In Chinese, there is a dish that appears on menus everywhere- tang qing cai (燙青菜), or blanched vegetables. It could be some sort of lettuce, A choy (a cai), could be you cai (yu choy), could be whatever vegetable the restaurant gets that is inexpensive at the moment. (In Taiwan, you can often expect tang qing cai to be accompanied by just enough lu rou to add some meaty flavor.)
When Tim and I celebrated special occasions with his side of the family, I would see bags and bags of gai lan in dai yi mah’s(first/eldest aunt) kitchen that needed to be thoroughly washed before cooking. Always impatient for dinner, I would volunteer to wash the gai lan, hastily swishing and rinsing the stalks in water to try not to have my hands turn red from the cold. Once the gai lan was cooked, it was imperative that the hot water was thoroughly drained to stop residual cooking, all stems and leaves were arranged to face the same way, and that the gai lan were cut one or two times crosswise (with scissors) for ease of eating. It was probably fitting that I washed the gai lan anyway, seeing as I would eat up oodles of gai lan before moving to sticky rice, chicken with scallion/ginger sauce, cha siu that was ubiquitous at big family meals.
At Cantonese joints, especially dim sum and barbecue (noted for the hanging ducks and chicken in the windows) places, blanched gai lan (also known as Chinese broccoli) with oyster sauce is almost always on the menu. You don’t have to go to a restaurant to get this one, though-it is easy to make at home. Usually, I assign Tim, my Canto hubby, to make perfectly cooked gai lan, but yesterday I cooked them on my own, with his detailed directions ;D
Gai Lan (Cantonese spelling) with Oyster Sauce
hao you jie lan
1 pound gai lan, stems and leaves separated
1 pound baby/young gai lan, whole
Oyster sauce for drizzling (1-2 tsp)
Directions will be for ‘regular’ gai lan. If you have young gai lan, no need to separate leaves from stems.
1) Wash the gai lan several times, by swishing them in a large bowl of water, then picking up the gai lan and dumpling the water. Rinse the bowl, and repeat a few times until you don’t see any filmy stuff floating on the water.
2) Boil a large pot of water- enough so that your gai lan will be covered by the water.
3) When the water boils, add the gai lan stems and keep the heat at the same setting. Cook gai lan until the centers of the stems turn mostly translucent, or when you try one and it is crisp tender. The water should not have come to a boil again- if so, it’s probably been too long.
4) Immediately transfer the stems to a plate, and let the water drain on a slant.
5) Bring the water back to a boil.
6) Blanch the leaves for just a few seconds- 5 seconds should do it! Shake off excess water before transferring to the plate.
7) Make sure stems all face the same directions, and leaves, too. Use scissors to cut into sections if they are very long.
8) Drizzle lightly with oyster sauce, as a little goes a long way. If you want, move the vegetables around to distribute the oyster sauce evenly. The residual water droplets will help to slightly thin the oyster sauce out, making an impromptu sauce. Yay!
-When picking gai lan, look at the bottom/insides of the stems and make sure you don’t see a bunch of rings or holes.
-We like our vegetables, so I would count 1/3 to 1/2 pound per person, if it’s the main or only vegetable in the meal.
-Have leftovers? To preserve the crunchy/al dente texture of the gai lan, just eat them cold- they still taste quite good!
-Baby/young gai lan is really good, too, so if you can get your hands on some, do try some.
-Gai lan is also sometimes called Chinese broccoli