I ate Chinese broccoli (芥兰, jiè lán) twice on my last trip to China, and each time it was served exactly the same way: as a side dish, laid out with the stems all shaved and parallel with one other, a little overcooked, and doused in oyster sauce. That’s definitely one way to serve gai lan, but the vegetable is actually quite versatile and lends itself to many different uses.
Despite being predominately leaves instead of florets, gai lan tastes much like western broccoli. From that standpoint you could use it in any recipe that calls for broccoli. Here, the distinctive broccoli flavor goes very well with the tender chicken and the salty, rich fermented black beans (豆豉, dòuchǐ).
The chicken is first cooked with the “velvet” technique, in which it is marinated in rice wine, egg white, and corn starch, and then blanched briefly.
“Velveting” the chicken keeps the pieces soft, tender, and juicy; stir-frying them doesn’t dry them out at all.
Don’t be afraid of the stems of Chinese broccoli. The stems aren’t as tough as they look and they’re quite flavorful. I sliced the stems on the diagonal for this recipe and mixed them in with the leaves.
Fermented black beans have a very rich and savory flavor that always reminds me of miso, chocolate, and coffee. They’re a bit salty, so some cooks rinse them before using. I don’t find that necessary for this recipe.
Finally, here are all the ingredients lined up and ready to go next to the stove.
The single most time-consuming part of this recipe is boiling the water to blanch the Chinese broccoli and to velvet the chicken. On the whole, it is pretty straightforward and goes quickly.
INGREDIENTS and PREP:
- 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces and marinated for 25 minutes in a mixture of 1 egg white, 1 Tbsp Shaoxing rice wine, and 1 tsp corn starch
- 4 cloves garlic and 1/2 inch ginger, mined finely
- 1/2 red onion, cut into small crescent-shaped slices
- 1.5 Tbsp fermented black beans (豆豉, dòuchǐ), coarsely chopped
- 1 Tbsp light soy sauce, 1 Tbsp dark soy sauce, 1/4 cup chicken stock, 1/2 tsp sesame oil, and 1 tsp corn starch, all mixed well together
- 1/4 lb Chinese broccoli (芥兰, jiè lán), cut into 1″ pieces and blanched for 1 minute, then drained in a colander
- Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the chicken pieces (#1) and boil for 1 minute, then drain in a colander.
- Heat your wok until barely smoking. Then add 1 Tbsp peanut oil and swirl it around. Then add the chicken and stir-fry for about a minute. Then add the garlic and ginger (#2) and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add the red onion (#3) and stir-fry for about 45 seconds.
- Turn the heat to medium and add the black beans (#4); stir-fry for about 30 seconds.
- Pour in the sauce (#5) and stir well to incorporate. Then turn off the heat and fold in the Chinese broccoli (#6) and serve.
VARIATIONS: Add other vegetables like chopped red or green peppers. Add 1 tsp chili oil to the sauce. Add 1 Tbsb peanut butter to the sauce.