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White-flowering Chinese Broccoli in Season

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  • Melanie Wong Jan 13, 2002 12:57 PM
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While many lament the coming of winter and fallow kitchen gardens, I look forward to my favorite Chinese vegetables that are at their peak in cold weather. Pea shoots, winter melon, fresh shitake (winter mushroom), sugar snap peas, lotus roots, and the special kind of Chinese broccoli with white flowers. From the Winter Solstice to Chinese New Year, this prized variety of “gai lan” is available and at its best. The white-flowering type, “bok fa gai lan”, has more intense flavor and is more tender with less fibrous strings.

Last week in San Francisco Chinatown the vegetable stalls that had any were selling it for 99¢ to $1.39 per pound versus 69¢ for the yellow-flowering type. With so much rain this season, this year’s crop is of particularly high quality. Choose the bunches with stems that are about the diameter of medium-size asparagus – bigger than that and they’re too tough, while thinner ones will be stringy. The flowers buds on the best quality stems will be small and not have opened yet. They will appear to be green. If you pinch them, you’ll see the white interior of the flower.

Be sure to ask for it at Chinese restaurants or buy some to cook at home before it’s gone for the year. My favorite way is the simplest - poached, drained well, and then drizzled with oyster sauce.

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  1. When you pick any Chinese Broccoli be sure that you check the bottom of the stems. If there is a what appears as a white dot in the of the stem pass on that bundle. The broccoli will have bad taste, where as the one without the dot will be the best of all Chinese broocili.

    I have been reading all the good advise on this site. This is the first time I had something post.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Lambert Yim

      Yes, very important tip. Thanks for coming into the light, Lambert, I hope we hear more from you.

      Also, I know it's hard for some people to do, but it really is best to cut off all the leaves and the flat stems of the leaves. You can leave the flower buds to show that you are serving the white-flowering variety.