Chinese pepper steak is a delicious and simple steak dish you can make at home. It's an easy way to spice up your cooking repertoire, and the bold flavours of this dish will leave you feeling satisfied.
Searching for the best recipe, we've come up with some easy cooking hacks to recreate this dish at home.
For example, we found that to make the dish taste tender and flavourful, you can marinate your meat in soy sauce with Chinese five-spice powder overnight. This versatile Asian spice also makes the dish different from a Western steak! Other shortcuts, like using beef broth to simplify your cooking, can make creating this dish a breeze.
So, if you're looking for more cooking hacks and an easy pepper steak recipe to follow, we've searched all over the Internet to find the one that we like best. Find out how to cook this stir-fried dish for your next meal.
What is Chinese pepper steak?
Chinese pepper steak is a classic stir-fried dish with sliced beef, bell peppers, onions, beansprouts and bamboo shoots. Seasonings such as soy sauce and ginger are usually added to the mix.
Chefs often use a flank, sirloin, or round cut from the rear for the meat to make this dish. You'll also taste a thick layer of oyster sauce enhanced with cornstarch. These ingredients make the sauce thicker and add an irresistible salty flavour. These two ingredients help to make Chinese Pepper steak with gravy more appetising.
Chinese pepper steak vs Mongolian beef
Chinese pepper steak has more 'umami', a heavy meat flavour. However, Mongolian steak is mildly sweet. This is due to the sweet hoisin sauce that's added to the gravy of Mongolian steak.
While soy sauce and brown sugar are used for both dishes, a traditional Chinese Pepper Steak recipe uses the savoury oyster sauce for the gravy instead of hoisin sauce. The intense oyster gravy contributes to the more robust meat flavour.
Hoisin sauce is often used in Asian dishes. It is a condiment made from soybeans, red chilli peppers, fennel and garlic.
Chinese pepper steak and onions taste savoury and umami, but the gravy is a light dressing rather than a heavy sauce. Umami is a Japanese word to describe the slightly salty, acidic flavour from the chemical compounds in meats and plants.
As the dish itself is quite rich and tastes heavy, it pairs perfectly with white rice. As plain rice absorbs the heavier flavours of the dish, you’ll be able to enjoy it even more when eaten with rice.
If you would like to add another side dish, ones with a lighter and brighter flavour would work well. For example, we recommend pairing the dish with garlic stir-fry bok choy or even fried squid served with sweet chilli sauce.
Chinese Pepper Steak Calories
Each serving of this delicious dish is about 312 calories.
Here are the main ingredients you need for Chinese pepper steak with gravy:
- Sirloin steak
- Soy sauce
- Rice vinegar
- Sesame oil
- Oyster sauce
- Asian Five spice powder
- Beef broth
- Black pepper
- Minced ginger
- Crushed garlic
- Bell peppers (green, red, yellow)
- Vegetable oil
- Green onions
While you will typically see Chinese pepper steak with onion as a takeaway option, you can choose not to include onions or substitute with other vegetables. Both onions and scallions, also known as green onions, add extra crunch.
When caramelised, the onions lend a zing to the gravy. But if you're not a fan, skip it and use chives instead. Alternatively, you can use onion powder to avoid the tears that come from chopping onions. The powder will give you the same flavour.
If you prefer not to use sirloin steak for your black pepper steak recipe, you can also use a flank steak or skirt steak instead. Since these cuts of meats are more tender, you'll get a more moist and juicy dish.
You can substitute vegetable oil with refined coconut oil for a healthier stir-fry. The important thing is the high smoking point, which will work well with the wok.
To thicken the sauce without cornstarch, try using potato starch, rice flour or regular flour. Use the exact quantities as you would with cornstarch.
Another substitute is to cook pepper steak with ketchup instead of oyster sauce. Oyster sauce not only enhances the 'umami-ness' of the dish but also lends the dish a slightly fishy taste. So if you choose to use ketchup, your dish will taste sweet rather than savoury. So again, it works, but perhaps not as well as you might like.
To substitute Chinese five spices, which can be hard to find if you're not near an Asian supermarket, you can use All Spice, readily available in most Western grocery stores. It mixes ground pepper, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon, which can add an exotic, peppery flavour to any recipe.
Using a Wok
Finally, if you don't have a wok, you can use a frying pan. Many Chinese chefs use woks because the flavour becomes part of the wok after using it for a long time. So it's not a bad idea to buy one if you like Asian cooking!
Do note that if you've bought one, woks need to be seasoned. Rinse off the wok, put salt, coat it in oil, and then heat repeatedly. Take care not to wash it with soap! Let the salt and heat kill the germs. After a few rounds of this process, rinse off with water, and you can get cooking with your wok.
Why is my pepper steak tough?
Pepper steak, when overcooked, will become tough. Please note that you will also get a tougher steak when you use cuts from the cow's legs and shoulders.
Use high heat to cook
Therefore, steaks should be cooked quickly at high heat, usually for around 5 minutes or so. This allows the fat to melt and evenly distribute through the meat, making it juicy and tender.
Use acidic foods
One solution is to marinate it with acidic foods that break down the tissues to make the meat tender.
If you're cooking Chinese pepper steak with tomatoes, you already have acid in the recipe. Tomatoes contain acidic compounds that tenderise the meat.
Apart from tomatoes, you can also use fresh ground ginger, wine, or vinegar. Be careful not to marinate for more than two hours because too much acid will make the meat tough. Instead, try using a marinating sauce with oil to avoid this.
Use salt and baking soda
If you don't have these options, you can use salt! Salt and its alkaline cousin, baking soda, help break down the proteins in beef. Adding salt or baking soda to the meat will draw out water and tenderise it. Rinse the meat before cooking so the dish won't become too salty.
Cut against the grain
Another pro tip is to slice against the grain, making the long fibre muscles shorter. This process makes the meat easier to chew. After that, braise the meat in hot oil to seal the juices. As you slow cook, check every thirty minutes and add water or gravy for more moisture.
If you don't have time to braise it, you can also slow-cook it with peppers, tomatoes and other seasonings. That way, the meat will stay tender, and you'll get a more nuanced beef flavour with the vegetables.
How to make Chinese pepper steak sauce
To make Chinese pepper steak with gravy, you first need to create a delicious sauce. Here's a quick Chinese pepper steak sauce recipe. First, add soy sauce, beef broth, brown sugar, black pepper and sesame oil. Next, whisk to mix before adding five Chinese spice or allspice and cornstarch.
For those who prefer a thicker gravy, combine a tablespoon of cornstarch with a quarter cup of cold water. Then, stir this mixture in a crock pot on high heat. The dressing will thicken nicely. This is great if you like to eat rice with this dish, as rice soaks up the sauce beautifully.
Not a fan of gravy? Then skip the cornstarch entirely. You'll have a thin sauce, but the dish will still be delicious.
Chinese pepper steak variations to try next
There are many popular variations of Chinese pepper steak. It's easy to tweak the recipe and add what you like accordingly, but here are some options to inspire your next meal:
- Chinese pepper steak with tomatoes
- With broccoli
- Chinese pepper steak with noodles
- With gravy
If you only have time to make the gravy, the thick sauce goes well with other meats like chicken, or you can also eat it with rice! Try the gravy option in our kung pao chicken recipe if it's too much for you. A light condiment without oyster sauce, the kung pao version also goes well with salads.
Chinese Pepper Steak Recipe
- 400 g sirloin steak
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 2 tbsps cornstarch
- ½ cup oyster sauce
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 tsps black pepper
- 1 tablespoon Chinese five spice powder
- 3 tsps minced ginger
- 4 cloves crushed garlic
- 2 large green bell peppers cut into 1 inch squares
- 1 large red bell pepper cut into 1 inch squares
- 1 large white onion sliced
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- ¼ cup sliced scallions
- Slice beef into 1cm strips. Set aside. Whisk soy sauce, rice vinegar, sesame oil, and cornstarch in a small mixing bowl.
- Add oyster sauce, sugar, black pepper, ginger, and garlic to the mixture. Whisk to combine before adding Chinese five spices. Set aside.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a wok or pan over high heat. Add in beef and toss for about 2-3 minutes. Once the oil smokes, remove and set aside.
- Add in a few more tablespoons of vegetable oil. Toss peppers and onions, and other remaining veggies into the wok. Cook until tender-crisp.
- Add the meat back into the wok. Add in ginger and garlic sauce. Stir and cook for about 1 minute. Now you are ready to serve your Chinese pepper steak. Top with green scallions, and you're done.
Calories have been calculated using an online calculator. Nutritional information offered on Honest Food Talks is for general information purposes and are only rough estimations.
While you can always opt for a take-out version of Chinese pepper steak, it's satisfying to cook at home since you can adapt it to your liking. Not a fan of meat? No problem. We've got plenty of other vegan substitutes over at our website as well. Follow us for more Asian or vegan recipes so you can try a different dish every night!
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