Yesterday, while shopping in New York City’s Chinatown I bought pristine Chinese broccoli shoots (aka gai lan miu). Snow pea shoots are the more famous Asian greens delicacy but no one seems to talk about Chinese broccoli shoots which are equally special.The shoots look identical to Chinese broccoli except that they’re more slender, dainty and about 5 to 6-inches in length. Regular gai lan stems can be as fat as 3/4-inch thick with coarse leaves a little similar to kale. In contrast, the shoots have skinny stems no thicker than 1/4-inch and leaves which are like young spinach. Be sure to choose leaves that are blemish free, (no yellow leaves) and the stems should be fresh and crisp.
The shoots need to be trimmed 1/8-inch from the bottom of each stem. After washing make sure the vegetables are dry to the touch before cooking. A quick stir-fry with a little ginger, sugar, salt and rice wine is all that you need to bring out the flavor and enhance the crisp texture. Like broccoli rabe the shoots have a mild bitter taste and the hint of sugar harmonizes the flavor without making the vegetable sweet. Chinese broccoli shoots are one of the most special dishes in the Chinese vegetable repertoire. I’m sorry to say I don’t know the availability of Chinese broccoli shoots in markets around the country. Please let me know if your Asian grocer carries them. If you’re lucky enough to find them see if they offer yau choi and amaranth shoots. Now that you’ve entered the secret world of Asian vegetable shoots there’s much to explore!
If you cannot find the shoots, you can make this recipe with regular Chinese broccoli. Stalks that are more than 1/2-inch in diameter should be peeled, then halved lengthwise. Cut the broccoli stalks and leaves into 2 1/2-inch long pieces, keeping the stalk ends separate from the leaves. After stir-frying the ginger, add only the stalks and stir-fry 1 minute until the stalks are bright green. Add the leaves and continue stir-frying 1 minute until the leaves are just limp. Sprinkle on the sugar, salt and rice wine and stir-fry 2 to 3 minutes or until the vegetable stems are crisp-tender.
Stir-Fried Chinese Broccoli Shoots
12 ounces Chinese broccoli (gai lan) shoots
1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil
3 slices ginger, smashed
3/4 teaspoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons Shao Hsing rice wine or dry sherry
Trim 1/8-inch from the bottom of each stem. Wash the broccoli in several changes of water and pat dry with kitchen towels or spin in a salad spinner until dry to the touch.
Heat a 14-inch wok over high heat until a bead of water vaporizes within 1 to 2 seconds of contact. Swirl in the oil, add the ginger and stir-fry 10 seconds or until fragrant. Add the broccoli shoots, sprinkle on the sugar and salt and stir-fry 1 minute or until the leaves begin to wilt and the stems are bright green. Swirl in the rice wine and stir-fry 1 minute or until the shoots are crisp-tender. Serves 4 as a vegetable side dish.