When To Use Gai Lan Over Other Broccoli Varieties

Want to infuse your meals with added vibrancy, flavor, and crunch? Look no further than the versatile gai lan aka Chinese broccoli or Brassica oleracea v. alboglabra. With its fleshy, glossy stalks, flat butterfly-wing-like leaves, and sparse clusters of buds and florets, gai lan stands out in the vegetable aisle. 

Its taste is gentle and subtly sweet while embodying a unique Cantonese bittersweet flavor profile known as gum. What also sets gai lan apart is its toothsome texture, which is reminiscent of asparagus. The thick, fleshy stalks provide a satisfying crunch, while the flat leaves are delicate and tender. This flavor and textural interplay make gai lan a deliciously fun ingredient, distinguishing it from other broccoli varieties and making it a preferred choice in certain culinary situations.

When using gai lan in your kitchen, prepare the vegetables by washing them and trimming the tough stem ends. Discard any slimy, wilted, or yellow leaves, and feel free to peel the tough skin off the stem and slice the stems in half lengthwise. Once prepped, it's time to cook the gai lan, and various methods highlight its flavor and texture.

Different ways to cook gai lan

Though a little more prep work is involved, gai lan often emerges as the preferred choice over other broccoli varieties due to its distinct texture, flavor profile, and versatility in cooking methods. Traditional broccoli is best cooked low and slow, as it can quickly go mushy under anything more intense than a quick steam or blanch. Gai lan, on the other hand, shines in something as hot as stir-fry, getting delightfully crispy, and blanching it only serves to bring out its vibrant color and tenderness. Braising gai lan also yields a rich and tender result, while steaming can help preserve its nutritive value. Additionally, chopped gai lan stems can add crunch and texture to dim sum and homemade dumplings, such as homemade har gow, or shrimp dumplings.

While gai lan can sometimes be found in local grocery stores and supermarkets, the produce section of your local Asian market is your best bet. When picking some out, Made with Lau recommends selecting some with deeply verdant leaves and fresh stems that easily snap in two. Whether you want to add a vibrant touch to your dishes, explore new flavors, or enhance your cooking with an Asian-inspired ingredient, gai lan is an excellent choice over other broccoli varieties.