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Foodstuff: Baby Bok Choy – Shanghai Variety

The picture you see above was labeled ‘Baby Bok Choy’ on the package I purchased here in Iqaluit. The name ‘Bok Choy’ will be familiar to most people as it is it now quite common, but many will associate it with the cabbage variety also known as Napa cabbage or ‘Chinese leaves’. Indeed, the name ‘Bok Choy, or some variant thereof, refers to quite a number of different vegetables… 

‘Bok Choy’ is the Cantonese pronunciation of the characters, 白菜 (báicài in Mandarin), which mean ‘white vegetable’. The Napa type of cabbage is commonly called 大白菜 (dà báicài) meaning ‘large white vegetable, whilst there are several varieties all referred to as小白菜  (xiǎo báicài) which means ‘little white vegetable’.

The above variety is also sold as ‘Baby Bok Choy’ in our local stores and I gather that there are at least twenty different kinds available. The Shanghai variety shown in the first picture is also sold as a ‘baby Bok Choy’ but, to confuse things a little, it is also known in Chinese as青菜, meaning ‘green vegetable.  The ones I just purchased are quite large actually … not really ‘baby’ size at all … but you can buy some really tiny ones, no more than two or three inches long, and these are sometimes known as ‘spoon cabbage’.

I cook the baby varieties many ways, both whole and with the stems and leaves separated, but I very often blanch the vegetable first. I have shown how to do this in other posts but I am going to repeat the instructions again as there is an additional little trick to doing this that you may wish to try…

First, to begin with, you need to bring a large pot of salted water to the boil (about a teaspoon of salt per liter of water is about right) and also have another large bowl or other container of ice-cold water ready for afterwards.

With baby Bok Choy, especially the larger ones, you need to blanch the stems longer than the leaves so I hold them in the water as shown above for a good two minutes before dropping the whole vegetables in so that they are entirely submerged.

Now comes the trick …

As soon as the Bok Choy are submerged, add in a good tablespoon or so of baking soda. It is not apparent in the picture as the effect is brief, but it will begin to foam immediately. I am not sure why this is, possibly our water is slightly acidic, or else the vegetable leaches some acid into the water, but you should see it foam for a few seconds or so. Leave the Bok Choy in the boiling water for about 30 second to a minute and then immediately plunge them into the cold water to stop the cooking.

As you can see, the result is a lovely green color that will last through subsequent cooking. You can get almost the same effect with just straight blanching but the baking soda really intensifies the effect. I have read, in some sources, that using baking soda actually destroys some nutrients so you may not want to do this in everyday cooking. However, if you are entertaining, for example, and really want to improve the visual appeal of your finished dish, you may want to try this little trick.

I am not sure how I am going to eventually cook the Bok Choy I used here as yet… By the time you read this post, Easter will have come and gone but as I write this, our Easter dinner is just two days away. I may cook the Bok Choy as a side with the lamb I am planning, or I my use it some other way. However I decide to cook it, I will share the results with you later…

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. we grew bok choi in our garden this year. it’s gone already but it was wonderful. we slow cooked a few country pork ribs in asian spices and added the bok choi at the end. it was very good. we’ll cook it your way next and just put some of the sauce from the slow cooker over it. it will look much prettier.

    June 29, 2012
  2. Doing it with ribs sounds lovely. My wife will be planting bok choy next week…. I’ll have to wait a month now 😦

    June 29, 2012

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