the same pan, add another 1 tablespoon oil and heat it, 2 minutes. While it heats, rinse the zucchini ribbons, drain, and pat dry with a clean dish towel; set them nearby. Things are going to start moving quickly! Add the ginger to the hot pan and stir-fry 15 seconds, then add the mushrooms and toss to coat in the oil. Stir-fry 1-2 minutes, then add the green onions and toss to combine. Add the zucchini noodles and stir-fry 2 minutes, just until they're a little wilted.
The big finish. Return the beef to the pan and toss to combine. Add the coconut aminos mixture to the pan and stir-fry, coating everything with sauce. Add the bean sprouts and stir-fry until the bean sprouts are just tender. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve immediately.
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