Bok choy is probably the more well-known and commonly used Chinese vegetable in stir fries but I like eating gai lan and find it much more flavoursome. Gai lan (also known as Chinese broccoli) is a slightly bitter leaf vegetable featuring thick, flat, glossy blue-green leaves with crisp and thick stems. The taste of gai lan is similar to broccoli but a bit sweeter. You will find gai lan served at Dim Sim.
Gai lan is great simply cooked with some crushed garlic, ginger, salt, fish sauce and oyster sauce.
Prepare the gai lan by chopping it into 4-5cm lengths, washing and separating the leaves from the stems (the bottom of the stem is quite thick and can be tough so I like to peel the skin off so that it is easier to eat).
Heat up a wok, add in some oil and fry some garlic and ginger for a few seconds. Add in the gai lan stems, some water and stir fry for a 2-3 minutes until the stems turn a nice dark green colour. Add in the gai lan leaves and fry for a 20-30 seconds. Then add in a little salt, fish sauce and oyster sauce. Stir-fry everything together, then thicken the sauce with some corn flour mixed with a little water. (Note: do not overcook the gai lan, the stems should have a satisfying crunch when you bite into them)
Oyster sauce nicely complements the taste of gai lan. When I was a kid, whenever my mum cooked gai lan I would pour myself a little saucer of oyster sauce, pick up pieces of gai lan stems and then dip it in oyster sauce and eat it (like dipping a potato chip in tomato sauce). So I got a double dose of oyster sauce with my gai lan, once as seasoning in the stir fry and then as a dip.
I prefer to eat the gai lan stems and my mum would always reserve the stems for me to eat and she would eat the leaves. When I was young I thought that this was because she liked eating the gai lan leaves but as I got older I realized that she gave away the best part of the gai lan to me and ate whatever was left over. I guess all parents do this, like when you eat a whole chicken with your family and all the parts of the chicken get divided up - the kids get the drumsticks and chicken wings (the best parts) and dad ends up eating the chickens arse.
Gai lan also goes very well with beef. Cook using the method above but stir fry some thinly sliced beef first until about medium rare, leaving some pink in the meat. Remove from wok and set aside. Then add the beef back into the wok after adding in the gai lan leaves.
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