Saucy beef chow fun and vegetables is a classic Cantonese dish the whole family will love. Also known as “wet” beef chow fun or fried rice noodle beef with vegetables, strips of tender beef flank and crunchy bok choy sprouts are tossed with ho fun noodles in a flavourful brown sauce.
This recipe stacks up to the Chinese restaurants with less oil and is easy for any homecook! It’s an easy one pan meal perfect for a weeknight dinner and comes together quickly. Easier than making “dry” beef chow fun, I share my key tricks for handling the delicate rice noodles and achieving a lovely char flavor (a.k.a “wok hei”) in beef chow fun!
- What is beef chow fun?
- Difference between dry and wet beef chow fun
- How to get foolproof stir fry rice noodles (a.k.a ho fun noodles)
- Expert tips for perfect beef chow fun
- How to cut beef for stir fries
- How to make saucy beef chow fun: Step by Step Instructions
- Serving Tips
- Make Ahead Tips
- Storing Tips
- FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
What is beef chow fun?
Beef chow fun is a popular Chinese dish of fried tender beef strips mixed with chewy ho fun rice noodles in soy sauce. In Cantonese cuisine there are two main dishes that are called “beef chow fun”. The main difference is that one is fried “dry” and paired with mung bean sprouts and the other is “wet” with brown sauce and includes a seasonal vegetable – usually bok choy or yu choy. Both versions have a lovely char smoky flavor achieved through “wok hei” or breath of the wok.
The “dry” version is called 干炒牛河 (gon chow ngau huo) and is more widely recognized as beef chow fun or beef hor fun. The “wet” version is called 時菜牛河 (see choy ngua huo) or 濕炒牛河 (sup chow ngau ho). In Chinese restaurant menus, this dish is commonly listed as fried rice noodle with beef and vegetables.
Difference between dry and wet beef chow fun
Both “dry” and “wet” versions are beef chow fun based on the fact that both have beef strips (usually flank) and use the same flat and wide rice noodles. The main difference is that the dry version is fried dry (a.k.a a healthy amount of oil) and is always paired with mung bean sprouts. The wet version is fried but tossed with a sauce and paired with a vegetable.
The “dry” chow fun is also darker in color, oilier but the noodles stay al dente and springy. The “wet” chow fun is lighter in color and because it has a sauce, the noodles are slippery and silky. Wet chow fun also doesn’t hold up well during reheating because of the sauce and gets soggy. So I would not recommend batch cooking for leftovers. Fortunately, our family of 4 gobbled it all up the first night so we didn’t have to worry about soggy leftovers! You probably won’t either!
How to get foolproof stir fry rice noodles (a.k.a ho fun noodles)
Stir frying rice noodles is an art form that Chinese chefs have mastered since they are tricky to work with. I recall my mother rating Chinese restaurants by how well they fried their noodles. Properly cooked ho fun noodles are chewy, springy and slippery. My mom would comment on whether the noodles would “bounce off her teeth” (彈 牙).
Here are my key tips for perfectly fried rice noodles especially if you’re a beginner:
Before you even begin to fry it’s important you have the right noodles and get them primed for stir frying.
Buy rice noodles meant for frying: Your local Asian market probably has a wide variety of noodles to choose from. The best ones for making fried rice noodles are the fresh ones found in the refrigerated section of your Asian supermarket. Make sure you look for the word “fried” (炒) and “ho fun” (河粉) wide rice noodle on the label. Unfortunately it might not be written in English so you might need to look for the Chinese characters.
They might come in bags or in sheets you need to cut. They are found in bags here in Canada. Make sure they’re ½ an inch wide at least so they stand up to tossing. Anything thinner is meant for noodle soup. You can also use dried ones if fresh ones aren’t available but just be aware that they are more brittle and more prone to tearing.
Warm and loosen your rice noodles: Your rice noodles must be loose and warm to fry properly. Fresh noodles are loose and you can cook them right away. Otherwise, if they come refrigerated, they are cold and stuck together.
You will need to warm them up so they can separate and become stretchy again. Follow my detailed instructions below on noodle preparation. The worse thing you can do is toss a cold mound of rice noodle in your hot wok. The noodles will fall apart before you can thoroughly warm them up for tossing.
Stir frying perfect rice noodles (especially if you’re a beginner)
To ensure frying success of your rice noodles make sure you:
Use a clean wok: After frying your meat and vegetables, try to scrape off as much of the remaining food bits stuck to your wok. This will help prevent your noodles from sticking. I usually use my spatula and a bit of warm water if there is a lot to remove. Rub a bit of oil and heat your pan again before adding your noodles.
Don’t skimp on the oil: Stir fried rice noodles needs an adequately oiled wok to cook well. If not, they will stick into a sloppy mess. Coat your wok well with oil and make sure you properly heat it up. This is one of those odd times where you can make an exception to the “less oil” health rule!
Heated wok and oil: Adequately heated oil will minimize your noodles from sticking and a seasoned carbon steel wok will give that non-stick surface perfect for stir frying in high heat. Always heat your wok for a minute before adding your oil. Make sure the oil is shimmering before adding in your ingredients.
Be gentle with your noodles: Rice noodles are tricky to work with because they are delicate and tear easily. Use a “scoop and flip” method when frying to minimize breakage. A few broken noodles is completely ok! It will still taste delicious!
And my TWO biggest secrets to foolproof fried ho fun noodes?
Don’t over touch your noodles: I know when stir frying, there is compulsion to continuously flip and stir your food – I totally get it! This is especially important for meat and vegetables because moving your food through heated zones is essential to actually cooking your food.
Your rice noodles, unlike your other ingredients, are pretty much cooked and doesn’t need to be in the wok for very long. You’re simply kissing it with some heat and concentrating flavouring through searing. I’m not a master wok chef, so I find the easiest way is to spread the noodles in a thin layer across the wok and let it sit there for about a minute. Don’t touch it! This creates a lovely sear and char to them with minimal tearing. It might not be master chef styles but it’s a good happy medium!
Add a sauce and flip gently: After you’ve seared one side of your noodle layer, I’ve sometimes tried to flip them. If they release you can sear the other side for another minute. If you’re finding them sticking don’t despair, this is where you course correct – stop flipping and add your sauce. Take the sauce you’ve mixed together and pour it around the perimeter of your wok and it drips down into your noodles. The sauce will loosen any stuck on noodles. Then proceed to scoop and flip gently to your noodles with your seared sauce. This gives the lovely “wok hei” flavour!
Expert tips for perfect beef chow fun
In addition to my noodle frying tips above, I’ve also shared additional key tips for the rest of the dish:
Slice beef thin: Slice your beef ¼ inch thick or less and against the grain. The beef slices are meant to cook quickly in high heat (less than 5 minutes) to achieve a smokey char flavor.
Velvetize your beef: Chinese food is all about “silky” textured protein in their stir fries. Make sure you let the beef slices rest for 15-20 minutes in the marinade before frying. This will ensure the beef takes on that velvet tender texture you get from Chinese restaurants. If you’re short on time, pre marinate the beef the night before so it’s ready to go.
High heat: You will need to stir fry on high heat in order to get the char flavor and some semblance of wok hei (breath of wok). High heat works in this stir fry because all ingredients only need to cook for a few minutes. Always heat your pan for 30 seconds to a minute before adding oil. I also highly recommend a carbon steel wok for this dish.
Ginger: Ginger and beef are a match made in heaven. I like to add julienned ginger for that extra kick but feel free to grate it instead for a milder flavour. Ginger is key to getting that signature flavor in this dish so don’t skip it!
How to cut beef for stir fries
It’s important to cut your beef against the grain to ensure your beef slices don’t end up tough and ropey.
Cut the beef flank 90 degrees from the direction of the grain to make sure the muscle fibers are shortened. Your slices should also be ¼” thick at most.
This makes sure your beef slices are tender, cook fast and no guest will be chewing for eternity! For extra tender beef similar to Chinese takeout, make sure you don’t skip the velvetizing step.
How to make saucy beef chow fun: Step by Step Instructions
- Thinly slice beef against the grain into ⅓ inch thickness.
- Combine the beef slices with baking soda, water, cornstarch, soy sauces (light & dark), sugar and oil into a bowl. Set aside and let marinate for 10-15 minutes until most of the marinated liquid is absorbed.
Prepare ho fun noodles and sauce
- Take the fresh rice noodles out of the package. Gently separate the noodles and loosen with tongs or chopsticks. It’s important that the wide rice noodles are stretchy and warm before frying.
- If the noodles are cold, they most likely will be stiff and stuck together into one giant lump. Heat them to separate the strands, separating cold rice noodles will just break and fall apart.
- Cover with a wet paper towel and microwave on high for 2 minutes. Remove and gently loosen the top layer of warmed up noodles with tongs/chopsticks. Repeat this a few times, loosening the layers of noodles each time until it’s all soft and loosened. For 2 lbs of fresh noodles, this might take about 4-5 rounds.
- Combine the soy sauces, oyster sauce, and beef broth in a bowl and set aside.
Stir fry beef and vegetables
- Heat a wok on medium/high heat. Add oil and heat for 30 seconds.
- Fry the marinated beef in one layer and let it sit to sear for about a minute. Once the beef starts to crust, flip and cook for another 30 seconds to a minute until the beef has just changed color. As the beef cooks, it will loosen from the wok. Remove from the wok, placing it back in the bowl and set aside.
- Add a bit more oil and half the ginger. Fry until fragrant – approximately 30 seconds.
- Add the sliced carrots, stir frying for about a minute before including half the minced garlic and the bok choy sprouts. Toss for another 2 minutes. Remove from the wok and set aside.
Stir fry ho fun noodles and finish the dish
- Add more oil and make sure the wok is nicely coated. Add the remaining ginger slices, minced garlic and whites of the green onions. Fry until fragrant – approximately 30 seconds.
- Add the fresh ho fun noodles, spreading it out as much as possible in one layer and let it sear for about 30 seconds. Add the green parts of the green onions.
- Using a metal spatula or chopsticks flip the rice noodles. If the rice noodles stick too much and/or start to tear, stop tossing and let the noodles fry for another 30 seconds. Add the Shaoxing wine by pouring it around the perimeter of the wok. Let sit for 15 seconds.
- Add the sauce mixture by pouring it around the perimeter of the wok. Lower the heat and wait for 30 seconds to a minute. The sauce will loosen up the noodles to allow for gentle tossing. Using a spatula, scoop and flip. Be careful and try not to rip too many noodles (some ripped ones are ok!). If your wok is still to dry and noodles aren’t loosening, add a little bit more water.
- Add back the beef and any juices, carrots and vegetables. Gently toss one more time.
- If the noodles and sauce appear too watery, add some cornstarch slurry a bit at a time to thicken the juices into a delicious sauce. I didn’t need any cornstarch with a hot wok but depending on your stovetop, you may have extra sauce you might want to thicken up.
- Stir in the sesame oil. Take a sample taste and add more soy sauce to taste. Garnish with sesame seeds if desired.
- Serve immediately with a side of chili oil or sriracha (optional).
Serve your saucy beef chow fun immediately. Garnish it with some sesame seeds and serve it family style with chilli oil and Sirarcha on the side.
Make Ahead Tips
Slice and marinate your beef the night before if you’re short on time the day of cooking. Prewash and cut your vegetables so everything is ready to go.
Saucy beef chow fun is best enjoyed the day of. Store any leftovers in an airtight container for up to two days. Reheat in the microwave on high for a few minutes stirring in between until heated through. The rice noodles unfortunately will soften and become mushier. It is still enjoyable nonetheless!
FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)
If they’re fresh, no need to cook them beforehand. If they’ve been refrigerated, you will need to warm them up to loosen them up before frying. Warm them up by covering them with a wet paper towel and microwaving them for 2 minutes over several rounds. Loosen up the warmed layer after every round. Please see preparing ho fun noodles section above.
The best wide flat rice noodles for stir frying is ho fun noodles (河粉). There are specific ones for frying and should have the Chinese character “fried” (炒) on the label. These ones are generally wider and thicker than pho noodles. They are also stretchier so they can handle more tossing and flipping. Fresh noodles are ideal because they are more chewy and have a bit of oil mixed in for easier frying. You can buy dried rice noodles and blanche them, but will tend to break apart more easily during frying.
Skirt steak, flank steak and hanger steak are all perfect for stir fry beef. These are all inexpensive cuts and economical. A striploin would be excessive and probably a waste in terms of cost since you’ll be slicing it. By velvetizing and cutting these butcher cuts of beef, you can still achieve tender, beefy, juicy slices for your stir fries.
In Cantonese, it called chow ngau huo (炒牛河). There are two types of beef noodles, one dry called “gon” (乾) and another one saucy or “sup” (濕).
Beef chow fun is more readily recognized as a dry fry style of beef with ho fun or wide rice noodles – collectively as “gon chow ngau huo” (乾炒牛河). The dry version is always simply done with bean sprouts. The saucy one (this recipe) is done with a seasonal vegetable and is called “sup chow ngua huo” (濕炒牛河) or “see choy ngua huo” (時菜牛河).
Chinese Saucy Beef Chow Fun with Vegetables
- 1 carbon steel wok (or large non stick skillet)
- 11 oz beef flank steak (see Note 1)
For the beef marinade
- ¼ tsp baking soda (optional)
- 3 Tbsp. water
- 1 tsp cornstarch
- 2 tsp dark soy sauce (see Note 2)
- 4 tsp light soy sauce
- 1 Tbsp. brown sugar (or cane sugar)
- 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce (optional)
- 1 Tbsp. grapeseed oil (or other neutral oil)
For the rest of the dish
- 2 lbs fresh flat rice noodles (see Note 3)
- 6 cloves garlic minced (divided)
- 5 slices of ginger (julienned) (divided) (see Note 4)
- 5 sprigs green onions (whites and green parts separated)
- 5 Shanghai bok choy sprouts (cut into quarters lengthwise) (see Note 5)
- ½ carrot thinly sliced (optional)
- 2 Tbsp. Shaoxing wine
- grapeseed oil for frying (or other neutral oil)
- sesame seeds (for garnishing)
- chili oil (for serving) (optional)
- Sriracha or chilli flakes (for serving) (optional)
For the sauce
- 2 Tbsp. light soy sauce
- 1 tsp dark soy sauce
- 2 tsp oyster sauce
- ½ cup unsalted beef broth (or chicken broth or water)
- 1 Tbsp. cornstarch (mixed with 3 Tbsp. of water to make a slurry) (optional) (I didn’t need this at all with a hot wok) (Note 6)
- 2 tsp sesame oil
Prepare the beef
- Thinly slice beef against the grain (see photos in post) about ⅓ inch thickness. Thinly sliced beef allows for the beef to cook quickly and remain tender.11 oz beef flank steak
- In a small bowl, toss the beef with baking soda, water, cornstarch, soy sauces (light & dark), sugar and oil11 oz beef flank steak, ¼ tsp baking soda, 3 Tbsp. water, 1 tsp cornstarch, 2 tsp dark soy sauce, 4 tsp light soy sauce, 1 Tbsp. brown sugar, 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce, 1 Tbsp. grapeseed oil
- Set aside and let marinate for 10-15 minutes until most of the marinated liquid is absorbed.
Prepare the fresh rice noodles and sauce
- Take the fresh rice noodles out of the package. Gently separate the noodles and loosen with tongs or chopsticks.
- If the noodles were purchased the day before or in the refrigerated section of the grocery store, they most likely will be stiff, cold and stuck together into one giant lump. Don’t try to loosen them up cold because they will break and fall apart. Also don’t try to fry them cold because you will break up most of the noodles during tossing.
- Gently heat the cold noodles by covering it with a wet paper towel and microwave on high for 2 minutes. Remove from the microwave and gently loosen the softened top layer of noodles with tongs/chopsticks. The noodles in the center will probably still be stiff and cold. Repeat a few times, loosening the layers of noodles until they are all softened and loosened (see photos in post).2 lbs fresh flat rice noodles
- Combine the soy sauces, oyster sauce, and beef broth in a bowl and set aside.2 Tbsp. light soy sauce, 1 tsp dark soy sauce, 2 tsp oyster sauce, ½ cup unsalted beef broth, 1 Tbsp. cornstarch
Stir fry beef and vegetables
- Heat a wok on medium/high heat. Add oil and heat for 30 seconds.grapeseed oil for frying
- Add the marinated beef in one layer and let it sit to sear for about a minute. Once the beef starts to crust, flip and cook for another 30 seconds to a minute until the beef has just changed color. Remove from the wok and set aside. (Note 7)11 oz beef flank steak
- Add a bit more oil. Add half the ginger and fry until fragrant – approximately 30 seconds.5 slices of ginger (julienned) (divided)
- Add the sliced carrots and stir fry for about a minute. Add half the minced garlic, and the bok choy sprouts and toss for another 2 minutes. Remove from the wok and set aside.6 cloves garlic minced (divided), ½ carrot thinly sliced, 5 Shanghai bok choy sprouts
Stir fry rice noodle and finish the dish
- Add more oil and make sure the wok is nicely coated. Add the remaining ginger slices, white parts of the green onion and minced garlic. Fry until fragrant – approximately 30 seconds.6 cloves garlic minced (divided), 5 slices of ginger (julienned) (divided), grapeseed oil for frying, 5 sprigs green onions (whites and green parts separated)
- Add the fresh rice noodles in one layer and let it sear for about 30 seconds.2 lbs fresh flat rice noodles
- Using a metal spatula or chopsticks flip the rice noodles. If the rice noodles stick too much and/or start to tear, stop tossing and let the noodles fry for another 30 seconds. Add the Shaoxing wine by pouring it around the perimeter of the wok. Let sit for 15 seconds.2 Tbsp. Shaoxing wine
- Add the sauce mixture by pouring it around the perimeter of the wok. Lower the heat and wait for 30 seconds to a minute. The sauce will loosen up the noodles to allow for gentle tossing. Using a spatula, scoop and flip. Be careful and try not to rip too many noodles (some ripped ones are ok!). (Note 8)
- Add back the beef and any juices, carrots and vegetables. Gently toss one more time. Add the green parts of the green onion.
- If the noodles and sauce appear too watery, add some cornstarch slurry a bit at a time to thicken the juices into a delicious sauce. I didn’t need any cornstarch with a hot wok but depending on your stovetop and heat you may have extra sauce you might want to thicken up.
- Stir in the sesame oil. Take a sample taste and add more soy sauce to taste. Garnish with sesame seeds if desired.sesame seeds, 2 tsp sesame oil
- Serve immediately with a side of chili oil, chilli flakes and/or sriracha (optional).chili oil, Sriracha or chilli flakes
- Beef flank steak is usually the most popular choice because it’s readily available in most grocery stores. You can also use skirt steak and hanger steak. These cuts have loose grains to absorb your flavorings and also have a great beefy flavor. You don’t want to use striploin or more expensive cuts since you’re slicing it thin and quickly cooking it.
- Dark soy sauce is more bitter and earthy and gives a lovely dark brown color. If you don’t have dark soy, just omit it.
- Fresh flat noodles are more chewy and soak up the juices really nicely. They are sold in bags here in Toronto but could also come in sheets you need to cut into strips. The key is too look for the word “炒” on the label to make sure the rice noodles are intended for frying and not for noodle soup. These are generally thicker and can handle a bit more tossing.
- I like to fry strips of ginger and enjoy it in my noodles. You can also grate the ginger instead for a milder taste.
- Shanghai bok choy is sweet and mild and adds a nice textural crunch to the noodles. You can also use yu choy or regular bok choy which is also commonly used in Chinese restaurants. These are leafy, bright green with a nice crunchy stem. Check substitutions for more ideas!
- Cornstarch slurry is usually added in the Chinese restaurant version. You can add more broth to the sauce mixture to thicken it with the slurry if you prefer more sauce. I usually omit the slurry for my home version by adding less water as personal preference.
- This is called the “pass through oil” technique. You want to make sure the surface of the wok is coated nicely in oil and the pan is super hot before adding the beef. This will ensure a nice crust. Initially the beef will stick to the wok but will loosen once it’s cooked. As soon as the beef fully changes color, remove from heat. The beef will continue to cook as it rests and you will toss it back in at the end. So it’s important to not overcook it during the “pass through oil”.
- If your noodles are still not loosening, add a bit more water to deglaze your wok.