Chicken With Gai Lan

Gai lan, as regular readers probably already know, is one of my favorite vegetables. Often known in English as either Chinese broccoli or Chinese kale, this green has thick, crisp stems and fleshy leaves, and has a unique, sweet flavor that is only barely akin to the tastes of either of its American vegetable cognates. Don’t get me wrong, I love both broccoli and kale, which have been two of my favorite vegetables since childhood, but to me, gai lan is vastly superior to both in terms of both texture and taste.

And, what is even better, is that gai lan is a cold-weather vegetable, which means, it is in season now. And, as I have discovered while growing it on our deck, it gets sweeter after a good frost, just like my beloved kale.

So, I have been taking every chance I can to harvest my little stand of it from my deck garden, so I can add it to the weekly stir-fry.

Normally, I prefer to cook gai lan with beef, which is a classic Cantonese combination, but I have also found it to be delicious with tofu or pork. This time around, I made it with chicken, because Kat was having a growth spurt and has been craving protein, and chicken is her favorite meat. (I can always tell when she is growing–Kat will turn her nose up at fruits, rice, crackers and even cookies, and instead inhale eggs, cheese and meats of every kind.)

Besides, I had fresh chicken from Bridlewood Acres Farm, here in Athens, and their hens are delicious, free-range birds. Their eggs are the best, too, with deep golden yolks, rich with vitamins and flavor. I also had some really sweet organic carrots from Shade River Farm, so It was only natural that I chose to add them to the dish.

I do want to say one thing–I know that a lot of people object to eating locally during the winter, because they think that there are no vegetables to eat at that time, but I disagree. In late November, we still have plenty of different delicious vegetables in our Farmer’s Market. Beets, turnips, daikon, carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, potatoes, pumpkins, a zillion different kinds of winter squashes, onions, garlic, leeks, dried beans, pole beans, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbages, bok choi, tatsoi, mizuna, kale, collards, mustard greens and a huge variety of salad greens are all over the market, and one grower who has greenhouses even has tomatoes and sweet bell peppers. No, it is nothing like the varied plethora of produce we have in the summer months, but there are still plenty of great foods that make for a varied, flavorful and healthy diet.

I do understand that we are lucky here in Athens to have a good climate where a lot of vegetables can be grown year-round, and we are blessed by a really strong, vibrant farm economy, but one of the great things about eating locally for me, has been learning new ways to cook seasonal vegetables, not only in the summer, but all year round, and I hope that my experiences might inspire others to try some new foods if they get the chance.

Anyway, this dish of chicken and gai lan with carrots is a really good, light but satisfying meal for a late autumn, early winter supper, and I am happy to report that everyone, including Kat, loved it.

Chicken with Gai Lan

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast or chicken thighs cut into thin 1″X1/2″ slices
1 tablespoon Shao Hsing wine or sherry
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons canola or peanut oil
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced onions
1 tablespoon fermented black soybeans
1 1/2″ cube fresh ginger, peeled and minced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon Shao Hsing wine or sherry
1 large carrot, peeled and thinly sliced into diagonal, oval-shaped slices (about 1/8″ thick)
1 pound gai lan, bottoms of stems trimmed and thick stems sliced thinly on the diagonal, thin stems and leaves cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 cup chicken broth or stock
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil


Toss chicken meat with the first measures of wine or sherry and soy sauce. Sprinkle with cornstarch, then toss with your hands to coat the chicken pieces thoroughly.

Heat wok until a thin ribbon of smoke coils up from the hot metal. Add oil, and allow to heat for about another thirty seconds. Add onions, and cook, stirring, until they turn golden and translucent. Add soybeans and ginger, and keep stirring for thirty seconds. Add chicken, and spead out over the bottom of the wok in a single layer. Sprinkle the garlic on top of the chicken and allow the chicken to cook undisturbed for a minute or until the meat browns well on the side touching the wok. Start stirring and cook until most of the pink is gone. Add soy sauce and wine and cook, stirring for thirty more seconds.

Add carrots and thick stem slices of gai lan and cook, stirring until the chicken has no pink showing the vegetables are tender–about one minute. Add the broth or stock and the thin stem and leaf pieces of gai lan, and cook, stirring until the gail lan leaves wilt, and the sauce reduces to a nice, thick brown glaze–about another minute.

Remove from heat and drizzle with sesame oil and serve immediately with steamed rice.


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  1. I’m coming out of lurkdom to say I love your Fiesta dishes. I have a mix of colors and it makes me happy to pen my cabinets!

    Comment by Beth — December 4, 2008 #

  2. I’m incredibly envious of a year-round farmer’s market. Here in Boston, the last ones were the week before Thanksgiving, so I’m starting to use the things I’ve frozen and canned (not nearly enough to make it through the winter, but enough to give a local fillip to a lot of meals).

    Comment by debby — December 4, 2008 #

  3. I would love to buy local produce here, but our farmer’s market shuts down about now too, and even when open, it is just Christmas Greens and such. Sadly our farmers market isn’t all local either so I’m never truly sure if I’m buying local, or just supporting a local farm that is “cheating.” Even our health food & organic market cuts way back on local foods. Cranberries are harvested just a few miles south of here and the ones they carried were from Illinois 🙁

    Comment by Dawn — December 4, 2008 #

  4. I love gailan too. I didn’t know it was a winter vegetable.

    Comment by gaga — December 8, 2008 #

  5. Yum! I just made this tonight for dinner and although I am usually a choy sum fan over gai lan this really hit the spot. The sweet crunchness of the gai lan really pairs off well with the ginger and black bean. Thanks again!

    Comment by Deanna — December 14, 2008 #

  6. I love your website, it’s really helped me perfect my Asian stir fries. I used broccoli rabe in place of the gai lan and it was delicious! Thanks for the great recipes!

    Comment by Vidya — December 17, 2008 #

  7. Using a wok is an affectation in the western kitchen.

    Comment by dana — December 30, 2008 #

  8. I just made Pei Mei’s version of beef with gai lan for my blog…like your idea of chicken with fermented black beans! And I’m lucky enough to live in California, where something is always growing.

    Comment by Jaline — January 22, 2009 #

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