On Christmas morning my family likes to go out for dim sum (点心; snacks), Chinese small plates. For the last several years we have gone to Tai-pan in Palo Alto, but this year Miriam talked up into trying something new. It was not quite a disaster, her suggested restaurant was over-flowing with a four hour wait, but we finally found a strip mall place that was actually excellent.
Note: From our time living in China we came to love “Chengdu Snacks.” There are at least 500 different types—some claim thousands. You can eat until you burst, but if you have not eaten at least one grain of rice (米饭 ; mĭfàn) you have not had a “meal,” just a “snack.”
When my sister was visiting her daughter at Stanford, she wanted to get together and Tai-pan seemed the place to go. In addition to the many and varied flavors, Tia-pan’s presentation is always impeccable—no chopped vegetables sloshed on a plate. Of the many excellent dishes we had, one was the one we always order on Christmas day, Chinese Broccoli with Oyster Sauce.
There are many standard sauces in Chinese cooking. Oyster sauce is a common sauce in Cantonese cooking—and points further south—but not so much in the rest of China. Real oyster sauce is made from boiling down oysters to create a thick brown sauce, but there are vegetarian versions that use oyster mushrooms as well.
I am sure that the chefs of Tai-pan would not tell me all of their secrets, so I decided to try to replicate this dish on my own. When have I cooked Chinese broccoli in the past I have always chopped up the stems and shredded the leaves. After sautéing the stems, I then add the leaves at the last minute, so that they do not overcook. Tia-pan serves the vegetable whole and perfectly cooked—there must be a trick to it. There is—peeling and parboiling.
Karl’s Chinese Broccoli with Oyster Sauce
1 lb. Chinese broccoli
1 tsp. Kosher salt
¼ cup oyster sauce (vegetarian version for Vegan)
1 tsp. chili garlic sauce
2 tsp. green onion, white part only, sliced thinly
1 tsp. fresh ginger, minced
Note: The prep work in this dish takes a while, but this is a good dish to make ahead, because you can set it up to the last steps and put it on hold until the last minute before serving.
1. Rinse and refresh the broccoli.
Tip: Trim the cut edge of the stem and set the vegetables in a pot of cool water with a tablespoon of vinegar. This step is not really necessary, unless your broccoli is really limp, but I prefer to always do it.
2. Remove the lower large leaves and the flower head at the top.
Tip: Save the removed leaves for another dish.
Note: Some might leave on the flower heads, but the buds tend to be a bit chewy and get stuck in my teeth.
3. Holding the leaves together in one hand, use a peeler to remove the thick outer layer of the steams.
Tip: The point here is for the remaining leaves to remain intact, with the tender inner stem fully exposed.
4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the salt. Turn off the heat.
Tip: I was making noodles for this meal and I simply did not empty the pot after the noodles were done.
5. Taking all of the broccoli at once, submerge them completely in the hot water.
Tip: An Asian spider is a very useful tool for both removing the noodles and for holding all of the broccoli under the water.
6. Leave the broccoli submerges for five minutes, until the steams are just crisp tender.
Tip: Slice off a quarter inch of a thick stem and bite it to test its doneness. I was using young broccoli—about eight inches in length with half inch stems. Older Chinese broccoli—10-12 inches with ¾ inch stems—may take a few minutes more in the hot water.
7. Transfer the broccoli to a cold water bath to stop them from over cooking.
8. Once the broccoli have cooled, take a few stems at a time in one hand. Straighten out the leaves and gently squeeze them to press out excess water.
9. Arrange the stems attractively on a microware safe serving plate.
Tip: You can put this dish on hold, at this point, for as much as two hours. The rest of the preparation takes only a minute or two.
10. In a small cup mix the oyster sauce and chili sauce.
Note: I could not help myself, I had to make it at least a little Chengu. The Tia-pan version used only oyster sauce.
11. Brush the sauce over the vegetables and microwave them on high for 45 seconds to one minute.
Tip: If the vegetables have been sitting for awhile, the leaves may have released more water. Hold the broccoli in place with one hand and tip the plate to drain off the excess before brushing on the sauce.
12. Garnish the broccoli with the minced ginger and white parts of the green onion and serve.