20 minute is all it takes to make this delicious moo goo gai pan recipe! Chicken and vegetables tossed in a golden, sour and savory sauce so tasty you’ll want to drizzle it all over your rice!
Moo Goo Gai Pan – 蘑菇雞片
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.
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 – Gooey Goodness
I’m a sucker for Chinese gooey sauces!
For the longest time I didn’t know how to make gooey sauce but dreamed about being able to since it was my favorite part of the whole dish. I had no idea that the secret to turning a sauce gooey was this simple!
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.
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.
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.
Tender Moo Goo Gai Pan 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.
Healthy Chinese Food Made Easy
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 geneneral 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.
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 healthy and easy chicken 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.