On Christmas morning my family likes to go out for dim sum (点心; snacks), Chinese small plates. Frequently we go to Tai-pan in Palo Alto. 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 is Chinese Broccoli with Oyster Sauce.
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.”
I have tried to replicate Tai-pan’s dish and I was fairly successful. Today, I decided to branch out and use Tia Pan’s presentation with a variation on the sauce. There are many standard sauces in Chinese cooking. Oyster sauce is a common sauce in Cantonese cooking. Real oyster sauce is made from boiling down oysters to create a thick brown sauce. Today, I decided to use the vegetarian version that uses oyster mushrooms to make a side dish go with my barbecued pork.
Karl’s Chinese Broccoli with Mushroom Sauce
1 lb. Chinese broccoli
1 tsp. Kosher salt
¼ cup mushroom sauce (vegetarian version of oyster sauce)
2 tsp. fresh ginger, grated
1 tsp. chili garlic sauce
1 tsp. dark soy sauce
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp. light soy sauce mixed with ½ tsp. corn starch
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: You may save the removed leaves for another dish, but today I decided to cook them separately and lay them down as a base—to be hidden by the pretty whole vegetables.
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 remaining 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, but to fully exposed the tender inner part of the stem.
4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the salt. Turn off the heat.
Tip: If all of your stems are the same size you may proceed with the next step. However, I had several stems that were very much thicker that the others. Holding these broccoli by the leaves I submerged just the thick stems in the boiling water for two minutes before submerging the rest of the broccoli.
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 holding all of the broccoli under the water and removing them without damaging the leaves.
6. Leave the broccoli submerges for five minutes, until the steams are just crisp tender.
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. Shred the leaves that you removed earlier and put them in the hot water for 4-5 minutes.
10. Cool and squeeze the water out of the shredded leaves and arrange them in a thin layer over a microwave safe serving plate.
11. Arrange the stems attractively the 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.
12. Put the mushroom sauce, ginger, chili garlic sauce, soy sauce, and garlic in a small pan and bring them just to a boil.
13. Stir in the cornstarch slurry and cook gently until thickened, about one minute.
14. Brush the sauce over the vegetables and microwave them on high for one minute.
Tip: If the vegetables have been sitting for awhile, the leaves may have released more water. Before putting on the sauce, hold the broccoli in place with one hand and tip the plate to drain off the excess liquid.
15. Serve warm.
Tip: Although it is also good cold.