‘Chinese Broccoli’ with Oyster Sauce

I cheated a little with this one. Usually when I make seasonal/local substitutions for international recipes, the title of the dish isn’t altered beyond recognition… I chose to call this by the original name, but the main ingredient (and star of the title) has been subbed out with a mix of seasonal Brassica oleracea from the Islington farmer’s market—beautiful purple sprouting broccoli, cabbage sprouts, and kale flowers. Purple sprouting broccoli is something I’d never encountered before coming here, and it’s like the punk cousin of broccolini with a dye job. The kale flower stalks tend to be a bit tough, but they’re far too pretty to hold it against them.

Chinese Broccoli with Oyster Sauce

Chinese Broccoli with Oyster Sauce

Chinese broccoli (kai lan) has a strong broccoli flavour, but is—with its thick stems and flat leaves—visually dissimilar to the broccoli we’re familiar with in the Western world. Steaming or blanching it with oyster sauce (蠔油芥蘭) is a common way of preparing it, and is often made as a vegetable dish to accompany any meal. Some recipes blanch the kai lan and serve it with separately prepared oyster sauce poured overtop, but my mum always steam-blanches them in the sauce itself so that it imparts the flavours to the stalks during the cooking process. If you don’t have access to good fresh kai lan, it’s possible to make this dish with any similar stalky greens in the Brassica oleracea family. I’ve made this before with some lovely broccolini, which is actually a cross between broccoli and kai lan.

Chinese Broccoli with Oyster Sauce

The tenderness of the sprouting broccoli’s flowering heads is different from the crunchier kai lan, but the flavour still works very well with oyster sauce—which isn’t a concoction of pureed oysters, for those of you who are skeptical. A byproduct of cooking oysters, it’s a thick savoury sauce with added sugar and salt. The familiar Cantonese/Thai/Cambodian/Vietnamese flavour profile is one I’m fond of, and personally reminds me nothing of fresh oysters. If you’re still doubtful, I’ll point out that you’ve almost certainly had it before if you’ve ever had chow mein or even American-Chinese takeout—surprise! There are vegetarian versions that use mushrooms (yep, often oyster mushrooms), but either way it’s a great umami addition to many vegetable, meat, and starch dishes alike. Embrace it—or at least give it a go. Start with this!

Chinese Broccoli with Oyster Sauce

Chinese Broccoli with Oyster Sauce

Chinese Broccoli with Oyster Sauce (蠔油芥蘭)

  • 1 T vegetable oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 1 inch ginger, crushed
  • 250g (½ lb) Chinese Broccoli / Purple Sprouting Broccoli / Cabbage Sprouts / Broccolini
  • ¼ cup vegetable stock (recipe here) / water
  • 1 T Chinese rice wine
  • ¼ t unrefined sugar
  • 2 T oyster sauce
  • ¼ t sesame oil

Heat oil in a wok or large frying pan over medium heat. And add garlic, toasting until golden. Turn down the heat if necessary, as garlic will burn quickly. Toss in ginger and fry for about 30 seconds before adding in the stalks of broccoli, turning in the pan so that each stalk is coated with infused oil.
Pour the mixture of stock, wine, and sugar into the wok and cover immediately to let the vegetables steam for 4-5 minutes, adding more water/stock as necessary until the stalks are tender.
Add the oyster sauce and sesame oil, cooking uncovered until bubbly and thickened.

Chinese Broccoli with Oyster Sauce

Chinese Broccoli with Oyster Sauce

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37 Responses to ‘Chinese Broccoli’ with Oyster Sauce

  1. Monet says:

    Goodness, what stunning photographs. I don’t know what is more alluring…these pictures or your words! You have such a way of capturing the minute details of food and preparation. Thank you for sharing. We love oyster sauce, and I have no doubt we’d love this dish.

  2. Hannah says:

    I love your chopping board! Where did you get it from?
    Such pretty greens :)

  3. Joanne says:

    I’ve seen this being sold here in the spring before and love the idea of using it as a substitute for chinese broccoli! It is just so pretty!

  4. The sprouting broccoli flowering heads make me weak. This bundle of goodness is stunning and I can not imagine eating anything else!

  5. Stunning photos, my dear friend!! And I love baby kai lan with oyster sauce or chili garlic sauce. This looks divine :)

  6. Caz says:

    This looks so delicious and the photos are amazing! What a lovely mix of vegetables. The kale flowers are so pretty, I’ve never tried them before.

    • wandercrush says:

      Thanks, Caz! They really are so beautiful that they wouldn’t seem particularly edible upon sighting in a market. They have a sweet cabbage-y taste, though. You should take some home next time you spot any :)

  7. shuhan says:

    These photos are stunning. Really really really love the photos of the broccoli, and the method too, though simple is classic and how my mum would do her veggies! Love!

  8. Gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous!I don’t think I’ve ever seen purple sprouting broccoli before

  9. Love that cutting board! Lovely photos, and recipe too.

    • wandercrush says:

      Thanks Grace! Hahah, isn’t it great? My friend gave it to me for Christmas last year because she knows me all too well. I just put up a link to the cutting board in my About section in case you were wondering.

  10. Helena says:

    Oh, don’t even know why I didn’t check your blog before ! It’s full of good ideas (I’d already like to make all first page recipes) with beautiful, so arty pictures !
    Anyway last time I wanted to try Chinese broccoli, I’ve been mistaking it with another Asian green… But I’ll keep your recipe in mind, as well as your substitution suggestions ! Love your way to prepare these veggies, it should impart great flavor and texture to them.

    • wandercrush says:

      Thank you so much, Helena! I’m equally happy to have you here. I haven’t been at it for very long, which might explain why you hadn’t found it before today. Anyway, I hope you get to try Chinese broccoli eventually; it has such a lovely sweetness and crispness in the stalks, especially when only briefly blanched or steamed.

      • Helena says:

        Hm, your words make it sound even more inviting ! Anyway I’m sure I’d like it as much as I love Asian veggies, so fresh and green even by their taste.

  11. I love Chinese broccoli! What a beautiful dish. Thanks

  12. Magda says:

    What a great recipe. I love the simplicity of dishes like this one.
    I love your photography by the way! :)

    • wandercrush says:

      Cheers, Magda! Really happy to see you here—your blog is like a lovely little time-space continuum of my trip to Greece a few months ago… I go there whenever I miss the food, which is more than I’d like to admit to myself!

  13. Such beautiful photos, Irina. And the dish sounds delicious! I love borccoli and oyster sauce together (I’m kind of obsessed with the Thai dish pad see yu that has the same main components plus noodles!) I love the look of the Chinese broccoli, so open and tall and flowing. I’ll have to find some seeds for them and grow them this winter, such a lovely vegetable variety.

    • wandercrush says:

      Oooh, unlimited garden access to kai lan really does sound amazing. I can hardly wait until I move out of student accommodation and get my own garden space. Thanks for your lovely comment as usual, Eva!

  14. Trixpin says:

    Wow. You have the most beautiful blog! I was scrolling down your blogroll and kept meaning to stop and comment but each time had to look at the next post.
    I can’t wait to see more :)

  15. So glad you stopped by my blog so I could find you! This recipe looks awesome. Chinese broccoli is one of my absolute favorite veggies!

  16. How beautiful is that broccoli? Love this :-)

  17. Sissi says:

    So simple, but so beautiful! I haven’t tasted Chinese broccoli flowers yet though I have been reading about them quite a lot. The violet broccoli is completely new to me.
    Oyster sauce or fish sauce or squid sauce are wonderful seasonings, but in hot dishes it’s a bit like anchovies in a beef stew: everything tastes better, there is something there… but you don’t know exactly what. Personally, I also love fish sauce in a cold green papaya Vietnamese salad where it really smells strong. I find the smell addictive.

    • wandercrush says:

      Thank you, Sissi! Yep, they’re definitely things you should try when you get a chance.
      So true regarding the seafood-sauces…it just adds a layer of savoury umami and complexity, almost in the same way that cocoa powder adds depth to dishes like chilli con carne. I’m going to Thailand soon and CANNOT wait to have all their fish sauce inundated dishes!

  18. Brittany says:

    Giiiirl. I am smitten for these shots, especially the 2nd one.

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