Choy Sum with Oyster Sauce and Fried Garlic

One of the things we miss during the lockdown is coffeeshop vegetables. Simply boiled greens with a tasty sauce just poured over. It’s one of those things we don’t have delivered because the greens arrive brown and soggy and the sauce has lost its freshness. So I make it. It is really simple, once you get your head around the sequence. By the way, I just re-read the blog and I can’t quite believe that it took me three paragraphs to tell you how to fry crisp garlic. Chinese home cooks, please forgive me for stating the obvious and skip the chapter. The rest of you; Better read it attentively. It’s one of those easy things that can easily go wrong.

This is not a thick, gluey sauce, but it is just thick enough to coat the vegetables lightly. It is, believe me, delicious!

Choy Sum with Oyster Sauce
  • 200g-250g choy sum, about 12 stalks
  • 1½ Tbsp lard, duck fat or peanut oil
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1 Tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 Tbsp Chinese rice wine
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp Mei Kwai Loo
  • 1 level tsp sugar
  • a pinch of salt
  • 2 Tbsp water

There is no soya sauce in this recipe and it’s not a mistake. I wanted the oyster sauce to be at the forefront. You can add a tablespoon of soya sauce, leave out the salt and reduce the sauce a little more, but I find that it is not necessary. What you will find in there is Mei Kwai Loo, which is a rather strong, rose scented liqueur. I like the slight fragrance it adds, but please don’t overdo it, it can become cloying.

Peel and chop the garlic about medium rough, if that makes any sense. You don’t want it to be too fine, or it will burn too easily. Heat the fat in a small saucepan, making sure it is not too hot, about 30 seconds on high. Then turn down the fire to low and add the garlic. It should just fizz lightly when you add it, but if it doesn’t sizzle at all, that’s fine too. What you don’t want is a huge high heat frying, because then the outside will brown before the inside has time to dry out and you will have brown, but soft garlic.

Crisping garlic is a slow and steady process, so keep the fire low, stir often and just leave it to do its thing. While this is fizzing, line a plate or tray with two layers of kitchen towel and prepare a strainer and a little heatproof bowl. The big question is when to take out the garlic. You have to remember that there is some residual heat that will continue to cook your garlic for a while after you have taken it out. One other thing is that fried garlic in the pan always looks lighter in colour than fried garlic once taken out. So I stop when the smallest pieces are nicely golden and the biggest ones look slightly underdone. They will all be crisp, trust me.

Once you have achieved the desired colour, pour the garlic into a strainer and collect the fat in the bowl. Shake the strainer about a bit to loosen up the garlic, then spread it on the kitchen towel.

Wipe out your pan and return the fat to the pan. Mix the oyster sauce, rice wine, sesame oil, Mei Kwai Loo, sugar and water and stir to dissolve. Add the sauce mix to the fat in your pan. Heat this up to a sizzle just before pouring it over the boiled choy sum, which incidentally is Chinese flowering cabbage in English. Now all you need to do is boil your vegetables, drain them and you’re ready. You can pre-blanch the veg, but it isn’t really necessary. The thing cooks in 3-4 minutes.

Get a nice big pot of water to boil and if the stalks of your choy sum are big, cut a ½ cm deep cross into them. It’s a very un-Chinese- restaurant thing to do, but I do it anyway, it just makes for more even cooking. Keep the water boiling and when all the other dishes (?) you are serving are about ready, quickly boil the choy sum, drain it in a colander for a minute, turn on the heat under your sauce and arrange them on a serving platter.

Now take a sharp pair of scissors and cut the choy sum into three sections; bottom stalk, middle stalk, leaves. Pour the hot sauce over, sprinkle your crisp garlic on top and serve.

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