Stir-fried/braised chicken with pickled mustard greens, better known in our family as haam choy chow gai, is a Cantonese classic recipe and one of my Grandma’s favorite dishes.
How do I really know this? Well, when your grandma comes to your house for Thanksgiving dinner, and she brings her own food (this dish) it’s pretty convincing.
It was Thanksgiving 2016, and she arrived at the house with a whole fresh chicken, ginger, her homemade sour pickled mustard greens (haam choy), and a request for me to steam some rice.
Since I was the host, I was also the sous chef for my kau mou, Cantonese for aunt on my mother’s side—jiù mā (舅母) in Mandarin.
I got her everything she needed, from a sharp cleaver and cutting board to all the sauces and spices. That Thanksgiving, I picked up a few pointers for cooking one of grandma’s favorites.
What is Haam Choy?
Haam choy is a type of Cantonese or Hakka-style sour pickled mustard green. We posted my grandma’s haam choy recipe just a couple days ago.
Made from gai choy (Cantonese) or jiè cài (Mandarin), it’s salty, sour, and even a little sweet from the addition of sugar in the pickling liquid. When cooked with fresh chicken, it’s a Chinese centenarian’s preferred meal over turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes.
Buying Or Making Haam Choy
You can buy haam choy from the Chinese grocery store in vacuum sealed packages like this:
But making your own is going to make this dish taste that much better. Check out grandma’s haam choy recipe. If you use store-bought haam choy, you will want to give it a good rinse and also taste it because it is much saltier than homemade.
Confused about what this ingredient even is? Read more about Chinese mustard greens in our Chinese ingredients glossary article.
Stir-frying vs. Braising
Stir-fried dishes generally involve the quick cooking of protein and/or vegetables over high heat. Any protein is usually velveted—marinated and either fried in oil, poached in water, or seared in the wok. The dish is seasoned, and everything comes together quickly over very high heat.
Braising usually involves a browning process first, followed by long simmering in some braising liquid.
This dish has characteristics of both stir-frying and braising. You stir-fry the ingredients first, and follow that with what I’m calling a “quick braise” in a good amount of sauce to marry the flavors together.
Whole Chicken vs. Boneless Chicken Pieces
For this Cantonese-style chicken with pickled mustard greens, most Chinese prefer to use a whole chicken chopped into bite-sized chunks with the bone in. Especially older Chinese folks!
Indeed, there’s something to that, especially for braised dishes like this one. The bones create a concentrated, flavorful sauce—even in a quick-braised dish like this one.
The inclusion of the chicken skin on those pieces also gives the sauce a nice sticky (almost gelatinous) texture, like the sauce in another Woks of Life favorite recipe, our Sticky Oyster Sauce Chicken. If that’s what you prefer, definitely do it! If you haven’t tried it, it’s worth experimenting with.
That said, many are intimidated by the task of chopping up a whole raw chicken. Most people also don’t appreciate picking on bones or putting up with an occasional bone fragment. Just ask Sarah, who says her dislike for chicken cut this way is her “most non-Chinese characteristic!”
Thus, for ease of preparation and eating, you can use boneless breast or chicken thighs. It’s just as tasty, and my grandma can attest to it!
On to the recipe.
Cantonese Chicken with Pickled Mustard Greens: Recipe Instructions
Place the chicken chunks into a bowl with the water, soy sauce, oyster sauce, vegetable oil, and white pepper. Mix until thoroughly combined and set aside for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, mix the cornstarch into the marinated chicken, massaging everything together until the chicken has absorbed any standing liquid.
Meanwhile, mix the sauce by combining the chicken stock, oyster sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, and white pepper. Set aside.
Place a clean, dry wok over medium high heat, and add 2 tablespoons of oil and the smashed ginger slices.
After 15 seconds, add the pickled mustard greens. Stir-fry for 1 minute to sear the greens and dry them out slightly.
Next, add the smashed garlic, white parts of the scallions, and dried red peppers (if using). Stir-fry for another 30 seconds. Searing the aromatics and the mustard greens like this really brings out their flavors.
Move the mustard greens to the sides of the wok, and turn the heat up to the highest setting. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the open middle area of the wok, and add the chicken in 1 layer.
Let the chicken fry for 1 minute on each side, or until lightly browned. Move the mustard greens and aromatics around with the chicken so they don’t burn.
Add the Shaoxing wine around the perimeter of the wok and stir everything together for 10 seconds.
Add prepared sauce mixture to deglaze the wok, mixing everything together until combined.
Then push all of the ingredients to the middle of the wok. Turn the heat down so the liquid is at a slow simmer.
Cover and cook for 3-4 minutes.
After 3-4 minutes, the sauce will have reduced.
If it looks too dry, add a little more stock. If it’s still too wet, simmer a bit longer with the cover off until it has reduced to your liking.
Turn the heat back up to medium high heat and add the green parts of the scallions.
Add enough of the cornstarch slurry to thicken the sauce (you don’t have to use it all) and stir together for 20-30 seconds.
Plate and serve with steamed rice.