Bok Choy / Pak Choy
[xiao baicai (Mandarin); Pak Kwang Bae Bai Khao (Thai); Brassica rapa Group Chinensis]
Bok Choy is not a cabbage but turnip greens. All versions feature a sharper flavor with thicker, crisper stems than Napa Cabbage (also a turnip green). The white stemmed varieties are very popular in stir fries and soups, the green stemmed Shanghai variety is often steamed. Bok choy does not form tight heads but the clusters of stems form a tight bundle
Bok Choy, Large
This large form is now widely available in North American produce markets and even many supermarkets. This vegetable is the "cabbage" of southern China, while Napa Cabbage (also a turnip green) takes its place in the north. It is available in a variety of sizes but the photo specimen was 14-1/2 inches long and weighed just over 3 pounds.
The largest form (photo) is usually carried by North American groceries, while markets serving Asian communities commonly have the mid-size, small and tiny versions shown below
More on Asian Greens .
Bok Choy Mui
This is the "real" baby bok choy, one of my favorite vegetables for stir fries and such, but it's not widely available outside markets serving Asian communities. It is not really "baby", it's a tiny variety, as witnessed by the mature flower heads you will find on it. There are actually a number of miniature cultivars, some smaller, some larger. Taste is similar to full size bok choy but the distribution of stem and leaf is more pleasing in my opinion.
Prep: The main problem with this form is getting all the
grit washed out. I usually strip the biggest stems off, then split the
remaining head in half lengthwise which makes it easier to fluff the
leaves and wash it.
Long Bok Choy
This cultivar is longer and narrower than a regular mid-size bok choy, but it tastes the same and can be used in exactly the same way. It does have the advantage that the stems are less bulky, thus need less lead time over the leaves when cooking and the texture of the dish will be less coarse. It frequently shows up in Asian markets in Los Angeles, but probably not much elsewhere yet.
Shanghai Bok Choy
- [Baby Bok Choy (North American groceries); qingcai
(Shanghai Chinese); Pak Kwang Tung Hong Tae (Thai); Chingensai (Japanese)]
Probably the most popular vegetable in Shanghai, this bok choy is now widely available in North American supermarkets. It's smaller than the regular bok choy they sell, so supermarkets, always anxious to snag the yuppie dollar, call it "baby bok choy". Hey, they buy "baby carrots" (machine made from large carrots) and bags of bland "baby spinach", so "baby" anything should sell.
The flavor of this bok choy is somewhat different than that of the
white stemmed variety. Besides being light green the stems are also much
thinner, this variety is better suited to steam whole or split lengthwise.
In Asian markets a tiny "Mui" version is also sometimes seen.
Buying: Look for the large variety of white stemmed Bok Choy and the larger varieties of Shanghai Bok Choy in most North American produce markets and many supermarkets. The other forms shown above will only be available in markets serving an Asian community.
Storing: All forms of bok choy should be loosely wrapped and refrigerated. They will keep several days and then start to turn yellow. Yellowing leaves have lost their flavor but if it hasn't gone too far the stems may still be used.
Cooking: The Shanghai variety, if not too large, is often steamed whole or split lengthwise and steamed, because the stems are relatively thin compared to the white stemmed variety. It can also be used in stir fries and other recipes the same way as the white stemmed, but give the stems less lead time over the leaves.
The White stemmed variety is often used in stir fries and soups. It is usually best to cut or tear the green leaves away from the stems into the desired size. Slice the stems diagonally crosswise to the width desired. The larger the stem the narrower the width should be. Keep the stems and leaves separate.
When cooking, give the stems a lead of 1 to 4 minutes depending on size and method. For stir fries, the leaves should be stirred in just enough to be coated with oil, then the liquid ingredients are added. Cover and simmer until the stem slices are crisp tender. Do not overcook.