How to cook Chinese broccoli 如何料理芥兰菜

Learn how to cook Chinese broccoli, also known as gai lan.

Chinese broccoli is the common English name for Brassica oleracea var. alboglabra. The Chinese name is 芥兰 pronounced jie lan in Chinese and gai lan in Cantonese. Gai lan is more commonly used in Southeast Asia.

The Chinese broccoli is a green leafy vegetable with thick flat leaves with thick round stems. The texture of the stem is similar to broccoli. The leaves can be quite tough and bitter. Sizes can vary.

Gai lan contains high levels of carotene and Vitamin C. Regular consumption can help with lowering cholesterol and enhancing cardiovascular health.

Chinese broccoli is suitable for everyone, especially pregnant ladies. It helps to trigger appetite, prevent constipation and anaemia. It contains higher levels of calcium and potassium, which are important for foetal development. Adding Chinese broccoli into baby food can support the digestive system and Vitamin C supplementation.

It is also important in geriatric nutrition. The various vitamins, minerals and trace elements in Chinese broccoli assist in lowering cholesterol, cardiovascular health, eye care and hydration.

How to choose Chinese broccoli

When choosing gai lan, pick the ones that have dark green leaves with glossy stems. Avoid those with yellowing leaves and limp stems. It is also better to choose the smaller ones unless you are planning to make creamed soup or chop up the vegetables.

The cooking video below explains how to select Chinese broccoli.

Chinese broccoli alternative

It is easy to mix Chinese broccoli up with bok choy 小白菜 (xiao bai cai) or choy sum 菜心 (cai xin). They do look similar. 

Choy sum and bok choy can be interchangeable used in most Chinese soups. The difference in taste and texture may not be that significant. Gai lan is a different story. I would not recommend substituting choy sum or bok choy with gai lan.

Gai Lan Recipes

Common cooking techniques include in soups, blanched and stir-fried. Here are some gai lan recipes for your consideration. 

Gai lan soup

Chinese broccoli is seldom used in soups because there are more popular soup vegetables. 

The cooking video below features a soup recipe using an assortment of meatballs. If the stems are large, do peel and cut them up to speed up the cooking time, like the video below. It is also easier to eat. 

Blanched Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce

Common complaints of gai lan is that the leaves can be bitter and tough. The stems can be fibrous. The main issue is over cooking. The vegetables look large so most people over-estimate the amount of time needed. When blanching, it only needs a maximum of 2 minutes. When stir-frying, the leaves only need 30 seconds.

Ingredients 

  • 300g Chinese broccoli
  • 3 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • Sesame seed oil
  • Big pot of water
  • Cooking oil 
  • Salt

Directions

  1. Soak and wash the Chinese broccoli
  2. Prepare the vegetables by peeling the tough stems and cutting them to size
  3. Bring a big pot of water to a boil
  4. Add a tbsp of cooking oil and a pinch of salt
  5. Add the vegetables into the pot and cook for about 1 to 2 minutes
  6. Remove and drain for use
  7. Heat up a saucepan and add the sesame seed oil
  8. Add the oyster sauce and mix well
  9. Add 3 to 4 tbsp of the water used to blanch the gai lan and mix well to form a thin gravy
  10. Plate the Chinese broccoli on the serving plate 
  11. Drizzle the oyster sauce gravy over them before serving 

I like the way the chef in the cooking video below prepares the oyster sauce for a plate of blanched gai lan.

Stir fry gai lan

Chinese broccoli can be stir-fried on its own. Adding cooking wine and sugar when stir-frying Chinese broccoli helps to cut down the bitterness of the leaves. Another popular way to sweeten the dish is to add oyster sauce. It is a multi-purpose condiment that contains sugar, wine and salt.

Ingredients

  • 300g Chinese broccoli
  • 3-5 cloves garlic, chopped
  • Salt
  • Sugar (optional)
  • Cooking oil 

Directions

  1. Soak and wash the Chinese broccoli. Check the bottom of the stem. If it is dry and splitting, remove by slicing the bottom off. Then, separate the leaves from the main stem. Cut the leaves in half or leave them whole depending on the size. Peel the outer skin of the stem as they can be quite tough and fibrous. Then, slice them diagonally into bite-sized pieces. Give all the leaves and stems another good rinse and drain.
  2. Heat up a saute pan or wok and add 2 tbsp cooking oil
  3. Add the chopped garlic and fry till fragrant. Be careful to lower the heat to prevent the garlic from burning.
  4. Add the stems, stir fry for a couple of minutes. Then add the leaves. Give the leaves and stem a quick stir. Add a dash of water and cover.
  5. Let the vegetables simmer for 2-3 minutes.
  6. The gai lan should be done when the white part of the stems look slightly translucent and the leaves are soft. 
  7. Add 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp sugar, stir it through before turning off the heat and removing from the pan.

Besides garlic, ginger is commonly used.  Here is a cooking video demonstrating how to do a Chinese broccoli stir-fry with ginger.

Another popular companion is beef. Here is a cooking video for beef gai lan stir-fry.

Ingredient Notebook

The first recipe mentioned an assortment of meat balls. These are machine-made balls using meat pastes made of fish, pork, beef, cuttlefish or squid. I have not found any on Amazon. 

Bobo Meat ball Series (Shopee)

I hope this article on How to cook Chinese broccoli is useful. 

Happy Souping, Phoebe