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 (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.
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 (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.