The Gorbals soy vinegar chilies broccoli dish at home?
March 6, 2011 5:44 PM   Subscribe

On the menu it said "Broccoli, soy, chilies & vinegar", and what came out to the table was the crispiest, most delicate, and most delicious broccoli dish I've ever had. Can you help me replicate it?

I have all the ingredients right here. Soy sauce, vinegar, some good chilies, and of course broccoli. But when I look up reviews that mention the dish, I see a huge range of theories about how it's all prepared. Fried, deep fried, baked, broiled, blanched, and so on... I'm fairly certain the vinegar and soy were added after the broccoli and chilies are cooked. But how?

I know you probably haven't had this dish at this restaurant, but if you were me how would you go about combining and preparing those ingredients to produce hot, crispy (but not charred!), full-flavored florets of broccoli?
posted by carsonb to Food & Drink (43 answers total) 91 users marked this as a favorite
Without looking at any of the links you've posted I'm going to guess that the freshness/variety/origin of broccoli itself is half the battle (without even mentioning the other ingredients).

I don't profess to be a gardener of any sort of merit but I recently took some florets, freshly cut from my garden, to a friend's barbecue and it created a rave about how much better the broccoli was there than from the supermarket.
posted by RolandOfEld at 5:51 PM on March 6, 2011

Looking at this photo of the dish, I first thought it would be roasted, but most of the recipes I found for high heat roasted broccoli are not nearly as brown. If I was going to try and recreate it I would try roasting it first, like those recipes, to cook it through a bit. Then pop it under the broiler for a few minutes to get it really crispy.

And yea, I imagine any sauce is added afterwards.
posted by cabingirl at 5:55 PM on March 6, 2011

The color of that photo really suggests roasting/broiling to me. I think the additional brownness could partially be due to the soy sauce.

Since you think the sauce only has three ingredients, try experimenting until you come up with a similar flavor. (Try equal parts soy and vinegar, taste. If it's too soy-y, try a little more vinegar. If it's too vinegar-y, try adding more soy. Keep track so once you get close you know how much you've used!) The quality of your ingredients is going to matter a lot, here, though; I can almost guarantee that if you only have kikkoman in your kitchen you're not going to get anywhere too close. Try a good organic tamari.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 6:00 PM on March 6, 2011

Could the broccoli be dry-sauteed? That technique is used in Chinese cooking (more often for green beans, I think) to first get the moisture out of a vegetable and then get that dark color and crispiness, and to glaze it with the flavorful things.
posted by bassjump at 6:04 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I often roast broccoli, and it turns out brown, crispy and delicious. To do something like this, I'd toss the broccoli in a marinade of sesame oil and soy sauce, then drizzle some more soy and vinegar over afterwards.
posted by hot soup girl at 6:05 PM on March 6, 2011

I've had a lot of luck lately with the following broccoli recipe, which might produce something similar.

1. Cut broccoli head into florets.
2. Heat a large frying pan with a thick layer of peanut oil.
3. When sizzling/fragrant, add broccoli in a single layer in pan.
4. When broccoli gets brown and crispy on side in contact with pan (~5 min), flip each floret so a new side becomes crispy.
5. After new side becomes crispy and brown, add thinly sliced shallots and stir fry for 30 seconds - 1 minute.
6. Add red chili flakes and lemon juice to taste; stir fry 30 more seconds.
7. Salt liberally.

I think that if you substitute vinegar for lemon juice and soy sauce for salt (but add it 30 min - 1 min before removing from heat), you might end up with something like the Gorbals recipe.
posted by asphericalcow at 6:07 PM on March 6, 2011 [23 favorites]

Best answer: For vinegar, I would try using Chinkiang rice vinegar, a very flavorful black vinegar that is a staple in Chinese cooking.
posted by asphericalcow at 6:09 PM on March 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

this sounds amazing, i'm sorry i'm not chiming in with additional suggestions but hope that if you figure out how to replicate that you might write in the recipe...?
posted by dmbfan93 at 6:11 PM on March 6, 2011

Another vote for roasting. A little bit of sesame oil and it'll turn nice and brown.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:17 PM on March 6, 2011

Response by poster: Yeah, I'll definitely be chiming in with results as I try different ways. I've started tonight's dish with the roasting/broiling process because it was an early suggestion and because it combines the two theories floated in this house. Marinating the florets in soy sauce and a dab of sesame oil, roasting for ~10 mins, then I plan to broil them to color.

Dry sautee will be next, and I'll acquire some nice soy and a couple types of vinegar (she says malt vinegar?) for future experimentation.

Thanks for the suggestions so far, looking forward to further theories and hopefully some expert opinion. ;^)
posted by carsonb at 6:22 PM on March 6, 2011

Best answer: I love roasted broccoli, but mine is rarely that evenly brown. I'm not convinced it's not deep-fried, perhaps with a blanch first. If the oil is hot enough, it'll be good and crispy, rather than greasy. The key really is fast cooking, and nothing is faster than 400-degree oil.
posted by supercres at 6:24 PM on March 6, 2011

The Ottolenghi cookbook has a recipe for chargrilled broccoli with chilli and garlic which is really good - here's an adapted recipe on a blog. It is amazing and delicious.

I would try a variation on this - blanch the broccoli, let it dry out, then cook on a griddle pan. If the dish you seek is more Asian-flavoured, maybe try peanut oil instead of olive oil.

I would then gently heat the rest of the ingredients together (soy, vinegar, chilli, some oil perhaps) to make a warm dressing and toss this through the broccoli.

Do you think the soy was the salty version, or the sweet, thick ketchup manis version?
posted by AnnaRat at 6:26 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I can't get the 'MORE' link to work, but there's the beginning of a review here that says, "Ilan Hall of The Gorbals in L.A. cuts broccoli stems into slices, blanches and grills them".

I have done this. I boil the broccoli for about a minute, pat it dry, spray it with olive oil from my spritzer, and put crushed red pepper flakes and garlic bits on it, and then put it on my panini maker to grill it. I keep the top open. It's amazing. It browns, it crisps, it smells and tastes wonderful.

Blanche, pat dry, flavor it up, grill it.
posted by iconomy at 6:30 PM on March 6, 2011 [10 favorites]

Here is the rest of what I was reading, it's a different recipe. But try making it the blanche/grill way, it's the crispy char that you want.
posted by iconomy at 6:35 PM on March 6, 2011

Soy doesn't necessarily mean soy sauce - could it be miso, for instance?

We ended up replicating a similarly crispy broccoli dish from a Seattle bar with our gas kitchen torch.
posted by halogen at 6:52 PM on March 6, 2011

Hight heat roasting or grilling with plenty of oil is a possibility - but from its looks I think there is a stronger possibility that it is deep fried with no batter.
posted by peachfuzz at 7:04 PM on March 6, 2011

Best answer: Yeah, there's a soy sauce paste which is thicker than normal soy sauce which, from the ingredients list, is thickened by potato starch and coats better than regular dark soy.

The morphology of the broccoli florets suggest to me pan frying in oil at very high temperatures. I'd try using rather hot (just before smoking) oil, maybe 1/3 cm deep, dropping in well-dried florets and when it's hot enough (30 seconds?), drop in crushed chilies (chili flakes in peanut oil should work well - I like "old mama" or Youjia, or perhaps fresh red chilies) splash on some Chinese cooking wine, stirring vigourously. When wine evaporates (ten, fifteen seconds?), lower heat and douse with soy paste and black vinegar (preferably pre-mix). Stir vigourously to coat.

If you can find it, Gold Plum Superior Mature Vinegar is soooo much better than even Chinkiang, which is pretty good.
posted by porpoise at 7:19 PM on March 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

I don't think you're going to get that brown color if you marinate the broccoli first and then try to roast it wet. Too much steam there.

The browning is likely from some high heat application one that may not be easy to achieve at home, commercial woks and wood fired ovens are likely suspects but you can't usually replicate the heat these create at home. The most home friendly method would be grilling but on a charcoal or wood fired grill. The trick is heat that high is going to roast the outside but leave the inside a bit raw so its likely blanched as suggested earlier to par cook the broccoli a bit and get the color locked in before it gets whatever heat treatment it gets.

I'd think the broccoli is likely cooked (mostly) separately from the soy, vinegar and chilis. I think maybe a dry wok for the heat. So I'd try blanching the broccoli first, then (once dry - they need to be dry first) I'd throw them in a dry wok (maybe a very small bit of super hot oil). Then once the broccoli is done I'd finish with the soy/vinegar/chilis.
posted by bitdamaged at 7:42 PM on March 6, 2011

Best answer: Oh, it's also called dry frying (instead of dry sautee). Here's the link about dry frying that I couldn't find earlier.
posted by bassjump at 8:09 PM on March 6, 2011

Best answer: I make a somewhat close version of this broccoli. I sautee the broccoli alone with oil as high a heat as possible, the heat never gets turned down and you have stir constantly. Once the broccoli's almost cooked, I add salt and brown sugar to caramelize.

I'd imagine you would add a soy paste, vinegar with a high sugar content, and chili instead of sugar and salt. The trick is to have the heat high the entire time, which freaks me out as it seems like it's about to burn any moment. But the end product is delicious.
posted by xinglin91 at 8:30 PM on March 6, 2011

I'm going to go out on a limb, and suggest a blanch and sautee method. Otherwise, how do you get chile flavor in the broccoli? Blanch, dry, sautee in a neutral oil (canola, peanut) with chiles, and finish with soy and a splash of vinegar. In fact, you might not even need to blanch, if your oil is hot enough.
posted by Gilbert at 9:19 PM on March 6, 2011

Yeah, if it's just listed "soy", that could be a number of things, not just soy sauce. One thing to remember is that proper stir-fry is done with a really hot wok, something that is hard to do with a regular stove at home, even if you have a gas range. Some foods are just not possible to replicate--at home--the flavor that a professional kitchen can give them.
posted by zardoz at 9:23 PM on March 6, 2011

Response by poster: Tonight's results were very tasty, but the texture was heavy and chewy compared to the light crispiness of the pros' version. What I did:

- Tossed broccoli heads and julienned chilies with 2tbsp low sodium grocery store brand soy sauce and about 1tsp sesame oil.
- Roasted at ~325 for ten minutes, then broiled for 2 minutes.
- Coated with a few more spurts of soy sauce and a couple dashes malt vinegar.

It tasted great, but I had a hard time biting through the stalks—they didn't have that easy crisp. Also, the pips were charred before the stalks could brown very much. If I were going to prepare this dish this way again I'd definitely blanche the broccoli first, I'd turn the oven up to ~400, and I probably wouldn't broil it.

Since the answers so far tonight have had about the same variance as the general search results I'd found, I guess (*sigh*) I might just have to try all the various preparations and figure it out on my own. Damn! Thank you all so much for the tips and suggestions you've given so far (and also to those of you who have yet to contribute!), you've helped a TON and I can't wait to try all of these different techniques. I think next we'll blanche and then sautee, but I have to admit my interest is piqued by the dry-frying link suggested by bassjump. The desiccation of the outer part of the stem that's then saturated by the oil/soy/chile mixture sounds very promising.

Thanks again, and cheers!
posted by carsonb at 9:53 PM on March 6, 2011

Response by poster: Oh, and I'm fairly certain it's soy sauce that's used—I'm looking forward to trying some of the other kinds suggested here. Even though the stuff we used tonight was 'low-sodium' it was still very salty. Would a nicer soy sauce not be as overpowering in that regard?
posted by carsonb at 9:55 PM on March 6, 2011

Have you tried asking The Gorbals? Most restaurants where I've asked about "how" are happy to share some of the ideas, if not the secrets.
posted by anadem at 10:12 PM on March 6, 2011

Response by poster: I did! I asked the waiter at the end of our meal and he wouldn't tell me. Whether he wouldn't out of ignorance or secrecy I don't know and can't guess. He said "yeah, it's really amazing, huh?" with a mysterious look and then left my change on the table and walked off. It was a busy night there and I didn't press the issue.
posted by carsonb at 10:16 PM on March 6, 2011

Best answer: I always assumed it was deep fried because it seemed a bit greasy to me.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 10:41 PM on March 6, 2011

Maybe partially steam then fry so that it is soft inside. Also, there is a whole word of soy sauces out there.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 10:45 PM on March 6, 2011

If I was a restaurant and not a cook at home I would want to make this as fast as possible. I think everything is mixed already together except the chilies. Then thrown in a really hot pro kitchen wok for 30 sec, then sprinkled with peppers. The vinegar would be sweet to help with the caramelizing. If you marinate the broccoli with everything else, it will soften it after an hour.
posted by I love you more when I eat paint chips at 10:49 PM on March 6, 2011

If you get a nicer soy sauce, it will taste less like salty water and more like other things - a deeper, darker flavor. Tamari is very similar to soy sauce, only thicker and without any wheat products; it is usually more flavorful as well.
posted by asphericalcow at 12:42 AM on March 7, 2011

My theoretical contribution: Roast at high heat (425) with a good amount of neutral oil, soy and a teaspoon of sugar.

The vinegar and chilies you can mess around with but I think the start is to get the cooking right.

I love soy sauce and vinegar mixed half and half, incidentally, and I've recently started adding a little sugar to that, too.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:03 AM on March 7, 2011

Oh - a key thing about roasting broccoli, regardless -- don't crowd the pan - it creates steam when they're snuggled up next to each other. The water needs to be evaporating for the browning to occur, which is always true, actually. I sometimes forget this with boneless chicken breasts, which really need that browning to happen fast.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:07 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

The splash of cooking wine vapourizes and goes through the broccoli, cooking the insides, before evaporating.
posted by porpoise at 7:26 AM on March 7, 2011

Best answer: Because you say the dish was delicate and crispy, I'm guessing it was blanched then deep fried. Commercial fryolaters will produce an entirely different product than what you can do at home. At first I was even going to suggest that it was blanched then placed under a commercial broiler or salamander, but I don't think this would get the broccoli crispy. I'm in a commercial kitchen right now, so I'll try deep frying a floret or two and let you know the outcome.
posted by ps_im_awesome at 8:23 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Asking the front-of-house staff will get you nowhere - they typically have absolutely no idea what's going on in the kitchen.

You know the name of the chef. It it were me, I'd try to try track him down on a social media site and email/message him. Failing that, go to the restaurant and ask to speak to him.
posted by halfguard at 8:38 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Another vote for dry-fried, which actually means "deep-fried until the moisture is evaporated out of the food", not that there's no water or very little oil in the wok. (That Epicurious recipe won't produce the classic dry-fried results, in my opinion.) Barbara Tropp's The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking has a recipe for dry-fried string beans (p 297) which produces a similar-looking vegetable: wrinkled but crisp, dark brown, and glistening with oil.

Unlike most deep-frying techniques, in dry-frying the food is not battered or coated to keep it moist and juicy. It stays in the hot oil for a fairly long time, about 4 - 5 minutes for green beans, and the pot is not covered. The goal is to cook the moisture out of the food without totally drying it out, to concentrate the flavor and make a nice contrast between the crisp surface and softly luscious inside.

Dry-fried string beans is a classic Szechwan specialty and I bet the chef at The Gorbals was riffing on it when he came up with the broccoli dish. I further bet that he took the soy sauce + vinegar + chili combo from another favorite dish and teamed it up with his dry-fried broccoli, and there you go! MeMail me if you want more details on dry-frying, recipe suggestions, etc.
posted by Quietgal at 9:06 AM on March 7, 2011

Yep, I'm voting for the blanching/dry-fried combo.
posted by thinkpiece at 12:30 PM on March 7, 2011

Just another data point as I tossed this mystery around in my head last night was the technique for restaurant french fries. Most good fries are actually fried twice. Once at lower heat which par-cooks the fry but does not brown it, then a second time at a higher temp which does all the browning. This article has a lot of cool experimentation on why double frying works best with fries. But one take is that par-boiling (instead of par-frying) the fry doesn't work anywhere near as well. Which makes me wonder if they par-fry the broccoli first.

Second note, 325 is an extremely low temp to roast veggies, most of the time I roast veggies (Broccoli, asparagus and my fave green onions and portobellos I do it somewhere between 400 and 450)
posted by bitdamaged at 1:24 PM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It's probably fried, but done at a temperature that would be frightening for a non-professional wok/stove combo.
posted by talldean at 12:54 PM on March 8, 2011

Best answer: Ok, so I tossed some raw broccoli in a fryolater and let it sizzle for 2 minutes. And this is what came out. The texture was definitely crispy but cooked through entirely. I'm going to vote for this as the MOP with the sauce added after.
posted by ps_im_awesome at 1:51 PM on March 8, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Alright, I just finished my second and third attempts. I'm sort of feeling my way along here in the kitchen, for better or worse, so I decided to get two heads* and give myself a re-do with temp/time adjustments if necessary.

I got some water boiling on the front of the stove and put on my smock. Broccoli got chopped, then practically dipped in the boiling water. I didn't leave it in very long for fear of the spitting pan of oil on the back burner. It was pretty much out of control and my apartment is now coated in a fine layer of grease smoke residue. Anyway I only blanched the broccoli for about a minute, mistake number eight or something, dried it off really well, and threw it piece by piece from across the room into the roiling pit on the range. The first two pieces came out black. I turned the burner off and put more broccoli in, for about 30 seconds, and thought back over my life to see if I needed to send some quick txts of apology before dying in a fire. Repeated for the entire head, and then dried on a paper towel, doused with equal spurts organic soy sauce and rice vinegar (*shrug* I had it here), and devoured. It tasted great (yay!) but the texture was nowhere near The Gorbals' dish. Chewy and limp, not light and crispy—but not charred!

For the second attempt I blanched the broccoli longer, about 4 minutes. I tamed the heat on the pan of oil (after clearing the soiled air in here a bit) and got the dried stalks in there sizzling for another 4 minutes. Put in the same bowl as before, with leftover douse, and added a bit more soy. I'd say the proportion goes maybe 1.5:1 soy/vinegar, and likely varies depending on which types of the sauces are used.

The texture of the second attempt was much, much closer (and extremely enjoyable!); aligned about right given my facilities and abilities. I think if I were properly trained and had a nice hot professional deep fryer, this would be the way I'd make the dish and my life would be fucking awesome.

Your input and suggestions and theories and everything are pretty damn awesome as it stands, so fiery spitting thanks to y'all.

* of broccoli, sheesh! (Still better than one.)
posted by carsonb at 9:20 PM on March 25, 2011

Response by poster: (Remains unresolved since I plan on trying other suggested methods and recipes, so we'll see!)
posted by carsonb at 9:31 PM on March 25, 2011

Best answer: OK, so before I could try very many more ways to cook this broccoli (katillathehun up til now has insisted roasting at home is the way to get it the closest), we went back to Gorbals and I made it my mission to extract the techniques and ratios before leaving. I asked every employee I encountered, starting with the hostess. Good choice, it turns out, because the owner/chef happened to be returning the bathroom key to the hostess stand just as I was asking. They responded at first, of course, with "it's a secret!"

But I persisted and after suggesting that it was some sort of deep frying technique, Ilan Hall got an offended look on his face and said, "flash frying, yeah". So that's it! The broccoli is flash-fried!

Later, I was describing my enjoyment of the dish to our waitress, who admitted she was allowed to give away the recipe for the sauce, follows:

70% malt vinegar
30% soy sauce

So there's that too. (Though that seems like a lot of vinegar... we both went on coughing jags from inhaling vinegar fumes.)

But, Yay resolution! Hooray broccoil soy chile dishes!
posted by carsonb at 8:31 AM on May 15, 2011 [10 favorites]

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