There really is a pleasant kind of “down the rabbit hole” feeling when trying to translate the names for Chinese vegetables into English. Speakers of American English will recognize the leaves in this dish as bok choy, sometimes called Chinese cabbage. The English name comes from 白菜 (báicài), which is Cantonese for white vegetable. In mainland China, however, it is known as 油菜 (yóucài), or oil vegetable, since cooking oil can be pressed from the seeds. Complicating matters, the English term “Chinese cabbage” refers both to bok choy and napa cabbage, with the latter being called 白菜 (báicài) by mainland Chinese. Get that? Both 白菜 (báicài) and Chinese cabbage refer to different vegetables based on where you are when you use the terms.
This recipe calls for bok choy, 白菜 (báicài) in Cantonese or 油菜 (yóucài) in Mandarin. In any event, it’s Brassica chinensis, a vascular spermatophyte described d by Shiu-ying Hu (2005) as having:
“… radical leaves, forming a rosette with erect fleshy, white petioles, individual plants weighing 225-260 rarely up to 800 g, laminas varying with the cultivars, orbicular, oblong-ovate or obovate, 20-50 cm long, 15-20 cm wide, dark green generally, some cultivars having light green laminas, petioles 7-20 cm long, 2.5-2 cm wide across the base, 5-8 mm thick, cauline leaves clasping; flowers yellow, in elongated racemes, siliques cylindrical, 5-10 cm long, 7 mm across, beaks slender, 2 cm long; seeds brown or yellow.”
That should clear things up. In any event, bok choy has a mild and light flavor, neither as acidic nor as delicate as spinach, but just as tasty. Cooks will often stir-fry bok choy on its own, with spices and a light sauce. But it also goes well as a contrasting element in a stir-fry, as you can see here.
Start with a big bunch of bok choy. Wash thoroughly, because the plants often have dirt inside the stems; then cut.
You will also need some aromatic spices minced into small bits all about the same size.
In addition to this you’ll need chicken, Laoganma black bean chile oil, and the ingredients for the sauce. See below.
INGREDIENTS and PREP:
- 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into bite-sized pieces and marinated for 25 minutes in a mixture of 1 Tbsp Shaoxing rice wine, 2 tsp soy sauce, and 1 Tbsp potato flour
- 1/4″ ginger, 1 fresh green chili pepper (such as a Thai chili, jalapeño, or serrano), and 4 cloves garlic; all mined finely together
- 1 Tbsp Lao Gan Ma spicy black bean chili oil (老干妈黑豆辣椒油, lǎogànmā hēi dòu làjiāo yóu)
- 1 lb bok choy, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 1/4 cup chicken stock, 1 Tbsp dark soy sauce, 1 tsp Shanxi black vinegar (山西老陈醋, Shānxī lǎo chéncù), mixed together
- Heat your wok until barely smoking. Then add 1 Tbsp peanut oil and swirl it around. Then add the chicken mixture (#1) and let it cook undisturbed for about 1 minute until almost totally opaque. Then stir-fry for another minute so that the chicken is cooked through on all sides.
- Add the ginger, chile, and garlic (#2) and stir-fry everything for about 30 seconds. Add the Lau Gan Ma chili oil (#3) and stir-fry for another 30 seconds.
- Next, add the bok choy (#4) and stir-fry for about a minute, until the leaves turn bright green and begin to wilt.
- Pour in the sauce (#5) and stir until everything is hot and coated and the sauce has thickened a bit.
VARIATIONS: Use napa cabbage or any hardy green instead of bok choy. Play with the spices and the aromatics to taste; for a milder dish, replace the Lao Gan Ma chili oil with black bean paste.