How to buy Gai Lan
It’s easy to pick out the best Gai Lan, or to see if it is fresh and tender. Select a bunch, look at the ends of the stalk. If they are dry, crusted and shriveled. Don’t buy. The middle of the stalk should ideally be one color – a creamy, translucent color. If you see a solid white circle in the middle of the stalk, it may mean the Gai Lan is a little old. It still could be good – look at the leaves and the buds for more clues to how fresh it is. Why is this so important? You briefly steam the Gai Lan so that it is tender crisp, so if the vegetable is old, you’ll really taste the bitterness.
Most Gai Lan have white flowers, though there are varieties that include both white and yellow flowers (probably a cross between gai lan and Chinese greens called yu choy) The flower buds should be tight and compact – there should be buds not open flowers. Lots and lots of open flowers means the stalk is older and past its prime for eating and it will be more bitter and chewy.
As with many Chinese stir-fry dishes, the ginger in this dish is cut into 1/8″ coins – the large pieces gently infuse the cooking oil and aren’t necessarily meant for eating. When we cook family-style, my Mom just leaves the ginger coins in the finished dish, and we just push them out of the way when we eat. Of course, you can remove them prior to serving if you’d like. The whole garlic also infuses the cooking oil and after toasting, it becomes soft and wonderfully sweet. Sometimes, I double the amount of garlic cloves because I just love eating the cloves of garlic!
Chinese Broccoli Recipe (Gai Lan)
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
1 1/2 tablespoons cooking oil
5 whole garlic cloves, peeled and gently smashed but left intact
1/4 cup vegetable stock
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine (or dry sherry)
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 inch of fresh ginger, cut into 1/8" coins and smashed with side of cleaver
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
To wash the gai lan, trim 1-inch from the ends of stalk and discard. In large wok or pan (large enough to hold all stalks), heat just 1 tablespoon of the cooking oil over medium heat. When the oil is just starting to get hot (the garlic should sizzle upon contact) add the whole garlic cloves and let them fry until golden brown on all sides. Be careful not to burn the garlic, you just want to toast them - if the garlic starts turning dark brown, turn the heat to low. Toasting the garlic should take about 2 minutes. While the garlic is toasting, in a small bowl mix the stock, wine and sugar and set aside.
Turn the heat to high and add the ginger, fry for 30 seconds. Add the gai lan stalks and use your spatula to scoop up the oil so that every stalk has been bathed with the ginger/garlic-infused oil for 30 seconds.
Pour the stock mixture into the wok and immediately cover the wok with a tight fitting lid. Turn the heat to medium and let the vegetable steam for 3-4 minutes, until stalks can be easily pierced with a paring knife or fork.
Remove the gai lan to a plate, leaving any remaining stock mixture in the wok. If you want, pick out and discard the ginger coins. To the wok, add the oyster sauce and sesame oil and bubble and thicken on high for 1 minute. Pour the sauce mixture over the gai lan and serve.