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Bok Choy Stir Fry

This bok choy stir fry might be downright simple for some people, especially those who grew up in a typical Cantonese family. However, it is deceptively tricky to recreate this iconic Chinese dish at home to taste like those from the restaurant.

This bok choy stir fry recipe will address all the nitty-gritty. 

Bok choy is as popular as gailan (Chinese broccoli) and choy sum and is extremely easy to cook.  I have cooked this vegetable numerous times by following my mom’s methods and experiment with different techniques. Eventually, I settled with the method deemed the best way to cook for my family.

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bok choy stir fry with oyster sacue

What is Bok Choy

Bok choy is also translated as bak choi, pak choi, bái cài, or bak choy, which are all from the word 白菜. The differences are due to the slight phonetic difference between the Chinese dialects. 

The direct translation of 白菜 is ‘white vegetables,’ but they might not necessarily be white. Bok choy leaves are crisp, with a slightly grassy taste, and mildly bitter.  The stalks are either white (yes!), but some can be pale green. The texture is crispy, with a nice celery-like crunch.

The taste of bok choy is mild and relatively neutral and is versatile to cook in different ways with various seasonings.

There are many species, but for culinary purposes, I would group them into the large and the baby bok choy, as the cooking method is slightly different.

baby and large bok chot
left: baby bok choy, Right: large bok choy

How to stir-fry bok choy

The most common disparity between the home-cooked version and the restaurant version is there is not enough wok aroma, and the stem is either too tough or soft. 

Here is the step-by-step breakdown of my methods to recreate this iconic Chinese dish at home.

1. Prepare bok choy for stir-frying 

Baby bok choy

Since baby bok choy is only about two to three inches long, it is better not to cut them or remove the leaves to preserve their appearance. After all, the stalks are pretty tender, which means that they will be tender-crisp when cooking them with the leaves simultaneously.

Rinse the baby bok choy with tap water in a large container or pot. Change the water two to three times to remove all the dirt and sand. Place the bok choy in a colander to drain the excess water.

Large bok choy

Since they are larger, cut off half to one cm of the stem from the root portion. Separate each stalk and wash separately, either using running water or plunge a few times into a pot of water to remove the dirt.  

Next, cut or snap each stalk crosswise to separate the leaves and the stems. Drain the leaves and stalks separately in different colanders. 

Cut the stems on the bias to break the fiber.  By doing so, the stem will become just tender-crisp and does not need to cook excessively long to make it soft, as the color of bok choy will turn dull after prolonged cooking.

Another method is to cut the large bok choy down the center to create two halves. This method reveals the stunning pattern of the stem and still keeps the structure intact. However, the structure is fragile, so it is more appropriate for blanching or pan-frying. 

2. Which is better- to blanch or not to blanch?

Some cooks prefer to blanch the stem of the large bok choy before stit-frying since it takes longer to cook through than the leaves. I used to blanch the larger stems separately with boiling water for a few minutes, then add to the leaves to stir fry so that they will become tender-crisp simultaneously. My method has slightly evolved as I thought it is faster to skip blanching.

My current method is to stir-fry the stem over high heat for two minutes, then add the leaves and continue cooking. They will cook to tender-crisp at the same time and safe the step to blanch in a separate pot of water.

3 How to season the bok choy

There are four essential ingredients required in this stir fry bok choy recipe.  

Garlic is the primary ingredient you must have.  It is almost used universally for all types of stir-fried vegetables in Chinese cooking.  

Coarsely chop the garlic for stir-frying bok choy. There is no need to finely chop or mince the garlic, which has a counter effect. Since stir-frying involves high heat, finely chopped garlic tends to burn quickly during the process.

The second item is ginger.  It is always great to add two to three thinly sliced ginger along with the garlic.  This is the classic combination almost used together in all Chinese recipes.  It is also a perfect combination in Indian cuisine, usually, combine as ginger garlic paste.

Some say that ginger can counterbalance the cooling effect of leafy greens, although that is not why I use it. I just love its taste!

Bok choy is slightly bitter, so I always add a small teaspoon of sugar to balance the bitterness.

Lastly, season with some salt.  This bok choy stir fry recipe highlights the taste, texture, and mouthfeel of the vegetable. You seldom heard about bok choy used in other heavily seasoned dishes, such as curries.

4. Use a stir-fry sauce (bok choy with oyster sauce recipe)

If you want to prepare a more savory version, I suggest using simple soy and oyster sauce to switch it up to the bok choy with oyster sauce recipe. Bear in mind that the sauce should not overpower but accent the bok choy flavors.

I do not suggest to stir fry the bok choy with this sauce, although I term it as a stir-fry sauce.  The sauce will take away the vibrant, fresh green color of the bok choy once you stir-fry together.  I prefer to retain the color of the bok choy and use the sauce as dressing.

This bok choy stir fry is deceptively tricky to recreate this iconic Chinese dish at home to taste like those from the restaurant.

5. Stir fry the bok choy

Here are the steps for baby bok choy stir-fry 

  • Heat some oil in the wok.
  • Add the coarsely chopped garlic and ginger to saute over low to medium heat until fragrant and turn slightly brown.  High heat is not recommended as it will burn the garlic quickly.
  • Add the bok choy to the wok. You will hear a loud sizzling sound throughout the entire stir-fry time.
  • Turn the heat to high. Continue to stir fry over high heat to generate the wok aroma. 
  • Season with salt and sugar at any time during the stir-frying process.
  • Whenever the liquid in the wok starts to dry out, add one to two tablespoons of water to the wok to continue stir-frying over high heat. Try to keep minimum water in the wok as too much water will reduce the wok aroma. There should be a constant sizzling sound throughout the stir-frying process.
  • Depending on the size of the bok choy, check the doneness (best is to eat one to test), and dish out immediately when the bok choy is tender-crisp. If it is not done yet, add another tablespoon of water to stir fry further. Keep an eye on the color of the bok choy, as they will lose the vibrant color if you overcooked it.

Here are the step to stir-fry the large bok choy

Stir fry the stems

  • Heat some oil in the wok over low to medium heat as for the small bok choy.
  • Saute part of the coarsely chopped garlic and ginger slices until aromatic.
  • Add the drained, sliced bok choy stems and stir fry over high heat. Add a tablespoon of water at a time if it is too dry. Keep adding a small amount of water over high heat until the stems are tender-crisp, which takes about two minutes. Of course, the actual timing depends on the size and thickness of the bok choy stems. 
  • Remove the stems from the wok.

Combine the stems with the leaves

  • Add some oil into the pan. Saute the remaining garlic and ginger until aromatic.
  • Add the bok choy leaves and stir fry until they start to wither, which will take a minute or two.  Add one or two tablespoons of water should you find it is too dry.
  • Return the nearly cooked stems to the wok.  Season the bok choy with salt and sugar.
  • Continue stir-frying over high heat until the water is nearly dried out. Transfer it to the serving plate.

Related dishes to bok choy stir fry recipe

If you like this recipe for bok choy stir-fry, you are likely interested in trying the following recipes.

Gailan (Chinese broccoli) stir fry. This is my earlier article describes how to stir fry gailan. I blanch the vegetable briefly in this recipe. You can refer to it if you like to use the blanching method.

Chicken and broccoli stir-fry is a breeze to prepare. It is the ideal dish when you are short of time cooking or having a sudden craving for the Chinese take-out.

This vegetable stir-fry is quick and easy. Stir-frying adds a whole new dimension to your plain vegetables. Give it a try if you like broccoli, cauliflower, snow peas, and bell peppers.

Yield: 2 servings

Bok choy stir fry - easy restaurant style recipe

bok choy stir frt recipe with oyster sauce

Bok choy stir fry might be downright simple for some people, especially those who grew up in a typical Cantonese family. However, it is deceptively tricky to recreate this iconic Chinese dish at home to taste like those from the restaurant.
This bok choy stir fry recipe will address all the nitty-gritty.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 5 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes

Ingredients

Ingredients A

  • 400g bok choy of your choice
  • 5 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 3 slices ginger
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp ground white pepper

Ingredients B (Sauce)

Instructions

  1. Rinse the baby bok choy with water to remove all the dirt and sand. Drain.
  2. Heat some oil in the wok. Saute the coarsely chopped garlic and ginger over low to medium heat until fragrant.
  3. Add the bok choy to stir-fry over high heat.
  4. Season with salt, sugar, and white pepper.
  5. Add some water if it is too dry, 1-2 tbsp at a time,
  6. Stir-fry until the bok choy is tender-crisp.
  7. Bring all the Ingredients in B to a boil in a small pan to thicken it. Set aside.
  8. Drizzle the sauce on the bok choy. Serve.

Variation for larger bok choy

  1. Separate the leaves from the stem.
  2. Cut the stem into short sections on a bias.
  3. Stir fry the stem and the leaves separately.
  4. When both are tender and still crisp, combine both in the wok, season with salt, sugar, and pepper.
  5. Transfer to the serving plate.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

2

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 95Total Fat: 2gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 1020mgCarbohydrates: 19gFiber: 2gSugar: 3gProtein: 2g

This data was provided and calculated by Nutritionix on 4/10/2021

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Nenita sy paronda zamora

Sunday 18th of April 2021

I normally stir fry first the stalk, then after few seconds i put the leaves. Thank you for another procedure you shared, to separate the leaves to stir fry then later mix the sauted stalks.. I love your recipes. Thank you.

KP Kwan

Monday 19th of April 2021

Thank you for sharing your method.

CARMEN TAN LAGERA

Sunday 18th of April 2021

I love all your cooking.

Ho SC

Monday 12th of April 2021

Adding sugar is a no no for home cooking. They do it at restaurants or zhi char stall. The rest of procedure can follow. Vegetables have their own unique taste and should not be tainted with sugar. In any case oyster sauces already contain some sugar

KP Kwan

Sunday 11th of April 2021

Hi, this is KP Kwan. I am happy to see you in this comment area as you have read through my recipe. I am pleased to reply to any questions and comments as soon as possible.

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