Blanch or stir-fry Chinese broccoli (芥兰，Gai Lan) drizzled with oyster sauce is served in high-end restaurants as well as an easy home cooked dish.
Chinese broccoli is a leafy vegetable with broad flat leaves and fat stems. It looks different from the regular broccoli and has a bitter note. It belongs to the same family of the regular broccoli but with no florets, and the stalk has a crunchy texture resembles asparagus. The leaves are thick and chewy, which will soak up all the flavors of the sauce.
There are varieties of species, which are all suitable to be used in this Chinese broccoli recipe. I like the Hong Kong Chinese broccoli, which looks great when served. In fact, most of the restaurants in Malaysia use this species for their Hong Kong Gai Lan dish. Baby Chinese broccoli is more tender and tastes great, but it may not look so gorgeous on the dining table. The choice is entirely up to you.
If you can’t find this vegetable, substitute it with broccolini, which is the crossbreed of Chinese and regular broccoli.
This article explains how to cook Chinese broccoli by following a few simple steps. If you do it correctly, you should be able to produce the vegetable that is crispy, drizzle with the sauce that flavored with whole garlic and sliced ginger in less than fifteen minutes.
Let’s get started.
Tips on how to cook Chinese broccoli
Here is a list of important tips about the ingredients and the way it should be prepared:
1. The oyster sauce
I have to admit that this gai lan recipe is oversimplified and gives the impression that it only involves oyster sauce. In fact, the sauce is a combination of a list of ingredients, with oyster sauce as the main ingredients. You will miss out on the authentic flavor of the dish if you miss this point.
2. Don’t forget to add sugar
Unlike regular broccoli, Chinese broccoli has a slightly bitter note. Hence, it is always necessary to add a small amount of sugar to balance the bitterness. Combine a small amount of sugar with the oyster sauce dramatically improves the overall flavor of the dish.
3. Use a good quality light soy sauce
Soy sauce has powerful umami which can pump up the overall flavor of the Gai Lan. Use the premium grade light soy sauce along with oyster sauce boosts up the taste.
You can use the vegetarian version of the oyster sauce (make with mushroom) if you prefer a vegetarian dish.
4. Sesame oil
Add a dash of sesame oil to the above ingredients once it the sugar is dissolved and away from heat. Sesame oil will lose its flavor due to prolonged heating.
5. Sauté the garlic and ginger
Ginger and garlic are your secret ingredients to flavor the Chinese broccoli.
You may want to saute the whole cloves of garlic uncut. The garlic cloves can be served together with the vegetables. On the other hand, sautéing the finely chopped garlic until golden brown and crispy. Keep it at low flame as it can burn easily. Remove the garlic and use the infused vegetable oil to stir-fry the vegetables.
The ginger pieces should be cut into a disk shape of about 1/8 inch thick and sautéing with the oil.
The aromatics infuse the oil, similar to preparing agleo e oleo pasta, that the garlic oil is the vital part of the overall flavor.
You may want to double the quantity of ginger and garlic in the Chinese broccoli recipe if you prefer a stronger flavor.
6. How to choose Chinese broccoli
Here is the quick guide on how to choose the Chinese broccoli in case you are not familiar with it
- Choose the bunch with smaller stalks, which is more tender and less fibery. The ‘Hong Kong’ Chinese broccoli is generally less fiber and small in size. Old Chinese broccoli has a bigger stalk and is bitter and stringy.
- The leaves should be bright green.
- The flower buds should be closed. Open flower buds mean the vegetable is no longer fresh.
7. Trim the Chinese broccoli
Cut off the stem. The stalk is much longer than regular broccoli. Trim off the fibery outer layer of the stalk. You can do so either with the paring knife or a vegetable peeler.
Two methods to cook: Blanching versus stir-frying
There are two ways to cook the Chinese broccoli, both are quick and easy.
Method 1- Blanching
Blanch the vegetables in a wok or stockpot filled with boiling water with some oil. The oil will coat on the vegetables and leave a glossy sheen. Here is how to blanch the Chinese broccoli.
Add some salt to flavor the water. I use approximately one liter of water with a teaspoon of salt for the amount in the Chinese broccoli recipe. Include a quarter teaspoon of baking soda too. Baking soda increases the pH of the water and will ensure the vegetables stay green throughout the cooking.
Blanch the vegetable for three minutes or until it is tender. How long it takes depends on the size of the stalk. Bigger stalks needed to cook longer naturally. Pick up one to try is the best way to decide when you should remove it from the water.
Blanching the vegetables with some baking soda will ensure the color remain attractive while serving. This is the preferred method if it is served in the restaurant.
Method 2 – Stir-frying
If you do not want to blanch the Chinese broccoli, you can simplify the process by sauteing it. Here is how to steam the Chinese broccoli and stir-fry it at the same time,
Stir-fry the Chinese broccoli with the garlic and ginger oil in a wok until tender but remains crispy.
I prefer to stir-fry the vegetable for a minute, follow by adding two tablespoons of water and put on the wok cover. Let the vegetable steam for three minutes and remove the lid. By then, the water should have evaporated.
The actual timing depends on the size of the vegetables. Pick up one to try if you want to be sure it cooks perfectly.
How to serve
To serve, arrange the vegetables on a plate and cut them crosswise into two. Drizzle the sauce on top. Garnish with the fried garlic.
Related recipes to Chinese broccoli (gai lan)
If you like this gai lan recipe, you should also check out some related recipes on this blog:Vegetable stir-fry is a quick and easy Chinese dish. Stir-frying adds a whole new dimension to your plain vegetables, only if you do it right. This article shows you how to blanch the vegetable before stir-frying to get the best result.Chinese eggplant is tricky to cook because it changes color quickly easily turns soggy. This recipe shows you all the tricks to keep the color vibrant and preventing them from absorbing too much oil.Chicken and broccoli stir-fry is a breeze to prepare, all within half an hour or less. If you like Chinese broccoli, chances are you will also like this ‘regular’ dish.