Moo Goo Gai Pan
Like many Cantonese dishes, Moo Goo Gai Pan is thought to have been brought over to the US by laborers from Canton (now known as Guangdong) province during the mid-1800s. Since then, it's become a Chinese food staple at takeout restaurants worldwide.
Tender chicken breast and savory mushrooms get stir-fried with a colorful assortment of vegetables, and seasoned with Shaoxing wine and oyster sauce. It's an easy dish that you can put together in about fifteen minutes at home. Despite its relative simplicity, a few techniques can make the difference between a fresh, vibrant stir-fry with juicy chicken and crisp veggies, and a soggy, bland mess. Here are all my secrets to making the best version of this classic stir-fry.
Table of contents
Why This Recipe Works?
- Velveting the chicken breast meat with starch seals in its juices, keeping it moist and tender. Some people like to add egg whites as well when they're velveting, but I prefer using only starch as it better preserves the texture of the chicken.
- Using shiitake mushrooms instead of white button mushrooms gives this Moo Goo Gai Pan recipe a more authentic Chinese flavor.
- A large frying pan provides more mass, staying hot, even as you add more ingredients. It also has more surface area, which lets you spread the ingredients, so they don't end up boiling in their own juices. This allows you to cook the vegetables quickly while preserving their color. This is similar to how a wok is meant to work, but a frying pan works better for most Western-style stoves, because the stove was designed for flat-bottomed pots and pans.
Ingredients for Moo Goo Gai Pan
- Chicken - I usually prefer chicken thighs to breast meat, but lean skinless chicken breast works better for this stir fry. Chicken tenders will also work. To ensure the chicken cooks quickly and evenly, I recommend slicing it rather than cutting it into chunks. By velveting it first, the texture ends up super tender and juicy, and as an added bonus, it's lower in fat. You can substitute the chicken for another protein, like pork or tofu, but it technically won't be the same dish, since "Gai" means chicken.
- Garlic - There's not a ton going on in this dish in terms of seasonings, and, aside from the mushrooms, garlic is the predominant flavor. I add the garlic to the marinade, which adds loads of flavor to the chicken. It's worth noting that some people like to add some ginger here, but I prefer using only garlic for this dish.
- Shaoxing wine - Shaoxing wine is a Chinese alcoholic beverage often used as an ingredient in cooking. Although it's made from rice, it has a much stronger flavor than Japanese sake, and it adds a wonderful earthy caramel-like flavor to the chicken. If you can't find it, dry sherry will work as a substitute. Mirin will also work, but it will make the finished dish sweeter.
- Starch - Starch is used to velvet the chicken and thicken the sauce. I prefer using potato starch over cornstarch because it won't get gummy, even after it's cooled, but other types of starch will work if you can't find it. Substitute 1 teaspoon cornstarch for the 2 teaspoons of potato starch.
- Mushrooms - I like using shiitake mushrooms for Moo Goo Gai Pan because it has a meaty flavor and oodles of umami that compliment the relatively bland chicken breast. If you can't find fresh shiitake mushrooms, other flavorful mushrooms such as maitake, oyster, or button mushrooms will also work.
- Carrots - The carrots are mainly here for a pop of color, but they also contribute some sweetness and texture to the dish.
- Snow peas - Crisp and sweet snow peas are the perfect contrast to the savory chicken and mushrooms, but sugar snap peas will work just as well. Green peas, fava beans, or green beans all make a decent substitute, but you'll want to parboil these first to ensure they're cooked through.
- Other vegetables - I've kept this stir-fry recipe as simple as possible, but you can also add other vegetables like water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, celery, bok choy, or cabbage to Moo Goo Gai Pan.
- Oyster sauce - Oyster sauce is a condiment made with dried oysters and seasonings. It has an umami-rich taste similar to soy sauce, but it's sweeter and not quite as salty. If you can't find it, you can substitute half the amount of soy sauce, along with a teaspoon of sugar.
- Chicken stock - To ensure there's enough sauce to coat all of the ingredients, the oyster sauce is mixed with some chicken stock and a little starch to thicken it. Vegetable stock will also work here.
How to Make Moo Goo Gai Pan
You first want to velvet the chicken by mixing it with the Shaoxing wine, salt, garlic, and potato starch. This not only serves as a marinade, but the starch also helps lock in the juices in the breast meat, which prevents it from drying out.
To make the Moo Goo Gai Pan sauce, add the chicken broth, oyster sauce, and remaining potato starch into a separate small bowl and whisk them until evenly combined.
Once your mushrooms and vegetables are prepared and ready to go, heat a large skillet over high heat until it's hot. It's essential to use the largest pan your stove will heat properly, as the pan will retain heat better and give you more surface area to work with.
Add the oil and chicken to the pan and spread the slices out in a single layer. Next, add the carrots in between the pieces of chicken.
When the chicken is mostly cooked through, add the mushrooms and toss the ingredients to stir-fry them.
Once the chicken is cooked through and the mushrooms are glossy, add the sugar peas to the pan and stir-fry them for a few seconds, or until they're bright green.
Stir the sauce to redistribute the starch, and pour it over the stir-fry. Give the Moo Goo Gai Pan a few tosses to coat all of the ingredients with the sauce.
Other Easy Stir Fry Recipes
Moo Goo Gai Pan is a Chinese-American stir fry made with chicken, mushrooms, and vegetables; seasoned with savory gravy.
Moo Goo Gai Pan is the American English transliteration of Cantonese 蘑菇雞片 (móh-gū gāi-pin), which literally means "mushrooms and chicken slices." As the name suggests, the original dish is made with only chicken and mushrooms seasoned with a little soy sauce or oyster sauce.
Because this dish is loaded with both chicken and vegetables, you can pair it with rice to make a complete meal. That being said, it would also be delicious served with shrimp fried rice, spring rolls, scallion pancakes, or drizzled with some spicy chili oil. Start with some Hot and Sour Soup, and you'll have the full Chinese-American restaurant experience, prepared easily at home.
- 1 tablespoon potato starch
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 9 grams garlic (1 large clove finely minced)
- 250 grams boneless skinless chicken breast (1 breast thinly sliced)
For Moo Goo Gai Pan Sauce
- ½ cup low sodium chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
- 2 teaspoons potato starch
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 70 grams carrots (peeled and sliced)
- 120 grams fresh shiitake mushrooms (sliced)
- 70 grams snow pea (trimmed)
- Add the potato starch for the chicken and the Shaoxing wine, salt and garlic into a bowl and stir to combine. Next, add the sliced chicken and mix everything together to ensure each piece is well coated with the marinade.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the chicken stock, oyster sauce, and remaining potato starch.
- Heat a large frying pan over high heat (I used a 12-inch pan). When the pan is hot, add the oil and chicken and spread it out into a single layer.
- Add the sliced carrots between the chicken pieces and let these fry until the breast meat is almost cooked through.
- Add the mushrooms and toss the ingredients to stir fry them until the mushrooms are glossy and the chicken is cooked through.
- Add the snow peas and stir-fry until they're vibrant green in color.
- Give the sauce mixture a stir and add it to the pan. When the sauce has thickened and coated all of the ingredients, the Moo Goo Gai Pan is done.