Stir-Fried Chicken with Gai Lan and Oyster Sauce

Morganna has been mourning the loss of stir fried suppers as I have been making foods for the freezer.

The truth is that as my pregnancy has progressed, the naturally occurring carpal tunnel issues in my right hand have been exascerbated by the extra fluid retention that comes with the other joys of the third trimester. As a result, I’ve lost feeling in my right hand, and this has made me very, very clumsy, very slow and my grip is weaker than it usually is. This means that I am just not comfortable doing as much precise cutting as is required for stir-frying as I normally am.

So, Morganna and I made a deal. If she wants a stir fry for dinner, she will do the majority of the cutting prep for it, and I will do the cooking.

This worked out admirably well on Friday when we picked up some gai lan and pressed dry tofu at the Asian market.

Gai lan is one of my favorite Asian greens. Also known as Chinese broccoli, it is indeed a member of the brassica family, but it is much sweeter than broccoli. It has thin to thick stalks, lots of sweet leaves and a few loose blossom heads that have either white or yellow flowers when they are fully matured.

A classical Cantonese dish is Beef with Gai Lan and Oyster Sauce, which is probably where the idea for the Chinese-American restaurant favorite, Beef with Broccoli came from. I much prefer the original Cantonese version, whether dressed up or down, whether it includes fermented black beans or not, to the restaurant version with American broccoli, but as I am still not really eating beef, I decided to make the dish with chicken.

Since I only had a small chicken breast, I added a bit of pressed dry tofu to stretch the protein further, and to do make up for the fact that I am not always even able to stomach chicken these days. Many restaurants when they serve Beef with Gai Lan and Oyster Sauce, also include a sweet vegetable in a contrasting color to compliment the flavors of the meat and greens; since I had some ripe red Hungarian Hot Wax peppers, I used one of them, since they are not really that hot. They looked very pretty with the pale chicken, medium-toned tofu and brilliant emerald gai lan.

One could substitute carrots or fresh water chestnuts or jicama for the pepper, or use a yellow, orange or red sweet bell pepper. Any of these vegetables would provide a contrast in crunch, color and sweetness to the deep green gai lan.

For seasoning, I used a little bit of fermented black beans, some ginger, garlic, onions, and a very mild chile pepper, just to give a little lift to the dish. I used a little less oyster sauce than one would use in the beef dish, taking into account the milder flavor of the chicken, and I only used the thin soy sauce, eschewing the dark version. I also added about a teaspoon of raw sugar to the dish to bring out the native sweetness in the vegetables and to enhance the flavor of the chicken.

Overall, it turned out quite well, and although Morganna said she preferred the beef version, she could see that an all chicken or all tofu version would be excellent as well. (I like the combination of flavors and textures that comes from mixing the pressed tofu and the chicken, myself.)

Though, she admits she cannot wait for Kat to be born so we can go back to beef-based stir fries now and again, as well as grilled or pan seared steaks!

For an in-depth breakdown, with photographs of my stir-frying technique for chicken, please see Ten Steps to Better Chicken From a Wok. This will give more information to make this recipe even more successful for anyone who is a novice to stir frying.

Chicken with Gai Lan and Oyster Sauce


1 boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into slices 1″ X1/4″X1/4″
2 tablespoons Shao Hsing wine
1 teaspoon oyster sauce
1 teaspoon light soy sauce
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
4 tablespoons peanut oil
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
1 tablespoon fermented black beans
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thinly
3/4″ cube fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
1 small medium-hot chile, thinly sliced on the diagonal
4 ounces spiced dry tofu, cut into thin slices
1 teaspoon raw sugar
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 red Hungarian Wax hot pepper, julienned
1 pound gai lan, large stems trimmed, small stems and leaves cut into 2″ pieces and strips
3 tablespoons chicken broth
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil


Mix together chicken with next four ingredients and allow to marinate for at least twenty minutes, while you prepare other ingredients.

Heat wok until it smokes, and add peanut oil. When oil is hot, add onions and black beans and stir fry for about two minutes, or until the onions are golden and fragrant. Add garlic, ginger and chile, and stir fry thirty seconds more.

Scrape aromatics up the walls of the wok, and add chicken into a single layer on the bottom of the wok. If there is liquid marinade left in the bowl, reserve it–do not add it at this time! Sprinkle the tofu over the chicken, and then the sugar over the tofu. Allow the chicken slices to sit, and cook undisturbed, until they begin to brown on the bottom, and the edges of the chicken are starting to turn white on the top side. Begin stir frying–and stir fry until half the chicken pieces are white and brown and half are still pink.

Deglaze wok with soy sauce, scraping up any browned bits of marinade clinging to the wok sides and bottom. Add Hungarian wax pepper, and stir fry another minute, until most of the chicken is done, and there are only little traces of pink left. If there was leftover marinade, add it at this time.

Add gai lan and chicken broth, and stir fry, scooping the hot chicken over the gai lan, and getting the gai lan onto the hot surface of the wok. As soon as gai lan begins to wilt, add oyster sauce and continue stir frying until all pink is gone from the chicken, the gai lan is properly wilted–the stems should be crisp, and the leaves velvety and half-wilted without being slimy and fully wilted.

Take wok off heat, drizzle in sesame oil, stir a couple times more and scoop into a heated serving dish, and serve with steamed rice or boiled noodles.


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  1. What’s the brand name on the tofu? Maybe I can get the coop to order it. 🙂

    Comment by mujeresliebres — September 11, 2006 #

  2. Looks delicious!

    Comment by Isis — September 12, 2006 #

  3. Hi Linda, the chicken looks and sounds delicious. I haven’t done much chinese cooking, but this is on my to do list. Thanks for sharing.

    Comment by mandira — September 12, 2006 #

  4. Oh no…I can sense I’m going to need to add “Chinese” to the list of cuisines I cook. This looks amazing. I love gai-lan. Like you, I MUCH prefer it to regular broccoli.

    Comment by Diane — September 12, 2006 #

  5. I checked out Breath of a Wok from the library, and am only partially through it, but already I made a pork stir-fry that was so wonderful! The pork cooked up so delicately and juicy, from a marinade (inspired by one of your recipes) that was just soy sauce and corn starch, and I used dried red chiles (2 whole), 2 serrano chiles, sliced (including seeds!), and 2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and deveined. It was very spicy, and really really good.

    Comment by Kim — September 12, 2006 #

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