A delicious way to combine beef and crunchy veggies, Chinese pepper steak stir-fry comes with an irresistible sauce and is very quick to cook.
What is pepper steak
In Chinese cooking, the combination of beef and pepper is commonly seen in restaurant and home cooking. Various versions exist in many regional cuisines. When I was young, it was always on repeat on our dining table. Today’s Pepper Steak recipe (Qīng Jiāo Niú Ròu/青椒牛肉) is a reminder of my parents’ cooking, although I made some modifications to make it more saucy.
Pepper steak is a quick stir-fry made with succulent beef strips, crunchy pepper, and onion all coated with a thick brown sauce. It tastes savory, aromatic, and umami with a hint of sweetness. If you like my beef stir-fry recipes, such as Black Pepper Beef, Hunan Beef, and Chinese Broccoli and Beef Stir-fry, this one deserves a place on your to-try list.
My family version of this dish uses large green chili pepper that’s mildly spicy. For this recipe, I include bell pepper instead as it’s more accessible and suitable for young and old.
Before I walk you through the recipe details, here is a summary of the top tips to bear in mind.
- Choose a good beef cut and marinate it properly to avoid toughness
- Cook meat and vegetables separately then combine them at the end
- Measure and mix the sauce before you start stir-frying.
- Regulate the heat as recommended and keep the cooking brief
Here are three groups of ingredients you need for pepper steak:
- Beef steak and its marinade made with light soy sauce, cornstarch, baking, salt, and oil
- Vegetables and aromatics: bell pepper (or chili pepper if you like), onion and garlic
- A sauce mixture consisting of oyster sauce, light and dark soy sauce, Shaoxing rice wine, cornstarch, sugar, ground white pepper, and sesame oil
Which cut of beef
Top tip: For stir-fry dishes, the preferred beef cuts are flank, skirt, sirloin, and ribeye steaks. They’re flavorful, easy to cook through, and taste rather tender when prepared properly.
I don’t recommend the pre-cut “beef stir-fry strips” sold in supermarkets. Based on my own experience, they appears to be sourced from random cuts that are too tough for quick cooking. Also, it’s often cut into irregular sizes which isn’t ideal for stir-frying.
When shooting this recipe, I cut the steak into long strips (about ⅓ inch/8mm thick). Thin slices, like how I cooked Beef and Broccoli, or small cubes work well too.
Before cutting, have a look at how the grain of the steak lies. You’ll need to cut it across the grain, instead of along the grain, to maximize the tenderness.
If you find cutting fresh meat challenging, I suggest you put the steak into the freezer for about 1 hour until it becomes semi-frozen. Cutting will be much more manageable then.
Tenderize the beef
Top tip: When it comes to meat-based stir-fries, one of the key processes is to tenderize the meat beforehand. This is particularly important when using red meat like beef or pork. Doing it correctly will help to achieve a palatable texture: succulent, tender, and silky.
There isn’t just one set way to tenderize beef. Chinese restaurant chefs and home cooks often have their own preferred techniques and ingredients. The marinade and method for this recipe are what I use constantly. It’s a simple mix of essential condiments and it doesn’t require a very long resting time.
Firstly, add light soy sauce, cornstarch, baking soda, salt, and water to the beef. Use your hand (with kitchen gloves if you prefer) to stir and rub the meat until the condiments are evenly distributed and the liquid is fully absorbed by the beef. Then pour in a little oil and give everything a final mix for an even coating.
Leave the beef to marinate for 15 minutes. It’s fine to marinate for longer (kept in the fridge). However, do not exceed 24 hours as the meat fibers tend to break down in marinade if left for too long.
Stir-fry in sequence
Top tip: Like how you cook other classic stir-fries, such as Garlic Sauce Pork, Chicken Chop Suey, etc, you need to cook the meat and vegetables separately, then combine them with the sauce at the end. This is to ensure each ingredient is cooked to an optimal level, neither undercooked nor overcooked.
Sear the beef first
Add the beef strips to the hot wok/skillet with a little oil. Use chopsticks to spread them out to a single layer. Leave them to sear untouched over medium-high heat.
Once the bottom side turns slightly brown, toss everything for about 30 seconds to cook other surface areas. Keep this process brief to avoid overcooking.
Dish out as soon as the beef strips lose their pinkness on the outside (the middle should still be raw).
🛎 Note on cookware: You may use either a wok or a large skillet (frying pan) to cook this dish. Follow these tips:
- If using cookware without a non-stick coating, such as a carbon steel wok, or a cast-iron skillet, heat it empty until smoking hot, then add the oil and beef.
- If using non-stick cookware, pour in the oil first, then heat it until hot before you add the meat.
Fry the vegetables
Add a little more oil to the wok/skillet and turn the heat up to high. Firstly fry the garlic and onion to release their aroma.
Then add sliced bell pepper. Toss everything constantly for quick and even heating. Be careful not to overcook the vegetables as it’s nice to keep their crunchiness.
Combine with the sauce
Top tip: The sauce needs to be measured and mixed before stir-frying starts. This sauce thickens quickly so make sure you lower the heat before adding it. If you are using an electric hob of which the heat can not be lowered instantly, remove the wok/skillet temporarily.
Return the seared beef to the wok. Stir fry it with the vegetables for a further 30 seconds or so until the beef is fully cooked.
Then turn the heat down to low. Pour in the sauce. Toss and wait for it to thicken. Once it becomes thick enough to coat the spatula, dish out everything immediately.
To twist the recipe
- Use other proteins & veggies. This recipe also works well for pork or chicken. Vegetable substitutes include celery, asparagus, carrots, bok choy, mushrooms, snap peas, zucchini, baby corn, celtuce, etc.
- Double up the sauce. This recipe makes enough sauce to coat all the main ingredients. If you fancy extra sauce to mix with your rice or noodles, simply double the quantity of the sauce ingredients proportionally.
Other tasty stir-fries
Looking for more quick Chinese stir-fries, here are some great dishes to try:
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Pepper Steak (青椒牛肉)
For the beef
- 1 lb beef - flank, skirt, sirloin, or ribeye steak
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
- ½ tablespoon cornstarch
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda - aka Bicarbonate of Soda
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoon water
- ½ tablespoon neutral cooking oil
For the sauce
You also need
- 2½ tablespoon neutral cooking oil - divided
- 2 bell pepper - cut into strips
- 1 onion - sliced
- 3 clove garlic - sliced
Marinate the beef
- Cut the beef, across its grain, into long strips, about ⅓ inch/8mm thick. Put them into a bowl. Add light soy sauce, cornstarch, baking soda, salt, and water.
- Mix and rub with your hand until the liquid is fully absorbed by the meat. Pour in oil and stir to coat evenly. Leave to marinate for 15 mins.
Mix the sauce
- In a small bowl, mix oyster sauce, Shaoxing rice wine, light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, cornstarch, sugar, ground white pepper, and water. Then add sesame oil. Set aside.
Sear the beef
- Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a wok/skillet over medium-high heat. Put in the marinated beef. Spread out the strips into a single layer. Do not move them until the part touching the surface browns lightly.
- Then stir and toss for about 30 seconds until there is little pinkness that can be seen on the surface (do not overcook). Transfer the beef to a plate leaving any oil in the wok.
Stir-fry the vegetables
- Pour in the remaining ½ tablespoon of oil. Add onion and garlic. Fry over high heat until the garlic browns on the edge.
- Put in bell pepper. Toss the vegetables for about 30 seconds until they’re well heated but remain crunchy.
Combine the dish
- Return the beef to the wok. Stir-fry everything for a further 30 seconds or so until the beef is cooked through (no pinkness inside the strips).
- Turn the heat down to low (see note 1). Stir the sauce very well then pour it over the meat and vegetables.
- Give everything a final toss. Dish out when the sauce becomes thick enough to coat the spatula (see note 2).
NUTRITION DISCLOSURE: Nutritional information on this website is provided as a courtesy to readers. It should be considered estimates. Please use your own brand nutritional values or your preferred nutrition calculator to double check against our estimates.