Monday 20 October 2014

Stir Fried Beef with Gai Lan (Chinese Broccoli)

Also known as "Stir Fried Beef with Bram's favourite vegetable". Okay, that might be a stretch... I don't know if I could ever decide on just one favourite vegetable, but gai lan would be high on the list. It is so wholesome, robust and delicious. It's almost like if broccoli and collard greens had a baby, it would be gai lan. Some call it kai-lan, Chinese broccoli, Chinese kale and even Chinese Cabbage. Whatever you call it, it should be on your next grocery list. The stalks are slightly crispier and it's flavour is slightly more bitter than it's broccoli relative. It pairs so beautifully with strips of lean steak jacked up with garlic, ginger, soy sauce, fish sauce and sesame oil. This is a classic Chinese pairing and one of my favourite dishes found in the cuisine. I have to be honest, although I have made many Asian dishes in my career, Asian cuisine generally intimidates me. There is so much uncharted territory and I have much yet to learn. Luckily this recipe is a very basic, very simple approach to a popular favourite. 

Let's begin by getting a little more acquainted with gai lan. 

Unlike broccoli, most of the greenery comes in the form of broad, flat leaves which remind me most of collard greens (another fave of mine). The stems are thick and very crunchy. Most gai lan will have small florets throughout, which resemble the florets you would find on common broccoli.

Gai lan can be found in most Asian markets but some larger common chains will carry it. It's just coming in season now so you might have better luck finding it now than, say, spring or early summer. You could replace it with broccolini in this recipe. Broccolini is actually a hybrid of gai lan and traditional broccoli only it doesn't have the same flat, broad leaves.

This recipe, you may be surprised to learn, has no added salt. Seriously. How can a meat and veggie dish not call for salt? Well, the marinade for the beef (which is also the sauce) is made up two-thirds of soy sauce and fish sauce. Both are quite salty on their own. As the beef cooks, the sauce will reduce. As the sauce reduces the flavours concentrate, including the saltiness. Any other salt really isn't necessary. Once the dish is finished cooking you may taste and add a pinch more salt if you prefer, but you likely won't need to. You could even get away with not adding any pepper to this. The sauce alone has a lot of balanced flavour on its own. I happen to really enjoy pepper, so you will find it in this recipe.


1 lb of lean steak, thinly sliced
1 lb of gai lan, roughly chopped
5 garlic cloves, sliced
2" piece of ginger, peeled and cut into matchsticks
2 tbsp toasted sesame seed oil
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp oil, for frying
Sesame seeds, for garnish 
Fresh ground pepper (optional) 

Begin by roughly chopping the gai lan. One thing about gai lan is that it has thick stems, thin stems, broad leaves and tiny florets. It's kind of all over the place, which makes chopping it into even pieces a small challenge. I recommend chopping it thusly...


A diagonal chop through the thicker stems, larger chops for the thinner stems and halve or even third the larger broad leaves. If you end up with a collection of the cuts you see above then you're on the right track.

Take your a lean 1 lb (0.5 kg) steak and cut into thin slices. In hindsight, I should have sliced mine thinner. The strips in the photograph are about 1/2" thick but you're better off with 1/4". As fellow Canadian, Alanis Morissette, once yodeled, "You live, you learn".

If you desire, season the beef with some fresh ground pepper. Combine the ginger matchsticks with the sesame oil, soy sauce and fish sauce. That is your marinade/sauce (told you this was simple). Marinate the slices of steak in the marinade for at least 30 minutes.

The gai lan is actually cooked separately from the beef at first. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Drop the gai lan in the boiling water to blanch for 2 minutes. Drain thoroughly before the upcoming next step.

In a wok (though a skillet or pan can be used) warm over medium-high heat before adding a tbsp of oil. Add the sliced garlic to the oil and sautée until the garlic just begins to take on a golden brown colour. 

Pour in the beef with all of the ginger and marinade. Stir fry until the beef is cooked through. During this time the sauce will reduce and concentrate. Please note that by this time your blanched gai lan should be drained and ready.

Add the blanched gai lan to the beef and stir fry for about thirty seconds. Remove from heat and serve with steamed rice or noodles. Before serving, sprinkle the dish with sesame seeds for garnish and texture.

If you have never tried this dish before I whole heartedly recommend that you tackle this at home. In fact, part of me is kinda jealous of your first taste of this. This is tremendous Chinese flavour at its most user-friendly. Don't let this recipe pass you by.

Food By Bram is more than ever up and running so expect to see more gems unfold in the near future. I'm looking forward to seeing you all again soon.

My best to everyone,

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