Cabbage is a widely popular vegetable in Chinese cuisine and is commonly enjoyed worldwide. It is more accessible and affordable than leafy greens like bok choy and choy sum, especially in non-Asian countries. While I was in New Zealand, cabbage was my favorite vegetable. Now that I’m back home in Malaysia, I have since cooked cabbage regularly.

In this article, I want to share a Chinese cabbage stir-fry recipe known as “手撕包菜” (shǒu sī bāo cài). It is translated as “hand-torn cabbage” or “shredded cabbage.” in English. Although I also have other Asian cabbage stir-fry recipes on this food blog, such as the stir-fry Chinese cabbage with dried shrimp and the Indian-style stir-fry, this hand-torn cabbage stir-fry is the quickest and easiest.

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Quick and delicious Chinese cabbage stir-fry in no time. Try this Sichuan-style quick dish called hand-torn cabbage (手撕包菜), hot and spicy.

1. Why is it called hand-torn cabbage?

The term “hand-torn cabbage” is likely derived from how it is prepared in Chinese restaurants. Instead of using a knife to cut the cabbage into pieces, it is torn by hand. This method allows for separating the stem and leaves, which is essential to achieve the best result in the dish. The desired crunchiness of the cabbage can be obtained from the leafy part when quickly stir-fried over high heat, while the thicker stem may achieve a different crispiness. The stem part can be saved for other purposes, such as making vegetable broth or cabbage pickles.

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2. Essential ingredients for the stir-fried cabbage

To prepare this dish, you’ll need more than just cabbage. The main ingredient you’ll require is dried red chilies, readily available in your nearby Asian market. Dried chilies over chili flakes are recommended due to their intense flavor.

If you prefer less spicy, use the same number of chilies but remove the seeds before adding them to the dish. This simple adjustment will reduce the overall spiciness.

Another commonly used spice is Sichuan peppercorn, which imparts a unique numbing sensation on the tongue. While these peppercorns are optional, it adds a personal touch to the dish, depending on your preference for the tingling effect.

Apart from these key ingredients, you’ll also need a few cloves of fresh garlic, sliced thinly, to enhance the dish’s flavor. With these elements combined, you’ll create a delightful and flavorful meal centered around cabbage.

3. Optional Ingredients for a Flavorful Twist

While the authentic Sichuan-style shredded cabbage relies on the basic ingredients mentioned earlier, there are several additions you can consider to create your own unique and flavorful variation.

One common addition is green onions which complement the dish’s fresh and aromatic taste.

To make the dish heartier and non-vegetarian, you can introduce sliced meat, such as pork, chicken, beef, or Chinese sausage.

By incorporating these optional ingredients, you can transform the traditional Sichuan-style shredded cabbage into a delightful recipe tailored to your taste preferences.

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Quick and delicious Chinese cabbage stir-fry in no time. Try this Sichuan-style quick dish called hand-torn cabbage (手撕包菜), hot and spicy.

4. Use a simple seasoning approach

Many recipes for Sichuan-style stir-fried cabbage, rice vinegar, and sugar are commonly used to achieve a well-balanced taste. However, consider incorporating some elements, such as light soy sauce, sesame oil, and oyster sauce, for a different flavor.

I prefer to follow a simple approach to allow the natural taste of the cabbage and other ingredients to shine through.

5. The Key Factors for a Delightful Hand-Torn Stir-Fry Cabbage

The success of creating a delicious hand-torn stir-fry cabbage dish hinges on three primary factors:

  1. Using only the leafy part of the cabbage, as mentioned previously. By doing so, all the leafy portions will cook evenly, resulting in a delightful crisp texture.
  2. Using high heat during the stir-frying process until the cabbage slightly changes color and exhibits some charred marks. This technique is crucial as it infuses the dish with the coveted wok aroma.
  3. Keeping the cabbage dry while stir-frying is essential to preserve the wok aroma. This means maintaining a relatively dry wok throughout the entire process. To achieve this, restaurant chefs often wash the cabbage on the outside and carefully dry it before tearing the leaves apart.
Quick and delicious Chinese cabbage stir-fry in no time. Try this Sichuan-style quick dish called hand-torn cabbage (手撕包菜), hot and spicy.

6. How to stir-fry cabbage- the step-by-step instruction

  1. First, wash the cabbage thoroughly with water, and then pat it dry with a dry cloth.
  2. Cut the cabbage in half and use a knife to remove the center core of the cabbage carefully.
  3. With your hands, gently remove each leaf from the cabbage.
  4. Using your hands again, shred the cabbage leaves into approximately two to three-inch pieces. For the best results, it is recommended to remove the stems.
  5. Slice about 20g of garlic into thin pieces.
  6. If you prefer a milder spice level, prepare some dried chilies and remove the seeds.
  7. Heat the wok over medium heat and add some oil to it.
  8. Once the oil is hot, stir-fry the optional Sichuan peppercorns until aromatic, then remove the peppercorns with a fine sieve.
  9. Add the dried chilies and garlic to stir-fry until aromatic.
  10. Add the cabbage to the wok, then stir-fry with the chilies for about half a minute over high heat. Keep stirring and flipping the cabbage to ensure each leaf gets maximum heat from the wok. This step is crucial to achieve a crisp texture in the cabbage.
  11. Lower the heat and add salt, and if desired, a touch of sugar for added sweetness, light soy sauce, and rice vinegar.
  12. Increase the heat again to mix all the seasonings thoroughly with the cabbage, and then remove the wok from the heat.
  13. Your delicious stir-fried cabbage is now ready to be served and enjoyed.
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These steps will give you the stir-fried cabbage’s delightful flavors and crisp texture. You can serve the Chinese cabbage stir-fry as a delightful accompaniment to your meal or prepare a larger portion as a main dish.

7. More tempting Stir-Fry Recipes for you

If you like this Chinese cabbage stir-fry recipe, I would want to suggest a few more stir-fry recipes for you:

  • Brussels sprouts stir-fried with garlic are lightly seasoned with light soy sauce. It is my go-to recipe, especially when the sprouts are in season.
  • Bok Choy stir-fry is the most popular recipe on this food blog. Do not miss it!
  • Beef stir-fry with broccoli is yummy! It is easy to prepare and is a complete meal by itself.