It’s been a while since I’ve done an installment of my fixing Chinese-American cuisine series (you can check out some past installments here). My goal with this series isn’t to return these dishes to their Chinese roots, but to celebrate the uniqueness of Chinese-American food, a cuisine that forked with the immigrants who brought it over, adapting to local tastes and ingredients.
Broccoli Beef originates from a Chinese dish called _Gai Lan Chao Niu Rou _ (芥兰炒牛肉) or Chinese Broccoli Fried Beef, but since early immigrants could not find Gai Lan in the US, American broccoli became an easy substitute. With the florets ability to absorb the flavors of the beef and sauce, the stunning contrast of colors, and a vaguely healthy aura, it’s no surprise that this dish now graces the pages of almost every Chinese-American restaurant.
Unlike Gai Lan, which cooks very quickly, regular broccoli doesn’t work particularly well in stir-fries because of its thick dense stem. By the time your broccoli is cooked though, it ends up nearly burnt on the outside, and the beef ends up resembling strips of boot leather.
Many recipes get around this by blanching the broccoli first, but having to boil a separate pot of water defeats the quick simplicity of a stir-fry. What’s worse, broccoli florets tend to retain water when they are blanched, which comes out into the sauce, watering it down.
My solution is to quickly fry the beef, remove it from the pan, adding the broccoli with just a bit of water to let it steam, before returning the beef along with the sauce. This ensures that the broccoli is cooked to a crisp vibrant green, while the beef is still tender and moist. Most importantly by gently steaming the broccoli, you avoid subjecting it to high temperatures, which releases dimethyl sulfide; the compound responsible for that funky smell when members of the cabbage family are overcooked.
- Put the soy sauce, shaoxing, 1/2 teaspoon potato starch and sesame oil into a small bowl and stir to combine. Add the beef and let it it marinate while you prepare the other ingredients.
- Mince the garlic and finely julienne the ginger and place them in a small bowl.
- Prepare the broccoli by peeling the fibrous layer of skin off the main stalk. If you are using a vegetable peeler you'll need to go over the same area several times to get through to the tender center. Cut the peeled stalk off and slice it in half lengthwise and then into bite-sized strips. Cut apart the florets into bite-sized pieces.
- Measure out the 2 tablespoons of water into a small bowl.
- In a separate small bowl, whisk together the chicken stock, oyster sauce, 1 teaspoon potato starch and white pepper until combined.
- Heat a saute pan or wok until very hot. Add the oil along with the ginger and garlic. Give it a few stirs and then add the marinated beef.
- Stir-fry until the beef is just barely cooked through and then transfer to beef to a clean bowl.
- Add the broccoli and water and cover immediately. Steam for 2 minutes.
- Remove the lid and return the beef to the pan. The potato starch has probably settled, so give the sauce mixture a stir and pour it in with the beef and broccoli.
- Stir-fry until the sauce is thick and has coated everything in a glossy sheen.