Tasty, succulent and easy to cook, beef & Chinese broccoli stir-fry is a classic dish of Cantonese cuisine. Follow my tips and tutorial video to cook it to perfection.
A classic Cantonese dish
If you’re a regular Chinese restaurant goer, I guess you have tasted (or heard of) stir-fried beef & broccoli, a Chinese dish very popular in the West. In China, the more “authentic” version calls for Chinese broccoli. As a classic dish of Cantonese cuisine, beef & Chinese broccoli stir-fry showcases a great example of how to combine meat and vegetables in a delectable way.
What is Chinese broccoli
Known as Gai lan or Kai-lan in Cantonese or Jie Lan (芥蓝) in Mandarin, Chinese broccoli is also called Chinese kale sometimes. Also a member of the cabbage family, it has a stronger, more pronounced earthy taste than regular broccoli.
Both its dark green leaves and its light green, crunchy stems are edible. Like most of the Chinese leafy greens, it’s not suitable for eating raw but tastes wonderful when stir-fried either on its own or with some well-seasoned meat.
How to make the beef succulent
Nothing is worse than chewing a piece of tough, dry beef. So it’s super important to make your beef tender, succulent when cooking this stir-fry dish. Here are the four golden rules that I suggest you follow:
- Choose the cuts that are suitable for stir-frying. Flank steak and skirt steak are good choices. You could use other cuts when you follow a tenderising procedure (explained in the later text).
- Thinly slice the beef across the grain. To making cutting easier, I always freeze the beef piece to semi-frozen (it takes 1-2 hours depending on the size of the meat). This way, you can slice the beef in a more uniformed way. Always check how the grain lays out and make sure you slice across the grain (instead of parallel with the grain). This dramatically reduces the chewiness of the cooked beef.
- Marinate properly to lock in the moisture. Ginger, soy sauce, Shaoxing rice wine are used to season the beef. Cornstarch and water are to tenderise it. At the end, coat the beef with a little cooking oil to lock in the moisture. It also helps to separate the slices so that they don’t stick to each other too much.
- Pay attention to the timing and do not overcook. This is a very important point.
How to tenderise tougher cuts of beef
It’s not ideal to use tough cuts of beef (those for braising) for Chinese stir-fries, but you could use a special tenderising technique to make it acceptable (provided you also follow all the rules mentioned above). Here is how you do it:
- For 200g (7oz) sliced beef, add ¼ teaspoon of baking soda then mix well. Leave to rest for at least 30 mins.
- Rinse the beef in 250ml (1 cup) of water with 2 teaspoons of vinegar. Then rinse again under running water.
- Marinate in the usual way (as instructed in this recipe)
The optimal stir-fry techniques
Stir-frying is one of the quickest cooking methods. Since all the ingredients are cut into bite-size pieces and the cooking temperature stays fairly high, it usually takes only a few minutes from start to finish. However, it can be a tricky job if you aren’t familiar with this particular way of cooking, or not accustomed to using a Chinese wok. I’d like to take this beef and Chinese broccoli dish as an example to share a few useful tips.
Prepare well before you start
Always have everything ready before you turn on the heat to stir-fry. This means: having all the ingredients chopped; having the condiments to hand or the sauce mixed; having the serving plate nearby.
Stir fry in stages
If two or more main ingredients require different cooking time, you need to stir fry them in stages. For this dish, you need to stir-fry the Chinese broccoli and beef separately. This ensures the vegetable stays crispy and the meat remains tender.
Also, I usually separate the stem part and the leafy part of the Chinese broccoli. Fry the stems first then add in the leaves. This way you don’t overcook the leave thus you won’t get too much liquid in the dish.
Heat the wok to avoid sticking
If you’re using a traditional wok without non-stick coating, you might encounter sticking problem from time to time, especially when frying meat. The solution is easy: Make sure your wok is smoking hot when adding in the ingredients. In Chinese, we describe this method as “Re Guo Liang You/热锅凉油”, meaning “hot wok cool oil”.
For this stir-fry dish, I start frying Chinese broccoli first, then dish it out. At this point, you can guarantee that the wok is very hot. Add more oil and put in the beef. You can see in my tutorial video (inside the recipe card below) that it doesn’t stick to my carbon steel wok at all.
Make a delicious sauce
The final step is to add a scrumptious sauce to the stir-fry. It should be salty, fragrant and thick enough to coat the beef and Chinese broccoli (but not so thick that it tastes gloopy). Here is my formula for 2 servings:
- 1 tbsp oyster sauce
- 1/2 tsp dark soy sauce
- 1 tsp sesame oil
- 2 tsp cornstarch
- 2 tbsp water/stock
I usually serve this stir-fry along with other savoury dishes. If you wish to have it alone on top of plain rice for a simple meal, I suggest you increase the volume of the sauce by 1.5 times. This way you would have extra to mix with the rice. It’s very tasty to enjoy it that way!
How to use this recipe creatively
Although beef and Chinese broccoli is a classic combination, please feel free to improvise, especially when you have trouble sourcing Chinese broccoli or prefer other meat instead of beef.
There are quite a few vegetables which also work well for this recipe, such as tender-stem broccoli (aka broccolini/baby broccoli), celery, celtuce (aka stem lettuce). Follow the same instructions to cook. If you wish to use regular broccoli, I suggest you blanch its florets beforehand as it has a denser texture thus takes more time to cook through.
You may replace the beef with other meat to stir-fry with Chinese broccoli. If you choose to use chicken or pork, follow the same marinade formula and cooking instructions.
Shrimp are a great substitute too. As they are tender by nature, you can reduce the cornstarch by half and omit water in the marinade. Also, it takes a very short time to cook shrimp. As soon as they curl up and turn pink, you know they are cooked.
Other classic stir-fries
Wish to try more Chinese stir-fry dishes, have a look other recipes on the blog:
- Black Pepper Beef (see image above)
- Shredded Pork with Garlic Sauce
- Chinese Cabbage Stir-fry, Two Ways
- King Oyster Mushroom with Garlic Sauce
- Spicy Lotus Root Stir-fry
Beef & Chinese broccoli stir-fry (芥蓝牛肉)
For the beef
For the vegetable
- 300 g Chinese broccoli (Gai lan/Kai-lan), about 6-7 stems
For the sauce
- 2 tsp cornstarch
- 2 tbsp water/stock
- ½ tsp dark soy sauce
- 1 tbsp oyster sauce
- 1 tsp sesame oil
You also need
- 2 tbsp cooking oil
- 4 clove garlic, sliced
Marinate the beef
- Cut the beef into thin slices across the grain. To make cutting easier, you may freeze the beef for 1-2 hours until it becomes semi-frozen.
- Put the beef slices into a bowl. Add ginger, cornstarch, light soy sauce, Shaoxing rice wine and water. Rub with hands or mix with a pair of chopsticks until no more liquid can be seen. Pour in the oil then mix to coat.
Prepare the vegetable & sauce
- Separate the stem and leafy parts of the Chinese broccoli. Cut the stems into 3 cm/ 1 inch sections.
- Mix all the ingredients for the sauce. Set aside.
Stir-fry the dish
- Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a wok over high heat. Add the garlic then the stem part of the broccoli. Fry for about 1 min.
- Stir in the leaves. As soon as they wilt, transfer everything to a plate (keep the heat on).
- Pour the remaining 1 tbsp of oil into the empty wok. Add the marinated beef. Fry until the meat loses its pinkness.
- Stir in the broccoli. Then pour in the sauce (stir well beforehand as the starch tends to sink to the bottom).
- Turn off the heat as soon as the sauce becomes thick. Dish out and serve immediately.
- Tender-stem broccoli (aka broccolini/baby broccoli), celery and celtuce (aka stem lettuce) work fine for this recipe too. Follow the same instructions to cook.
- You may replace the beef with other meat, such as chicken, pork or shrimp (Reduce the cornstarch by half and omit water in the marinade if using shrimp).
Thank you very much for taking the time to read my post. I hope you feel inspired to give it a try! Let me know what other classic dishes you’d like me to share. Leave a comment below or connect with me on Instagram.