20 minute is all it takes to make this delicious moo goo gai pan recipe! Chicken and vegetables tossed in a gooey, sour and savory sauce so tasty you’ll want to drizzle it all over your rice!
Here’s the deal.
Making Chinese stir fries has become a weekly thing in our house.
Making a quick and delicious stir fry of chicken with Chinese vegetables is one of my favorite go-to dishes when I want something healthy that involves minimal cooking time.
As you know, I tend to crave Asian food before any other cuisines so I have learned to cook as many as I can at home to save a few bucks. Homemade moo goo gai pan (or mugu gai pan) is a dish both Ben and I like to make because it takes literally 20 minutes to make and tastes way better than the takeout version!
It’s a dish commonly found in Chinese restaurants but the name can be a little intimidating if you are not too familiar with the menu. Here is a quick explanation on this famous Chinese dish – from what’s in a moo goo gai pan, the meaning of the word and a super easy recipe for you to make at home tonight.
What is Moo Goo Gai Pan?
Moo goo gai pan is a simple American-Chinese stir fry made with chicken (gai pin in Cantonese), mushrooms (mohgu in Cantonese) and vegetables such as carrots, snow peas, bamboo shoots and water chestnuts. The ingredients are tossed in a classic Chinese white sauce and served with rice on the side.
Cantonese dishes are usually milder in flavor because they use less spices and chilies. Having lived in both Hong Kong (Cantonese) and Taiwan (Szechuan), I can tell you there is a big difference in flavor between those two places. Chinese food is complex and what makes the food so great is the many different flavor combinations you get as you travel through those territories.
Traveling across Asian is an adventure for the palate!
What Does Moo Goo Gai Pan Mean?
As I mentioned above, the name is pretty much taken from two ingredients – chicken and mushrooms.
The literal translation for mòh-gū gāi-pin is sliced chicken with button mushrooms.
Ingredients for Moo Goo Gai Pan
- Oil: peanut oil is what’s most often used in Asian cooking but you can use vegetable oil as well since it’s neutral in flavor.
- Chicken: I’m using boneless, skinless chicken breast, but you can use other parts of a chicken and keep the skin if you enjoy the texture, and bones if you like sucking on them.
- Garlic: garlic is essential to Chinese cooking and is used in most stir fry to flavor the oil.
- Mushrooms: Again, you can use other types of mushrooms such as shiitake or wood ear. I’m using white button mushrooms because they are easy to find.
- Snow Peas: I prefer snow peas over sugar snap peas because of their softer texture, but you can swap one for the other.
- Canned bamboo Shoots: salty and savory, canned bamboo shoots are also a little crunchy and meaty in texture.
- Water Chestnuts: if bamboo shoots and snow peas are crunchy, water chestnuts are super duper crunchy! They are also high in water content which makes taking a bite from a piece, quite refreshing!
- Cornstarch: Cornstarch is essential to thickening the sauce and give it that gooey texture we’ve come to associate with Chinese food.
- Ground White Pepper: this adds a fruity and floral kick that tickles the nose.
- Marinade Sauce: whisk the soy sauce, rice vinegar and cornstarch to infuse extra flavor to your chicken.
- Moo Goo Gai Pan Sauce: whisk the chicken broth, soy sauce, rice vinegar, oyster sauce, and sesame oil for a quick stir fry sauce.
How To Make Moo Goo Gai Pan
- Marinate the chicken: Whisk all the ingredients for the chicken marinade in a bowl and set aside.
- Cook the chicken: Place the chicken in a pan over medium high heat and saute until it’s cooked through. Transfer the chicken on a plate.
- Add the vegetables: Add the garlic, mushrooms and snow peas, and cook for 5 minutes. Add bamboo shoots, chestnuts and chicken and cook for 2 minutes.
- Combine the flavor: Stir in the sauce and add the cornstarch and water mixture. Keep stirring until the sauce thickens.
- Serve: Serve with white rice and season with a little salt and white ground pepper if needed.
Is this an Authentic Moo Goo Gai Pan Recipe?
No but it still tastes like the real thing!
My version is tweaked to be slightly more flavorful as I sometimes find Chinese white sauce to be bland.
I generally prefer Szechuan food over Cantonese food so my moo goo gai pan sauce has a bit more punch. I’m using a mix of soy sauce and oyster sauce to add more umami, which gives the sauce a golden brown color. I’ve always had a penchant for gravy like sauces anyway!
Moo Goo Gai Pan Sauce
In order to make a watery sauce gooey, mix a little corn starch with cold water. Stir and pour into the sauce as it is bubbling and that’s it! The sauce will thicken immediately and be ready to serve.
It’s the same concept for all sauces. Chinese white sauce, mapo tofu, general Tso and moo goo gai pan sauce all have one ingredient in common – corn starch.
The only downside to gooey sauce is that the consistency doesn’t last. I’m sure you’ve experienced ordering Chinese food and finding breaded chicken pieces sadly sitting in a watery sweet sauce the next day. That’s because corn starch can only retain its consistency for about an hour at most.
What I usually do when something like this happens is throw the leftovers in a pan and stir in a little corn starch (once the ingredients are hot) to bring back the consistency. It works most of the time but there have been dishes that I wasn’t able to save that way. 80% success, 20% fail I would say.
How to Velvet Chicken
One of the great cooking techniques China has brought over to America is velveting.
Velveting is basically coating or marinating chicken or meat in a mixture of corn starch, sauce and/or egg white. What velveting does is create a barrier from the heat when the chicken cooks, leaving it super moist and silky.
For this recipe I’m marinating the chicken in a mixture of rice vinegar, soy sauce and corn starch. I’m letting the chicken marinate for 20 minutes but I recommend leaving it for longer if you have the time. 30-40 minutes yields super moist chicken pieces.
Moo Goo Shrimp
To make moo goo shrimp, simply swap the chicken for large shrimp that have been thawed and deveined. The cooking time will vary slightly since it takes shrimp less time to cook. You can velvet shrimp as well, it will give them a much nicer texture!
Healthy Chinese Food Option
I’ve gotten a few emails from people asking me what dishes they should order in a Chinese restaurant if they are looking for healthy options.
My answer is pretty simple: go for stir fries or soups.
Dishes that are breaded and deep fried such as general Tso and sesame chicken will automatically add a lot of calories and fat to your plate. Instead, opt for dishes that are all vegetables or 80% vegetables.
Take this moo goo gai pan dish as an example – even though the dish contains chicken, it’s still mostly made of vegetables. Only 1 tablespoon of oil is used to stir fry the ingredients and the sauce is mainly made of stock. This makes it an excellent dish to enjoy without having to worry about putting on weight, along with a bowl of rice on the side (you will need that to complete the meal and make you feel full).
The chicken is then cooked in a pan and set aside. This step is also part of velveting. The poultry or meat is always cooked separately from the rest. Then once the vegetables have cooked long enough to soften, the chicken is re-introduced to the pan and tossed in the sauce.
Easy Moo Goo Gai Pan Recipe
My moo goo gai pan sauce is a combination of chicken stock, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and sesame oil. It’s a little sour, sweet, nutty, savory and contains lots and lots of umami. The flavors are assertive but also gentle to the palate. Think of this moo goo gai pan as perfectly seasoned; you won’t need to add salt or soy sauce to it 😉
This is another great recipe to make ahead of time since it keeps well in the fridge. You can pack it up and take it to work (in a cute Bentgo lunchbox) or have it for dinner two or three nights in a row. Trust me, you won’t get tire of it. Especially if you love Chinese takeout as much as I do!
Other easy Chinese recipes:
Did you like this Moo Goo Gai Pan Recipe? Are there changes you made that you would like to share? Share your tips and recommendations in the comments section below!
Moo goo gai pan is usually served with medium or long grain rice but I have a major weakness for Japanese rice. Its stickiness absorb the flavor of sauce like no other types of rice can.
Watch our video on How To Make Japanese Rice the stove top or rice cooker method.Print
Moo Goo Gai Pan
Better than takeout moo goo gai pan recipe that’s savory and a little sour. Ready in less than 25 minutes!
- Prep Time: 7 minutes
- Cook Time: 13 minutes
- Total Time: 40 minutes
- Yield: 2 people 1x
- Category: Main
- Method: Stir frying
- Cuisine: Chinese
Moo Goo Gai Pan Ingredients
- 1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil
- 1/2 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast (chopped into thin bite size piece)
- 2 cloves garlic (minced)
- 1 1/2 cup button mushrooms (sliced in half)
- 1 1/2 cup snow peas
- 1/2 cup canned bamboo shoots (drained)
- 1/4 cup canned water chestnuts (drained)
- 1 tbsp cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons water
- ground white pepper
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1/2 cup chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- Put all the ingredients for the marinade in a bowl, add chicken, mix well and let sit for 20 minutes.
- In a pan over medium high heat, add oil and chicken and cook for 5 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through. Transfer chicken on a plate and set aside.
- In the same pan, add garlic, mushrooms and snow peas and cook on medium high heat for 5 minutes.
- Add bamboo shoots, chestnuts and chicken and cook for 2 minutes.
- Add ingredients for the sauce and stir. Add cornstarch and water mix and stir until sauce thickens.
- Turn the heat off, season with ground white pepper and serve immediately.
This Moo Goo Gai Pan Recipe will keep refrigerated for up to 3-4 days.
Using a wok for with a handle for stir fries makes the process of tossing the ingredients easier and helps to evenly coat and spread the sauce.
Keywords: recipe, Asian, easy