Kung Pao beef is a timeless Chinese dish made of flavourful beef strips and an aromatic combination of crunchy veggies and savoury spices. This takeaway dish is bathed with a thick soy-based sauce that offers a spicy, tingling sensation and a sweet and savoury aftertaste.
To create the best Kung Pao beef recipe, we learned from Chinese takeaway owners. After rigorous trials and errors, we bring you our ultimate formula to recreate this easy meal at home.
Our recipe is simple and easy to follow. You can make this dish more flavourful and healthy using different veggies and less meat. Moreover, you can alter the amount of peppers used to make it more or less spicy.
So keep reading and learn how to make this tasty Chinese meal from the comfort of your home.
What Does Kung Pao Beef Taste Like?
Kung Pao beef tastes spicy and savoury with a sweet and nutty undertone. The thinly sliced meat has a tender yet crispy mouthfeel. Moreover, you can taste the oozing meaty, nutty, and tangy flavours with every bite.
You can also cook this Chinese takeaway dish with different veggies and the signature Kung Pao sauce. The sauce is what gives this meal a bold, savoury flavour. In fact, we also use the same sauce to make Kung Pao shrimp.
In terms of heat level, Chinese Kung Pao beef is spicier than General Tso’s variation due to the use of Sichuan peppercorns. Meanwhile, the latter tastes sweeter with a mildly tangy aftertaste.
Taste Comparison to other Chinese dishes
The main difference between this takeaway dish and Szechuan beef is that the latter tastes spicier than the former. Although they both use chilli peppers and garlic in the sauce, these two ingredients are used in large amounts in the Szechuan variation.
Furthermore, this easy meal has a sweet and savoury sauce with added nutty undernotes from peanuts. Meanwhile, the Szechuan cuisine has a mix of sweet, sour, and bitter flavour with pungent aftertaste.
Similarly, the main difference between Kung Pao beef and Mongolian beef is the spice level. The former tastes spicier due to chilli and Sichuan peppers, whereas the Mongolian alternative tastes more sweet and savoury with little to no spiciness.
Kung Pao sauce is not the same as a sweet and sour sauce because this Chinese takeaway dish is spicier than the sweet and sour dish. The former focus has a spicy, sweet, and nutty flavour, regardless of whether you use different protein sources like beef, chicken, or seafood. Meanwhile, the sweet and sour sauce has a slight tang with intense sweet and sour flavours from the combination of vinegar, pineapples, and other ingredients.
Kung Pao Beef Ingredients
For our best Kung Pao beef recipe you will need the following ingredients:
- Sichuan peppercorns
- Dried red chillies
- Bell pepper
- Chinese black vinegar
- Dark soy sauce
- Light soy sauce
- Dry roasted peanuts
- Vegetable oil
- Sesame oil
We specifically use flank steak for this Chinese takeaway dish because this cut of meat has lower fat content with a stronger meaty flavour. Furthermore, this cut of meat is more tender and absorbs the marinade sauce better when cut into tiny slices.
For this simple meal, you need 1 pound of flank steak. Then, cut the meat into 1-inch wide and ¼-inch thick slices. If you can’t find flank steak, opt for other cuts of meat like sirloin, tenderloin, and strip steak. Once the steak is cut, you should marinate it for at least 15 minutes.
Alternatively, you can use ground beef to make Kung Pao beef stir fry. Since this alternative has a smoother texture and more absorbent than flank steak, you should marinate this meat for 1 to 2 minutes. Avoid soaking it for too long to prevent the beef from losing its meaty taste.
Adding Sichuan peppercorn doesn't just make this Kung Pao beef recipe spicy. It also enhances this simple meal with a long-lasting tingly and mouth-numbing sensation. You need 1 to 2 tablespoons of powdered pepper when stir-frying the vegetables.
Alternatively, a tablespoon of the dried alternative is enough to give this meal an intense buzzing heat, similar to biting a whole peppercorn. To use dried Sichuan peppercorn, you must dry roast and grind the pepper into a coarse grind.
If you don’t like it to be too intense, then we recommend using the powdered form. The powdered Sichuan peppercorn tastes less intense and is easy to blend with other ingredients.
Dried Red Chillies
Along with Sichuan peppercorns, you need 4 to 6 thinly sliced dried red chillies to balance the numbing peppercorn effect with an earthy, pungent taste.
For a citrusy undertone and smoky aftertaste, you can also use fresh chillies in our authentic Kung Pao beef recipe.
Dried chillies will give this takeaway dish a tender mouthfeel with a harmonious level of spiciness. Meanwhile, fresh chillies will give you a crunchier bite and a higher heat sensation.
Regardless of whether you choose the dried or fresh variations, you must remove their seeds that are unpleasant to bite.
To have a texture-rich and sweet meal, consider adding 1 cup of fresh red bell peppers. Alternatively, you can incorporate other veggies like zucchini, mushrooms, peas, and corn for a wholesome bite.
Having different types of veggies certainly makes the Kung Pao beef stir fry more flavourful and palatable. Cut the Kung Pao beef vegetables down to 1-inch lengths to make this meal appear more presentable.
Chinese Black Vinegar
To add depth and a slight tang taste to the sauce, use 1 tablespoon of this flavouring. Alternatively, you can substitute this condiment with Japanese rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar for a similar savoury taste.
Light and Dark Soy Sauce
We use light and dark soy sauce in our easy Kung Pao beef recipe because these sauces provide a balanced sweet, salty, and umami taste.
Moreover, the former has a thicker consistency than the latter. So, you need 1 tablespoon of dark and light soy variation to have a velvety smooth sauce.
How to Make Kung Pao Beef
- To cook this Chinese Kung Pao beef, start by slicing the flank steak into 1-inch thick strips. Then, mix the steak strips with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch, 1 tablespoon of dark and light soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of Chinese black vinegar, 1 tablespoon of water, and 2 tablespoons of sesame oil in a bowl. Finally, season the meat with ½ tablespoon of salt. Marinate everything for 15 minutes.
- Then, add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil to a pot of boiling water. Bring to a boil. Stir the mixture and blanch the meat for 30 seconds. Then, set the meat aside.
- In another bowl, combine 1 tablespoon of dark soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of cornstarch, 1 tablespoon of Chinese black vinegar, 2 tablespoons of light soy sauce, 1 tablespoon of sugar, and 2 tablespoons of water. Whisk these Kung Pao sauce ingredients until you get a thick dark mixture.
- To cook the flank strips, pour 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a wok. Swirl the pan to spread the oil evenly. Heat the oil over high heat until it turns hot. Then, sear the meat slices for 2 minutes on each side until they turn golden brown and crispy.
- Switch to low heat before removing the meat. Add the remaining oil and stir in 2 sliced garlic, 4 slices of peeled ginger, and 4 dried red chillies. Cook these ingredients until fragrant. Then, throw in 1 cup of chopped bell peppers.
- Stir fry everything for 1 minute before adding the sauce. Then, add 2 tablespoons of Sichuan peppercorn powder. Keep stirring until the sauce is thickened. Then, add the meat back with ¼ cup of dry roasted peanuts. Finally, stir all the ingredients over high heat for 1 minute.
- Once everything is coated with the thick sauce, serve this takeaway dish with a cup of white rice.
This simple meal can last up to 4 days in the refrigerator for meal prepping. If you want to freeze it, transfer this takeaway to an airtight container and store it in the freezer for up to 2 months.
You can store the marinade in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. After 3 days, the ingredients will turn mushy and start to spoil.
Velveting is the process of tenderising hard slices of meat with a marinade and cornstarch. It is a vital step in preparing many Chinese dishes, especially in an authentic Kung Pao beef recipe.
Cornstarch helps in retaining the meat’s moisture during stir-frying. It also helps the meat to absorb the marinade sauce better and makes it flavour-rich.
To evenly coat the meat with cornstarch when velveting, first, you need to add 1 to 2 tablespoons of water to the marinade sauce. This will dilute the thick mixture and help in coating the meat properly.
Then, stir the cornstarch along with other ingredients thoroughly until it is clump-free. The ideal ratio for velveting is 2 tablespoons of cornstarch for every pound of meat. Anything less than this ratio can make the sauce thin and causes an uneven coating of the meat.
Once the meat is marinated, you need to blanch the meat in a mixture of oil and boiling water for 30 seconds. This water-blanching method can soften the meat’s texture and make them easy to cook when stir-frying.
If you want to save more time when cooking, you can velvet the meat one day earlier. Then, transfer the meat into an airtight container and refrigerate it for later use.
While there are several ways to add spices, we recommend adding aromatic spices like ginger, garlic and dried red chillies at the beginning of stir-frying. These ingredients can infuse the oil and quickly coat the meat with aromatic flavours.
On the other hand, you need to use Sichuan peppercorn powder at the end, along with the sauce. Adding this spice at the beginning of stir-frying can burn the powder and leave you with a slightly bitter sauce.
Cooking the Meat
Spread the meat evenly on the wok when stir-frying. Then, avoid piling the meat at the centre to avoid getting overcooked and burnt meat.
If you use more than 1 pound of meat, it is better to separate the meat into smaller batches. The reason why you shouldn’t cook a large batch of meat at one time is because the meat will ooze juices and reduce the wok’s heat. As a result, you will end up steaming and simmering the meat. Stir-fry meat should be sizzling and dry during the cooking process.
Similarly, you should pat and dry your veggies beforehand to remove excess moisture. Don’t overcrowd the wok with too many veggies, or you will end up getting a steamed dish.
Kung Pao Beef Recipe (Chinese Takeaway)
- 1 pound flank steak
- 3 tbsps cornstarch
- 2 tbsps Sichuan peppercorn powder
- 4 dried red chillies
- 1 cup chopped bell peppers
- 2 sliced garlic
- 4 slices peeled ginger
- 2 tbsps Chinese black vinegar
- 2 tbsps dark soy sauce
- 3 tbsps light soy sauce
- ¼ cup dry roasted peanuts
- 5 tbsps vegetable oil
- 2 tbsps sesame oil
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup boiling water
- Mix the sliced flank steak, cornstarch, light and dark soy sauce, Chinese black vinegar, 1 tablespoon of water, and sesame oil in a bowl. Season the meat strips lightly with salt and Sichuan peppercorn powder. Marinate everything for 15 minutes.
- Add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a cup of boiling water. Stir the mixture before dunking the marinated meat for 30 seconds. Then, set the meat aside.
- Combine dark soy sauce, cornstarch, Chinese black vinegar, light soy sauce, sugar, and 2 tablespoons of water in another bowl. Whisk the sauce thoroughly until you get a thick dark blend.
- Cook 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a wok over high heat. Then, sear each side of the sliced meat for 2 minutes. Once the meat strips turn crispy and golden brown, remove them from the pan and switch to low heat.
- Pour the remaining oil and stir in garlic, ginger, and dried red chillies. Cook everything until fragrant.
- Add chopped bell peppers. Stir and cook everything for 1 minute. Then, add 2 tablespoons of Sichuan peppercorn powder and the sauce. Keep stirring until the sauce is thickened.
- Throw the meat back with ¼ cup of roasted peanuts. Stir everything over high heat for 1 minute. Serve this simple meal immediately with a cup of rice.
- If the steak is too tender and hard to slice, put it in the freezer for 15 minutes before cooking to make it firm.
- You can also garnish this Chinese Kung Pao beef with cilantro leaves for added fresh and citrusy aroma.
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.
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