If I were to write a list of the top five classic Cantonese dishes, beef with broccoli would be on there for sure. Most North Americans know it as a staple of Chinese fast-food joints, featuring tender strips of beef and florets of broccoli. But the original version uses gai lan, also known as Chinese broccoli.
Not familiar with gai lan? It tastes like a slightly less bitter version of broccoli rabe. Its stalks are usually thick with large flat leaves and sometimes tiny flower buds. Gai lan is great when it's stir-fried with just a little bit of garlic or poached in water, drizzled with a bit of oyster sauce, and topped with crispy fried garlic. Its flavor is also robust enough to be paired with meats such as pork belly and beef.
You'll find two different types of gai lan at most Asian supermarkets. First is the regular gai lan with the thick stalks. The second variety is baby gai lan, sometimes labeled as gai lan "tips". It has thinner stalks, more leaves, and is typically more tender compared to the mature version. Don't worry, I'll share instructions for both types.
To begin, you'll marinate the beef for at least 30 minutes in a mixture including soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, and cornstarch.
Before you start the stir-fry, blanch the gai lan first. Gai lan with thicker stems will take about a minute to become crisp-tender; baby gai lan, with its thin stalks, only needs about 30 to 40 seconds.
The key to a good stir-fry is a hot wok. Because home burners aren't quite powerful enough to keep a fully loaded wok hot enough, it's best to break up the recipe into a few different stages.
Here, that means stir frying the beef first, then taking it out and stir frying the gai lan next. When the gai lan is done, it too gets put to the side.
Next up are shallots and garlic. After a little less than a minute in the wok, they'll begin to soften slightly. Return the gai lan back to the wok at this point, then add the beef and also the oyster sauce. Everything gets tossed together in the wok to combine and heat through.
Plate the dish and serve it hot with a bowl of rice on the side. No matter which variety of gai lan you use, the combination of gai lan, beef, and oyster sauce is a winning combo.