This Happy Family Stir Fry recipe is a wonderful combination of beef, chicken and shrimp, all cooked in one pot with fresh veggies and a light brown Chinese sauce.
It is easy to make at home and tastes so much better than takeout. Paired with steamed rice it is a healthy Chinese weeknight meal.
This Happy Family Stir Fry is one of those dishes that doesn’t have an easily recognisable sauce, like say black bean sauce or honey soy. This stir fry has a chinese brown sauce, it is hard to describe but so delicious, it just tastes like Chinese takeout sauce! You can see it clinging to the carrot in the shot below.
The dish is probably Anglo-Chinese or American-Chinese in origin, but that doesn’t make it any less tasty.
What is Happy Family Stir Fry?
Happy Family is a dish that combines various meats with fresh vegetables in a light brown Chinese sauce. Typically the meat will be chicken, beef or pork as well as seafood – usually shrimp. This great combination of meats make it a favourite on the takeout menus as you get lots of protein within the one order.
Plus there are plenty of fresh veg in there so you feel that this is the healthier option.
But why the name Happy Family?
The story goes that this delicious Chinese stir fry was so named because so many ingredients are combined to make one delicious complete dish. Whether this is true I don’t know, but it makes sense. Plus I love the whimsy of it.
It is hard to take photos of just how tender the meat in this happy family stir fry is. But I am sure you have all tasted meat like it before. It is that super tender meat that you get when you order a takeout. Tender, soft juicy meat, even if you reheat the leftovers for breakfast – tell me that isn’t just me 😉
How to get takeout style tender chicken and beef
The key to this is 2 fold:
- Cutting the meat correctly
- Marinating it in baking soda
These two stages ensure you get super tender meat, plus it means the meat will cook even quicker so your dinner will be ready sooner!
To cut the meat correctly you want to ensure you are cutting across the grain. If you use a skirt/flank steak the the grain is clearly visible, as shown in the picture below:
With the chicken it is harder to see the grain (It really wouldn’t show in a photo) but if you look closely after you have cut a slice you should be able to see which way the lines are going then you can either continue cutting it that way or start cutting the other way. Cut across the grain so the chicken has lines running up and down the strips rather than side to side.
Unlike other recipes where the meat is marinaded in herbs and spices, here we marinate the meat in baking soda. Baking soda doesn’t taste great! So you have to be sure to wash the meat really well after it has been soaked. But it does give you the most tender meat. To read about the science behind this process check out my post for Takeout Style Chicken and Snow Pea.
Baking Soda is also called Bicarb, Bicarbonate of Soda and Sodium Bicarbonate. You want to sprinkle a small amount over the meat and then turn gently so everything is lightly coated. Let the meat sit for 15 minutes then wash really well and pat dry. You need to pat it dry as the added moisture will stop the meat from stir frying.
In this recipe we use this method for both the beef and the chicken. But don’t marinate the shrimp as they will go mushy.
Can I use a skillet to make a stir fry?
YES!!! Like I mentioned in my Takeout Style Beef and Broccoli post, I think in a domestic kitchen a skillet/large fry pan can be better than a wok.
The reason for this is, a wok is designed to sit down into the flames, so the sides and bottom get hot. This is great in a commercial kitchen where they have big burners, but this doesn’t happen with standard burners in a household kitchen. So you are better with a skillet as more of the base will be in contact with the heat source, meaning you can cook at a higher temperature giving you a much better stir fry.
How to get authentic flavors in your Chinese stir fry
Have you ever made a stir fry at home just to be disappointed that it doesn’t taste like your favorite takeout? It is a common complaint and one that is easy to rectify.
The key to those authentic flavors is authentic ingredients. Sounds obvious when you read it doesn’t it. And I am not talking a long list of ingredients, just buying a couple of asian ingredients will elevate your stir fry from okay to amazing. Plus they can both be found in the grocery store!
Oyster sauce – a thick rich brown sauce that adds so much depth and a good hit of Chinese saltiness. You can buy it in grocery stores across the world now.
Chinese Cooking Wine – Also known as Chinese Rice Wine, Shaohsing Rice Cooking Wine, Shaoxing wine or Shaoxing Cooking Wine. You can find this in most grocery stores in the Asian section. Just don’t get it confused with rice wine vinegar!!! If you can’t find Chinese Cooking Wine, just use a dry sherry.
You should be able to find both of these in your grocery store, but Amazon also have a great range. And you will find them both (and lots more) at an Asian supermarket.
What else is needed for this stir fry?
The vegetables in this dish are pretty adaptable. I like to add, broccoli, carrot, baby corn, mushrooms, water chestnuts and green onions. But you can add any veg that you love:
- Green Beans
- Snow Peas
- Bell Peppers
- Sliced Celery
The veg wants to be cut into bite sized pieces so it cooks quickly.
- broccoli – cut into small florets
- carrots – peeled and thinly sliced
- mushrooms – sliced
- water chestnut slices – drained
- baby corn – chopped into thirds
- green onions – sliced diagonally
- 2 garlic cloves – thinly sliced
If using any other veg then chop it up into similar sized pieces.
You can often buy fresh baby corn at the grocery store, but the canned version works well here too.
Water chestnuts come in a can and can be found in the Asian section of the grocery store. If you can’t find them then just leave them out.
You could also replace the veg in this recipe for 3 1/2 cups of frozen stir fry mix. (Allow to defrost for around 15 minutes in a sieve or colander.)
Tips for making this Chinese Happy Family Stir Fry Recipe
- Prepare the meat correctly by cutting across the grain and then marinating in baking soda (see above for detailed pictures)
- Prepare your vegetables and garlic before you start cooking. Chinese stir frying is quick cooking so you need everything prepped and ready.
- Mix the sauce ingredients together before you start cooking, but ensure you whisk it well before you add it to the pan.
- Don’t let the meat or vegetables cook for too long, you want everything to be crisp and just cooked.
- For the best heat use a flat bottom skillet/fry pan (see above for why)
- For a truely authentic flavor invest in two great Chinese ingredients (you can find them in the grocery store or online). It will make ALL the difference.
For more great takeout style meals check these great meals:
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Takeout Style Happy Family Stir Fry
For the Stir Fry
- 1 large boneless skinless chicken breast
- 1/2 lb flank steak
- 1 tbsp baking soda – see note 1
- 1 cups broccoli florets
- 1/4 cup carrots – sliced
- 1 1/2 tbsp oil
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 12 large raw shrimp
- 1/2 cup mushrooms – sliced
- 1/2 cup water chestnut slices
- 1 cup baby corn – chopped into thirds
- 3 green onions – sliced
- 2 garlic cloves – thinly sliced
For the Sauce
- 3/4 cup chicken broth
- 2 tbsp cornstarch
- 3 tbsp Chinese cooking wine – see note 2
- 1 1/2 tbsp oyster sauce
- 1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
- large pinch of ground white pepper
- pinch brown sugar
To tenderise the meat
- Slice the beef across the grain, into 1/4″ / 0.5cm thick strips (see bulk of post for detailed pictures) and place in a non-metallic bowl.
- Slice the chicken across the grain, into 1/4″ / 0.5cm thick strips and place in another non-metallic bowl.
- Sprinkle half a tablespoon of baking soda over the beef and half a tablespoon of baking soda over the chicken. Gently turn the meat so it is all lightly coated.
- Set the meat aside for 15 minutes.
- Rinse the both meats extremely well and then pat them dry with kitchen paper. (See note 3)
Whilst the meat is tenderising cook the hard veg
- Place a large nonstick skillet over a medium high heat, add in the broccoli florets, sliced carrot and a 1/4 cup of boiling water.
- Cover the skillet and allow the veg to steam for a minute. The water should all have evaporated. Transfer the veg to a plate for later.
To make the stir fry
- Mix the the chicken broth together with the cornstarch, then add the Chinese cooking wine, oyster sauce, soy sauce, white pepper and brown sugar. Stir well and set to one side.
- Place the skillet back over a high heat and heat for at least 1 minute. Add in the oil and once it is shimmering add the chicken in a single layer.
- Cook, without touching for 1 minute then stir in the beef and cook for 1 minute.
- Add the shrimp and cook for a minute. Season with the whole skillet with salt.
- Add all the vegetables and cook for further 2 minutes.
- Stir in the garlic, then give the sauce a second stir and add it to the pan.
- Bring to a simmer and cook for 1-2 minute to allow the sauce to thicken.
- Serve immediately.
- Baking Soda is also called Bicarb, Bicarbonate of Soda and Sodium Bicarbonate.
- Chinese Cooking Wine/Chinese Rice Wine – not to mistaken for rice wine vinegar!!! You can sub in dry sherry if you like.
- Make sure you wash the beef and chicken really well to remove any traces of baking soda. It is amazing at tenderizing meat, but has a terrible taste so you want to remove it.