Easily prepared but intensely flavoured, Chinese beef stew with potatoes tastes tender, succulent and aromatic. This recipe includes many cooking tips to ensure a great result.
Today’s recipe, Chinese beef stew with potatoes (土豆炖牛肉), is a hearty, comforting dish that my dad used to cook regularly. Beef chunks are slowly braised with a variety of spices and soy sauce until very tender. Then potatoes and carrots are added to make it more substantial and nutritionally balanced.
A very common dish in China, beef stew with potatoes comes in many different versions in restaurants and households across the country. They’re all tasty in their own way but my family’s version remains very special in my heart.
For Chinese beef stew, I suggest you use beef cuts that are rich in collagen and fat. In other words, look out for beef with a marble pattern.
This is because lean, already-tender cuts will become dry after prolonged cooking. On the contrary, tough cuts with lots of connective tissue will become tender and moist during slow simmering.
What I use for this recipe is braising steak (equivalent to “chunk” in American term). Beef shin (beef shank) can be a good choice too as it’s a much appreciated cut in Chinese cuisine for its collagen-rich texture, Chinese Braised Beef Shank being a good example.
Spices & seasonings
Spices and seasonings are the soul of this dish as they make it distinctively Chinese and different from other varieties of beef stew. Here are what you’d need:
- Star anise
- Cassia cinnamon (Chinese cinnamon)
- Bay leaves
- Dried chilies. They’re optional but I personally love the hint of spiciness that they lend to the dish.
- Light & dark soy sauce. The dark version provides an appetising brown shine to the meat.
- Shaoxing rice wine. Please feel free to omit it if you’d like the dish alcohol-free.
Three types of vegetables, potato, carrot and onion, are added to this beef stew for extra flavour, nutrition and colour. You may choose either floury potatoes or waxy ones. The former would become a little mushier after cooking thus they absorb more flavour.
Step 1: Blanch the beef
When cooking Chinese-style meat-based stew/braised dishes, there is one particular technique that’s uncommon in many other cuisines: blanching the meat. This procedure helps to remove the impurities and eliminate the gamey taste (Xing Wei/腥味) thus producing a “cleaner” broth.
Here is how to do it:
- Add beef (cut into chunks) into a pot filled with COLD water then turn the heat to high.
- As the water reaches boiling point, you’ll see some brownish froth appearing on the surface. Use a spoon to skim it off.
- Once most of the froth is discarded, drain the beef and move on to the next step.
🛎 Tip: It’s worth noting that you’re not supposed to put the meat in hot/boiling water (unlike how you’d blanch vegetables) as the sudden heat would cause the meat to contract making it tougher to cook.
Step 2: Fry the onion
In a clean pot, fry sliced onion in oil. Use medium-low heat to slowly brown it. Then stir in ginger and all the spices. Fry until fragrant.
This process adds a hint of caramelised sweetness to the dish so you don’t need to add sugar which the traditional recipes often call for. Besides, at the end of the braising process, the onion will melt giving the broth a thicker consistency.
Step 3: Braise the Meat
- Add drained beef chunks to the pot, along with light soy sauce, dark soy sauce and rice wine. Then pour in about 600ml (2½ cups) of hot water.
- Over high heat, bring the water to a full boil. Then turn the heat down to the lowest. Cover the pot with a lid and leave to simmer for about 1½ hours until the beef becomes tender.
🛎 Tip: If available, use a thick-walled pot with a tight-fitting lid, e.g. a dutch oven. This helps to lock in the heat and moisture. To speed up the process, you may also use a stovetop pressure cooker or an instant pot.
Step 4: Add the vegetables
- Once the beef is fully cooked, add potato and carrot chunks. Leave to simmer uncovered for 10 to 15 minutes until the vegetables become tender.
- If you wish to serve the dish in less broth, cook a little further over high heat to reduce its volume. Otherwise, serve it as it is (I think the flavourful broth goes wonderfully well with plain rice).
🛎 Tip: If during the previous step much liquid has evaporated, you might need to add a little hot water to help cooking through the vegetables. But do not overdo it as you don’t want to dilute the broth too much.
Chinese beef stew is a great dish to make in advance. My recipe makes 4-6 servings. Please feel free to increase the quantity proportionally and store any leftover in the freezer. On busy weekdays, defrost it the night before in the fridge. Reheat until piping hot and enjoy with a bowl of plain rice.
Other comforting dishes
- Braised Pork Belly (Hong Shao Rou)
- Soy Sauce Chicken (See Yao Gai)
- Lion’s Head Meatballs (Shi Zi Tofu)
- Chinese BBQ Pork (Char Siu)
- Big Plate Chicken with Belt Noodles (Da Pan Ji)
🌟 Feeling inspired? Scroll down to see the recipe card (printable & pinnable). Leave a comment below or connect with me @red.house.spice on Instagram. I’d love to hear from you!
Chinese Beef Stew with Potatoes (土豆炖牛肉)
- 700 g beef, cut into chunks, about 1.5 lb, see note 1
- 2 tbsp neutral cooking oil
- 2 onions, sliced
- 1 thumb-sized ginger, smashed
- 2 star anises
- 1 piece cassia cinnamon (Chinese cinnamon)
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 cloves
- 2 dry chilies, optional
- 2 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
- 600 ml hot water, about 2.5 cups
- ¼ tsp salt, or to taste
- 3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks, about 350g/12oz
- 1 medium carrot, cut into chunks, about 120g/4oz
- Coriander (cilantro), chopped, optional
- Put beef into a pot filled with cold water (enough to cover the meat completely). Bring the water to a full boil. Use a spoon to skim off the froth on the surface. Then drain well.
- In a clean pot, fry onion in oil over medium-low heat until soft and lightly browned. Stir in ginger and all the spices. Fry until fragrant.
- Add the beef, along with light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, Shaoxing rice wine and hot water. Bring it to a full boil then turn down the heat to low. Cover with a lid. Leave to simmer for about 1h30 until the meat becomes tender (see note 3 & 4). Give the broth a taste, add a little salt if necessary.
- Put potato and carrot chunks into the pot. Add some water if it seems too dry. Leave to simmer without the lid for 10-15 minutes until the vegetables are fully cooked.
- Turn the heat up to reduce the broth if you wish. However, this step is entirely optional. Garnish with coriander (cilantro) if using. Serve immediately with plain rice.
N.B. This post was originally published in Feb 2017 and updated with improved information in Mar 2021.