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Recipe: Chinese Pepper Steak

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Recipe: Chinese Pepper Steak
Dave Scantland
There are many versions of this Chinese-American stir-fry dish, some better than others. My recipe, based on one by Serious Eats' Kenji Alt, contains rice vinegar and lots of fresh ground black pepper, making a tangy and complex sauce. While the recipe calls for raw beef, you can easily substitute cooked leftover steak if you have it on hand; simply add it with the sauce to heat up.

Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces sirloin steak, flat iron steak, flap meat or flank steak
  • 2 teaspoons light soy sauce (see note)
  • 3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons rice wine or dry sherry, divided use
  • 1 small onion
  • 1/2 medium red bell pepper, seeded and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 medium green bell pepper, seeded and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and cut into thin strips (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic (1-2 cloves)
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger (about a 1-inch piece)
  • 2 scallions, divided use
  • Vegetable oil
  • Sauce

  • 3 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1/3 cup low-sodium beef or chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1-1/2 to 2 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper (see note)
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch

Preparation:

1. Slice the meat against the grain about 1/4 inch thick. This is easiest if you place the meat in the freezer for 20 minutes or so, until firm but not frozen. Place the slices in a small bowl and toss with 2 teaspoons soy sauce and 2 teaspoons rice wine or sherry. Set aside (you can do this several hours ahead of time and refrigerate if you like).

2. Cut the onion in half through the stem and root end and peel. Cut the onion halves into wedges 1/3 to 1/2 inch thick.

3. Cut the scallions at the point where the white turns to green. Finely chop the whites; you should have about a tablespoon. Thinly slice the greens on the bias and set aside to garnish the dish.

4. Whisk all the sauce ingredients together (keep the whisk handy; you'll need it again when you use the sauce).

5. When you're ready to stir fry, have all the ingredients at hand. Coat the bottom of a large skillet, wok or saute pan with oil and heat over medium high heat for several minutes, until oil shimmers and flows like water. It should be very hot but not smoking.

6. Add the onion wedges, bell pepper chunks and sliced jalapeno (if using) to the pan in a single layer. Let the vegetable pieces sit without stirring for a couple of minutes, until they start to turn deep brown in spots. Stir and let the other sides brown. It's okay to have a few charred bits, but the vegetables shouldn't be burned. Remove from the pan to a bowl and set aside.

7. If necessary, add more oil to coat the pan and heat as before. Add the meat in a single layer and cook without stirring or turning for 3 to 4 minutes or until well browned. Turn the pieces and brown the other side of the slices. Remove the meat to the bowl with the vegetables.

8. With the pan still on medium high heat, add the remaining 3 tablespoons of rice wine and stir to delaze the pan. Add the garlic, ginger and scallion whites and cook, stirring, until fragrant.

9. Turn the heat down to medium. Whisk the sauce again and pour it into the pan. Bring just to a boil and cook, stirring, until it thickens up slightly. Add the beef and vegetables and stir to coat with the sauce and reheat.

10. Serve over rice, garnished with the reserved scallion greens.

Notes:

  • For best results, use a Chinese soy sauce in this dish if you can (I use Pearl River Bridge brand). As explained at the link above, "light" soy sauce isn't lower in sodium; it's simply lighter in color and texture than dark soy sauce.
  • Be sure to use fresh ground black pepper in the sauce. Pre-ground pepper can become bitter over time. If you're unsure about how much to use, start with the lesser amount and add more to taste before serving.
  • I make this dish in a large saute pan rather than a wok. Woks are designed to work best over a very high and concentrated heat source, something most home cooks don't have. I find that the large flat bottom of a saute pan results in the best searing, especially for meat. Working in stages insures that all the ingredients are cooked but not overdone.

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