Try this Chinese pepper steak for a change!
You may expect this is served uncut, but it is the opposite. The bite-sized pieces of steak are cooked over high heat and caramelized with a savory sauce.
This Black pepper beef stir-fry (黑椒牛柳) recipe is a mashup between Western steak and Chinese stir-fry. I am not sure of the origin, but when the western steak is introduced to the Chinese, they find that it takes too long to cook in the wok and slice it into thin pieces to stir-fry. Ultimately, you will get the best of both of the western steak with wok aroma.
Here is my take on this classic Chinese pepper steak.
How to make Chinese pepper steak
1. Cut the beef into thin slices
A friend of mine joked that the Chinese always slice the meat before cooking, whereas Westerners will only cut the meat after cooking. Although it may not be valid for all instances, it is quite an accurate description for stir-frying, as thin slices of meat will cook through quickly during the brief cooking time.
Here are the steps:
- Cut off the excess fat at the rind of the steak.
- Place the steak in the freezer until it is semi-frozen. It is easier to cut it thinly when the meat is firmer.
- Slice the steak with a sharp knife across the grain to break the tissue fiber. Cut it at an angle to make larger pieces. Since the meat pieces will shrink while cooking, they will become thicker after stir-frying, so it is always better to slice them thinly.
2. Tenderize the meat (optional)
This step is optional and depends on the cut of meat you choose., There is no need to add any tenderizer if you use sirloin or other good cuts, but it will tenderize the cheaper cuts. There are a few ways you can do it:
- Most Chinese restaurants add a small amount of baking soda to the beef as a tenderizer, but it may result in a slight bitterness, especially for some sensitive people. To get around this unpleasant taste, I suggest adding a teaspoon of baking soda to a bowl of water. Add the beef slices and let them soak for ten minutes. After that, drain the water, and the taste of the baking soda will become insignificant.
- Another way is to add some store-bought meat tenderizer made with the natural enzyme. Some of them are added with salt, so please read the label before the season the meat.
Whether using any tenderizer or not, I suggest using the knife to bash each meat piece to flatten it. This process breaks up the fiber, makes it more tender, and cooks evenly during stir-frying.
3. Marinate the steak
The marinate comprises some of the most common ingredients in the Chinese kitchen pantry. It is a mixture of light soy sauce, ground pepper, cornstarch, and some oil.
Please refer to the recipe below for the exact among of each ingredient I use. However, these ingredients are often added to taste, which can vary according to your taste buds.
Marinate the meat for at least half an hour or longer before proceeding to stir-fry.
Can I use other kinds of meat?
The beef often used in the Chinese pepper steak recipe is flank, sirloin, or round steak. However, this marinade is universal for all Chinese stir-fries. It is suitable for marinating beef, chicken, pork and is also excellent for stir-frying vegetables.
4. Prepare the aromatics and vegetables
Crush the garlic and coarsely chopped. There is no need to mince the garlic as it will burn quickly in the wok.
Ginger is quite a standard item to cook beef in Chinese cooking. Slice the ginger thinly. Alternatively, mInce the ginger or use the ginger juice.
Bell pepper is ideal to go along with the beef to make up a complete meal. It also provides a crunchy texture, which contrasts with the steak’s texture and mouthfeel.
Cut off both ends of the bell peppers and remove the pith and seeds. You may either cut it into strips or pieces about the size of the beef. I like to use a combination of red, green, and yellow bell peppers to make up a colorful presentation.
Peel one yellow onion and cut it into strips from pole to pole or into large pieces.
5. Making the Chinese steak sauce
The ingredients of the Chinese pepper steak sauce are pretty similar to the marinade.
I usually mix all the following ingredients in a bowl. By doing so, I do not need to hunt for each of them during stir-frying since it is a quick and continuous process.
Here is a quick summary of the purpose of each ingredient.
- Light soy sauce provides savory flavor and saltiness.
- Dark soy sauce is mainly to improve the color, with a mild caramelize flavor. I do not use it in this recipe to keep the dish light and colorful.
- Oyster sauce is usually paired with light soy sauce to provide the umami for most of the Chinese stir-fry dishes,
- Season with salt and sugar sparingly since light soy sauce and oyster sauce contain salt and sugar.
- Shaoxing wine is widely used in Chinese cooking. You can omit it or use rice wine as the substitute.
- Black pepper plays the leading role in this sauce. Always use freshly ground black pepper for the best result. The amount of black pepper depends on the spiciness you want. I use two teaspoons for 400g of beef.
- Cornstarch helps to brown the meat. It also protects the meat’s internal from the high heat, which can dry up the meat. The cornstarch also helps to thicken the sauce to form a glossy sheen on the steak’s surface.
6. Stir-fry the beef and vegetables
Here are the exact steps I use to stir fry the Chinese pepper steak.
Sear the beef
- Heat some oil in a wok. Saute the garlic and ginger over low heat until aromatic, then remove them but leave the flavored oil in the wok.
- Turn to high heat. Place the marinated beef into the wok. Have a few quick stirs and flips to get the beef quickly heated. Then spread the beef into a single layer, turn down the heat a bit, and let it sear briefly to brown the surface quickly. I stir-fry the beef in two batches to ensure they are adequately sear on the wok surface.
- Flip over to brown the other side while maintaining the heat at medium to high.
- Remove the beef immediately once both sides are brown, as the remaining heat in the wok can overcook the meat.
Vegetables and the sauce
Some debris of meat is stuck on the surface, but it can be easily removed if the wok is well seasoned.
- Add the onion. The moisture from the onion will help to loosen any food debris that might stick on the wok. Stir fry the onion until it turns slightly brown, or longer if you prefer it to caramelize slightly.
- Add the bell pepper. Return the ginger and garlic into the wok and have a few quick stirs.
- Pour the pre-mix steak sauce into the wok and turn up the heat.
- When the sauce starts to bubble vigorously, return the nearly cooked beef to the wok and stir-fry over high heat for 20 seconds. The cornstarch from the beef will thicken the sauce while the beef will absorb the sauce’s flavor.
- Remove the pepper steak from the wok immediately. It is an excellent idea to serve it with steamed rice.
- Stir fry the steak over high heat to sear the steak quickly outside without overcooking the inner part. Therefore, the cooking oil must have a high smoking point stable at high temperature. Some of my favorite oil are palm oil, corn oil, and peanuts oil, but any other oil with a high smoking point is suitable.
- It is also essential to use a well-seasoned wok, as the beef is marinated with some cornstarch, which tends to stick to the surface when stir-frying.
- The sauce should be abundant but not drenching the beef. You can use more water to prepare the pepper sauce.
What can I use instead of a wok?
Wok is the best cooking vessel for stir-frying. Another option is to use a non-stick pan, which will prevent sticking to the surface. However, since a non-stick pan is not suitable to cook over high heat, you have to sacrifice the extra wok aroma generated by high heat. Another option is to use a well-seasoned cast-iron pan or Dutch oven. Cast iron is virtually non-stick if it is well seasoned. It can also withstand very high heat.
Other favorite Chinese beef recipes
If you like this Chinese beef steak, you will likely also want to try other Asian-style beef recipes. Here are my picks:
Beef rendang is the most delicious food, according to a survey. CNN scoured the planet to create the list of 50 most delicious foods in 2011, and rendang took the top position on the list. It won’t be wrong with so many people endorsed this extraordinary dish.
Taiwanese beef noodle soup is a popular staple in different countries in Asia. It will surely make your tummy rumble with its umami-rich soup base and nearly melt in the mouth braised beef.
Ground beef rice is an easy one-pot meal that can be ready in thirty minutes. This Cantonese-style ground beef rice is a delicious no-frilled quick meal, ideal as a take-out lunch box for school children and a packed lunch for office workers.
Chinese pepper steak - How to stir fry beef with a wonderful wok aroma
Try this Chinese pepper steak for a change! You may expect this is served uncut, but it is the opposite. Ultimately, you will get the best of both of the western steak with wok aroma.
Ingredients for marinating the beef (A)
- 350g beef (sirloin or other cuts of your choice)
- 1 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp cornstarch
- 2 tsp vegetable oil
Ingredients for the pepper steak sauce (B)
- 1.5 tbsp oyster sauce
- 1 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 tsp sugar
- 2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 salt
- 1 tbsp Shaoxing wine
- 2 tbsp water
Other ingredients (C)
- 1 tbsp coarsely chopped garlic
- 1 tsp chopped ginger
- 300g bell pepper, preferably mix color, cut into large pieces
- 1 medium-size yellow onion, cut into large chunks
- Place the steak in the freezer until it is semi-frozen.
- Cut off the excess fat at the rind of the steak. Slice the steak with a sharp knife across the grain at an angle into thin pieces.
- Bash each piece of beef with the knife to flatten it.
- Marinate the beef with A for 30 minutes.
- Saute the garlic and ginger over low heat until aromatic. Remove.
- Place the marinated beef into the wok. Sear briefly with high heat to brown both sides quickly. Remove.
- Add the onion. Stir fry the onion until it turns slightly brown.
- Add the bell pepper. Return the ginger and garlic into the wok and have a few quick stirs.
- Pour the pre-mix steak sauce (Ingredients B) into the wok and turn up the heat.
- Return the nearly cooked beef to the wok and stir-fry over high heat for 20 seconds.
- Dish out and serve.
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Pre-Seasshioned Cast Iron Skillet 2-Piece Set (10-Inch and 12-Inch) Oven Safe Cookware - 2 Heat-Resistant Holders - Indoor and Outdoor Use - Grill, Stovetop, Induction Safe
McCormick Black Peppercorn Grinder, 2.5 Oz
Thunder Group IRFS001 5B Fast Stove
Lodge 14 Inch Cast Iron Wok. Pre-Seasoned Wok with Flattened Bottom for Asian Stir Fry and Sautees
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 440Total Fat: 26gSaturated Fat: 9gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 14gCholesterol: 102mgSodium: 1147mgCarbohydrates: 16gFiber: 2gSugar: 6gProtein: 34g
This data was provided and calculated by Nutritionix on 4/17/2021
Thursday 22nd of April 2021
Can this recipe be stored in the freezer for later consumption? I cook individual meals for some elderly relatives and am looking for tasty Asian meals. Thank you.
Friday 23rd of April 2021
Not the best option, but it is workable. I have not tried before, but if I do that, I will remove it from the freezer a day before, then heat up lightly. Basically, everything is fine, except the beef can be overcooked after the reheat.
Friday 5th of July 2019
Hi, this is KP Kwan. I am happy to see you in this comment area, as you have read through my recipe. I am pleased to reply to any questions and comments as soon as possible.