August 22, 2011

Choi Sum 菜心 - A Gentle Blanch

boiled, blanched, choi sum, vegetables, chinese, recipe

As a newcomer to Hong Kong, one would be inclined to wonder about the popularity of a certain humble green vegetable, otherwise known as Choi Sum or 菜心 which translates literally as 'vegetable heart').  Compounding the mystery is the way it is usually served, simply blanched and then piled high on the plate with perhaps a splash of oyster sauce on the side.  It doesn't look like much.

For myself, it took a long time before I began to appreciate Choi Sum, preferring for many years the more obvious crunch and spiciness of the Gai Lan, or 芥蘭, another popular vegetable in Hong Kong.

boiled, blanched, choi sum, vegetables, chinese, recipe

However, when we recently discovered and tried organic Choi Sum, I finally gave in completely and embraced this plain little vegetable wholeheartedly.  The organic version was really, really tasty.  Maybe all Choi Sum used to be really really tasty before mass production sacrificed taste to convenience.

This dish is a good illustration of the concepts behind Cantonese cuisine.  Fresh seasonal ingredients, cooked simply and subtly to bring out the natural flavors.  So with this dish.

Try to find the best and freshest Choi Sum you can find.  Go to the wet market or look for organic.  Look for really crisp, perky, beautiful looking vegetables.  Get or make a really good stock for the blanching liquid.  No MSG, please.  With your good fresh ingredients this humble little dish of vegetables will pack a flavor punch far beyond what you can imagine.

We usually serve it with a splash of Yuan's Oyster Sauce, a made in Hong Kong oyster sauce that, though a bit more expensive, is really something else.  For the toddler, we just cut it up in small bite sized pieces and served it without the sauce and she really loved it.

Extra tip:  You can make a soup with the stock after blanching.  The vegetables will have flavored the stock. For a chinese dinner there often is a shared soup that is served in a large bowl that is then ladled out into individual servings.

boiled, blanched, choi sum, vegetables, chinese, recipe
Blanched Choi Sum Recipe 菜心
(Prep time: 1 mins Cook time: 5 mins)


  • one bunch choi sum 菜心 (we used organic baby choi sum)
  • 3-4 cups chicken stock (enough to boil choi sum with)
  • 1 1/2 tbsp peanut oil, cooked until smoking and then cooled
  • 2 Tbsp oyster sauce


Wash the vegetable thoroughly.  Bring the chicken stock to boil in medium size pot.  Add vegetables in batches so that the pot is not over crowded.

When pot boils, let choi sum cook for another 15 seconds and then remove and put aside.  For regular sized choi sum add another 15 seconds.  Boil all the batches in the same way. The vegetables should be tender but firm, beautifully green, but not mushy. 

Arrange choi sum lengthwise one atop the other to achieve a piled effect.  Drizzle with cooked peanut oil.  Splash the oyster sauce on one side of the plate next to the choi sum and serve while hot.