Beef with broccoli reminds me of my childhood. My mom never made it from scratch, but we ordered it often when we ordered Chinese food and it remains, to this day, a favorite. And while this beloved Chinese-American dish graces the menu of almost every Chinese restaurant I’ve been to over the years, I never knew the actually history of the dish, until now. Beef with broccoli, or broccoli beef, as it’s sometimes called, is believed to have been created by Chinese immigrants who arrived in San Francisco around the mid-1800s, during the California Gold Rush and the subsequent construction of the Transcontinental Railroad.
Gai Lan Chao Niu Rou:
Making use of simple local ingredients, including American beef and new vegetables, like broccoli, the growing Chinese-American community created a new type of cuisine based on more traditional Chinese dishes. It is believed this iconic dish likely originated from a Chinese dish called Gai Lan Chao Niu Rou or “Chinese Broccoli Fried Beef“. But since early immigrants could not find Chinese broccoli in the states, American broccoli became a go-to substitute.
Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882:
As the gold rush slowed, jobs in California quickly became scarce. Racial prejudice, and a fear that Chinese immigrants would undercut white wages, led to friction. Anti-Chinese sentiment culminated in the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. This was the only law in American history which prevented members of a designated ethnic group from immigrating to the United States. This law remained in effect until World War II.
45,000 Chinese Restaurants:
Further legislation around that time prohibited this group from working in numerous industries. Workers were, however, permitted to work in food service. And this exception is what allowed many Chinese-Americans to go into the restaurant business. Today an estimated 45,000 Chinese restaurants exist in the United States.
Restaurants were an economic lifeline for many Chinese-American families. Adapting traditional Chinese dishes, such as beef with broccoli, and catering to American tastes, allowed these families to prosper. During the 1900’s, Chinese restaurants spread throughout the country, and became know for inexpensive, fast and satisfying food. Some historians believe this spread of the casual Chinese takeout restaurant is what likely paved the way towards a wider acceptance of Chinese-Americans, but the motivation on the part of these immigrants is often overlooked. For many, opening a restaurant served as the only way to bypass laws designed to keep them out of the country.
I wanted to create a version of this well-known favorite to mark a memory in my own childhood, but also to note the historic aspect, which includes the reason for the proliferation and popularization of Chinese cuisine in the United States and tenacity of Chinese-American community that, I’m willing to bet, few actually know about.
Beef With Broccoli
- For the Beef:
- 1 pound grass-fed flank steak, thinly sliced into bite-sized strips
- 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
- 4 cups broccoli, cut into small florets
- For the Sauce:
- 1 1/2 teaspoons fresh ginger, grated
- 1 Tablespoon garlic, grated
- 1/2 cup hot water
- 6 Tablespoons soy sauce (I use low-sodium)
- 2 Tablespoons light brown sugar
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons corn starch
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons sesame oil
- 1 cup brown rice, (optional)
- Step 1 For the Broccoli: Fill a large stockpot halfway with water, place over high heat and bring to as boil. Once boiling, add the broccoli and blanch till vibrant green, about 1 minute. Drain and reserve.
- Step 2 For the sauce: in a small bowl add the ginger, garlic, hot water, soy sauce sauce, sugar, corn starch, ingredients in a bowl, stir well to dissolve the sugar, corn starch, pepper, and sesame oil. whisk well to combine and set aside.
- Step 3 Place a large skillet over high heat and add 1 tablespoon oil. When hot, but not smoking, add the beef in a single layer and sauté until just until cooked through, bout 2 minutes.
- Step 4 Add the sauce, reduce heat to medium/low and simmer 3-4 minutes. It will thicken. Add broccoli and stir to combine. If the sauce is too think, simply add 1 or 2 tablespoons of water to thin it out. Serve hot with brown rice.
Follow my blog with Bloglovin