Chinese broccoli (aka gai lan) on it's own can be pretty bland. A fantastic way of serving this, as you may have seen at restaurants and especially at yum cha, is pairing with an oyster sauce. But if you take that one simple extra step of adding shiitake mushrooms to the mix? The result is UNBELIEVABLE. Soooooo delicious. Packed with layers upon layers of flavours. You've got to try this.
This side dish will go really well with pretty much any Asian dish. Pairing suggestions: easy pork wontons, pan-fried dumplings, homestyle soy sauce chicken (complete the meal with some rice!), Chinese sausage fried rice, etc.
- Oyster sauce is a commonly used Chinese condiment that adds a savoury (or umami) flavour to dishes. More on oyster sauce below.
- Soy sauce also adds the beloved umami flavour into this dish. It is much saltier than the oyster sauce, which adds another layer of flavour.
- Shaoxing wine is a Chinese cooking wine (really good quality ones can be consumed as a beverage) that is made with fermented rice. Similar to cooking with red or white wine, Shaoxing wine adds depth and aroma to a dish.
- Dried shiitake mushrooms again, another mega umami bomb. I absolutely looooove these. They're so fragrant and tastes awesome with the sauce in this recipe.
- Brown sugar is used a lot in my recipes (instead of white sugar) due to its rich flavour. A little sugar helps balance and bring all the ingredients together.
- Cornstarch/cornflour is used to help thicken the sauce so that it catches onto the Chinese broccoli (gai lan), making every bite YUM.
How to prepare shiitake mushrooms and Chinese broccoli
Before anything, the first thing you've got to do is put the kettle on. Use the boiling water to soak the shiitake mushrooms. A trick I learnt from my grandma was to cover the bowl with a small plate. This will trap the heat in the bowl so the mushrooms rehydrate quicker.
More words of wisdom - whenever you use dried shiitake mushrooms, never throw out the soaking water. It has so much flavour, treat it like a stock. It'll make any dish taste amazing.
Depending on the bunch that's available when shopping, sometimes the stems of Chinese broccoli can be quite thick. If they're about 1.5cm/half an inch (or thicker) in diameter, simply cut the stems in half, lengthways. This will help the vegetable cook evenly and make it easier to eat too!
Two parts. First, cook the Chinese broccoli. Then, make the sauce and mix.
There are two ways to cook the Chinese broccoli here:
- By boiling - super quick and easy way of cooking these. It won't need very long, about 1.5 minutes is all that's needed!
- By steaming - nutritionally, this is the best option as it'll help the veggies retain more of its good nutrients.
This recipe calls for the boiling method as it's a quicker option (quilty of being a bit lazy here). But if you want to get as much nutrients as possible from your greens, go for the steaming method for sure.
Let's talk oyster sauce
Oyster sauces are typically made of oyster extract, salt, sugar, cornflour/starch (which helps thicken the sauce).
What is oyster sauce used for?
Not only does it add flavour, oyster sauces also enhances and brings out the umami flavour of foods. It works brilliantly with various meats such as beef, chicken, pork as well as vegetables. Here is a super yum ginger beef with kale stir fry that uses oyster sauce and other condiments to really help make humble ingredients sing.
In the case of this dish where we're using shiitake mushrooms (which are just umami bombs), combined with oyster sauce, garlic and other condiments just take this dish to the ultimate new level! We're talking layers upon layers of flavour! What a fantastic way of eating something that's otherwise rather bland on its own.
You know what else? I reckon this tastes even better than what you can get at yum cha restaurants. They don't add the secret ingredient: shiitake mushrooms.
Vegetarian oyster sauce?
For non-meat eaters, there are vegetarian oyster sauces! Instead of oyster extracts, a variety of mushroom extracts (such as shiitake, oyster mushrooms) are used to make this umami-packed sauce. So this dish can easily become vegan-friendly. 🙂
Oyster sauces are available at all Asian supermarkets and major supermarkets such as Coles and Woolworths (if you're in Australia).
Tips for making this dish awesome
- Soak the dried shiitake mushrooms until it's spongy and no longer hard. Don't do what I've done before where I got impatient (because hungryyy!) and decided to cook them when they're still a little dry and hard on the inside. In the hopes that they'll soften in the process of cooking. They don't. Wasn't the best chewing on dried bits. p.s. unless you're making a soup or a stew where the mushrooms will cook in liquid for a good while, definitely soak them until they're ready before cooking.
- Fry the shiitake mushrooms till golden. Very important. Colour = flavour in pretty much every case when it comes to cooking. Just like meats, you'll be amazed at how much richer the flavour becomes once you add some colour on the shiitake mushrooms.
Other side dishes you might like
- Vietnamese rice paper rolls - appetiser or a main, you decide.
- Honey glazed carrots with walnuts - simple and delicious.
- Sticky soy chicken wings - oven-baked to perfection, so good.
Thanks for checking out my recipes! Let me know what you think and/or if you have any questions, drop me a note in the comments section below. 🙂
Chinese broccoli (gai lan) with mushrooms
- 1 bunch Chinese broccoli (gai lan) about 250g/9oz, cut in half, lengthways (note 1)
- 2 cloves garlic finely chopped/minced
- 1 tbsp shaoxing wine
- 1 tbsp oil sunflower or olive oil are both okay
- 1 tsp salt
- 4 shiitake mushrooms (dried) Optional: fresh (note 2)
- 1 cup boiling water
Fragrant oyster sauce
- 1½ tbsp oyster sauce
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- 1 cup shiitake soaking water (note 3)
- 1 tbsp cornstarch/cornflour
- ⅛ tsp sesame oil a few drops
- ⅛ tsp white pepper
- ½ tsp dark brown sugar substitute: caster sugar
Prepare the dried shiitake mushrooms
- In a medium heatproof bowl, add dried shiitake mushrooms and 1 cup of boiling water. Cover and soak for about 20 - 30 minutes or until mushrooms are plump and no longer dry. (note 4)
- Once the mushrooms are plump and ready, lightly squeeze each one of them to draw out excess liquid. Reserve the soaking water for later use.
- Thickly slice the mushrooms then set aside. Guide: medium-sized mushroom can be sliced into roughly 3-4 thick slices.
Express boil the Chinese broccoli (optional: steam instead)
- Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add 1 tsp of salt to lightly season the water.
- Keeping the heat on medium-high, add the stem half of the Chinese broccoli into the boiling water. After 1 minute, add the leafy half of the Chinese broccoli. Gently press the leaves into the boiling water with a slotted spoon or a pair of tongs. Cook for 30 seconds.
- Remove the Chinese broccoli and set aside. Discard the cooking water.
Bringing it all together
- In a medium-sized bowl, add all of the fragrant oyster sauce ingredients together and mix thoroughly with a spoon.
- In a non-stick pan or wok, add 1 tbsp of oil on medium heat. Once the pan is hot enough, add shiitake mushrooms. Fry for about 2-3 minutes or until mushrooms lightly golden.
- Add garlic and stir for about 2 minutes. The kitchen should smell really fragrant at this point.
- Give the oyster sauce ingredients one more stir, making sure the cornstarch/cornflour have been mixed into the liquid, pour into the pan.
- Cook on low heat, stirring constantly until sauce thickens and lightly bubbling. About 2 minutes.
- Add the Chinese broccoli into the pan, mixing for about 1 minute. Ensure even coating of sauce. Serve.