Craving Chinese takeout but don’t feel like venturing out of your pajamas? Use this recipe and it’s just 30 minutes to Szechuan Beef satisfaction!
Dust off your chopsticks, and let’s talk takeout! Everyone loves those cute little boxes with the metal handles.
They’re happy little baskets filled with kung pao chicken or sweet and sour pork, uniquely Asian vegetables like bok choy, snow pea leaves, and Japanese eggplant . . . very particular flavors and textures that temporarily transport us to an exotic culinary destination.
The only thing better is getting to make it at home (and, pssst, it’ll be on your plate in less than 30 minutes!).
Sometimes it’s nice to tailor the ingredients of your favorite takeout dish to your own taste. Maybe you like a little more garlic, or fried tofu instead of soft, or an extra handful of those cute little ears of baby corn. Well, here’s a recipe for one of my go-to takeout dishes, Szechuan Beef, that’s so simple and a-ma-zing your friends will be calling YOU to order takeout!
Szechuan (Sichuan is the non-Romanized spelling) is a province in Southwest China, home to giant pandas and tiny berries with giant flavor. These berries are the infamous Szechuan peppercorns that hit your tongue like a spicy little lightning bolt, producing a tingling or numbing sensation characteristic of many dishes from this region. They’re generally mixed with garlic and chilies and made into a paste that’s a staple in many Chinese recipes.
Most restaurants offer a variety of beef dishes from different areas, so it’s good to get to know them ahead of time (unless you’re in the mood to order one of everything J).
Hunan Beef vs. Szechuan Beef: Both of these tend to be spicy, but Hunan dishes are known for their straight or “dry” heat where the peppers warm up your mouth but don’t offer much flavor.
Szechuan heat still kicks you in the teeth, but the peppercorns themselves are fragrant and add a citrus-y element to the dish.
Beef is the main focus in the Szechuan version; Hunan dishes, in general, tend to include more vegetables. Szechuan Beef vs. Mongolian Beef: Mongolian Beef is a milder dish, with little more than green onions to accentuate the savory brown sauce and tender strips of beef. It also tends to be saucier than crispy Szechuan Beef (dry fried with a nice crust on it).
It’s the texture of the dry-fried beef, which is characteristic of the Szechuan Beef proper recipe, that I love about this dish and that inspired my recipe. Cooking the meat by itself at high heat creates a lovely crunchy surface.
Then, rather than adding the other ingredients into the wok, you remove the beef to preserve that texture while you prepare the rest of the dish, mixing it all together at the very last minute.
In my version, I actually marinate the beef before that critical frying step. Stir-fry cuts tend to be cheaper and more flavorful, but they are also typically tougher.
Marinating, even for the 15 minutes my recipe calls for, will make sure the meat is tender underneath that lovely crispy surface and help it retain its moisture in the process. The marinade also includes wine which adds a nice background acidity that accentuates the Szechuan peppercorns in the chili paste. (The sugar in the wine will also help a bit with browning.)
If you’re after Szechuan Beef, then you’re ready to play with fire, and that chili paste is just one of the multiple layers of heat in the sauce for my Szechuan Beef. In addition to the garlic and chili paste, there’s also chili oil, hot mustard, and red pepper flakes.
These ingredients are all chosen specifically to ensure that you feel the heat in every nook and cranny of your mouth.
There’s just enough of the sauce to excite all those taste buds without losing the lovely texture of the beef. Celery, carrots, and green onions are all added for color and crunch, and I recommend having a large glass of water (or an icy Sapporo!) standing by.
Be sure to check out the Szechuan Beef wiki for some interesting facts about that region of China and the characteristic flavors and ingredients of the cuisine. One of the top Google searches on this dish is “Szechuan Beef pronounce” (it’s “sheh-shwan,” by the way), but don’t let a little awkward spelling deter you from trying this recipe!
The Beef: You don’t want to use top quality filet mignon here, but you also don’t want a cut that needs to be braised for days.
Flank or sirloin are typically the best choice for a beefy stir-fry, and skirt steak is a great option if it’s available in your area. The most important thing is slicing the meat as thinly as possible, against the grain, and the trick is partially freezing the beef before slicing. Here’s a great how-to video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ou1lq7jGc7g
Supplies: You should be able to find all of these ingredients in a good quality grocery store. If not, visit an Asian market in your area or even purchase them online. Amazon has the Hoisin Sauce and also the Rice Wine I use.
A wok is definitely the ideal cooking tool for stir-frys because of all the surface area that lets the high heat do its job without the added moisture of an over-crowded pan.
You can definitely substitute your largest skillet, though; just be sure it’s smoking hot and that you don’t put too much of the beef in your pan. You may need to cook it in a couple of batches to ensure it stays crispy.
Time-Saver: This IS only a 30-minute dish, but if you’re really REALLY strapped for time, you can cut up all of your ingredients and prepare the sauce ahead of time.
You can also find pre-cut steak specifically for stir-frying in your supermarket.
Serving Suggestions: Steamed white or brown rice are the typical backdrop for Szechuan Beef (and you’ll probably want some starch to cut the heat!).
You can also serve Szechuan Beef over your favorite soft or crispy Asian noodles or save some carbs and calories by “ricing” a cauliflower. Trader Joe’s and Costco both sell bags of riced cauliflower already prepared.
. . . and on the subject of Szechuan Beef calories, because this dish is so quick and simple, it’s easily tailorable for those who might be on specific diet plans. You can find a Weight Watcher’s version online, as well as a Szechuan Beef Slimming World participants have altered to suit their lifestyles.
Changes include removing extra sugar (the Hoisin sauce, for example), as well as adding extra veggies like broccoli to up the overall nutritional value of this dish.
- Yield: Serves 4-6
- Prep Time: 30 minutes
- Cook Time: 15 minutes
- Soy Sauce - 3 Tablespoons
- Hoisin Sauce - 3 Tablespoons
- Garlic and Red Chili Paste - 1 Tablespoon
- Dried Mustard Mixed with 1 Tablespoon Water - 1/2 Teaspoon
- Rice Wine Vinegar - 1 Teaspoon
- Chili Oil - 1/2 Teaspoon
- Brown Sugar Packed - 2 Teaspoon
- Garlic Minced - 1 Teaspoon
- Fresh Ginger, Grated - 1/2 Teaspoon
- Dried Red Pepper - 1/4 Teaspoon
- Beef Marinade
- Cornstarch - 2 Teaspoons
- Rice Wine - 1 Teaspoon
- Soy sauce - 2 Teaspoons
- Stir Fry Ingredients
- Vegetable Oil--Divided - 2-4 Tablespoons
- Flank Steak, Very Thinly Sliced**See Recipe Notes - 1 Pound
- Celery, Cut Into Matchsticks - 4 Ribs
- Carrots, Cut Into Matchsticks - 2
- Green Onions, Sliced on the Diagonal into 1/2 Inch Pieces - 2
- Garlic, Roughly Chopped - 2 Cloves
- Cooked Rice
- In a small bowl mix together all the sauce ingredients and set aside.
- In a large bowl whisk together the beef marinade ingredients until smooth. Add sliced beef and toss to evenly coat. Marinade for 30 minutes.
- Heat up a wok or large skillet on high heat with 1 tablespoon of oil. When oil is hot, add the beef, and turn a few times, cooking until edges of meat brown. Remove cooked meat with a slotted spoon to a plate; set aside. Drain used oil out of pan.
- Add 1 Tablespoon of vegetable oil and all sesame oil to wok or pan and heat up. When the oil is hot add the celery and cook for 30 seconds, turning often. Add the carrots and stir fry 30 seconds. Return the cooked meat to the pan with the green onions and sauce and bring to a quick boil. Cook for one minute and serve over rice.