Real-Deal Szechuan Beef Stir Fry

Tender crispy Szechuan beef cooked in a bold sweet sour spicy sauce with peppers and onions. Learn how to make the richest sauce and create crispy beef without deep-frying. {Gluten-free adaptable}

Szechuan beef stir fry in a pan

While a lot of Chinese recipes call for a wok and gas stove to make stir fry, I tend to disagree. Because this setup might not be practical for every home cook. As a personal example, I live in an apartment that has an electric stove, and it never generates heat fast enough for wok cooking.

After doing so many experiments with an electric stove, I finally found my own formula to create the best Chinese takeout dishes using a very simple setup with a nonstick skillet. Even better, my recipes do not require a ton of oil to deep fry the meat to create the crispy crust. For example, I’ve successfully recreated the restaurant version of Orange Chicken and Sesame Chicken without deep frying and simply use a nonstick skillet.

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Today I want to share this Szechuan beef stir fry recipe. It requires a very simple setup and does not require deep frying. But it generates a result that’s even better than takeout. The beef is crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. The sauce is extra rich and full of aroma. Serve it on some steamed rice and your dinner will be ready!

Now let’s jump into the cooking process so you can learn all the secrets.

Szechuan beef stir fry served in a plate with rice

Szechuan Beef Cooking notes

1. Best cuts of beef to make stir fry

My favorite cut of beef for stir frying is flank steak. The cut is very tender and lean, and has just the right amount of marbling to keep it extra juicy. And it’s way cheaper than fancier cuts, such as tenderloin or ribeye. On the other hand, if you live in a place where flank steak is difficult to find or expensive, you can replace it with skirt steak or fajita cuts.

For an even cheaper alternative, you can use chuck roast or brisket. But remember, these cuts can be quite tough when stir fried. In this case, you should use the formula in my Orange Beef recipe, where I use baking soda to further tenderize the meat to create the desired soft texture. This is a practice that many Chinese restaurants use to create extra-tender beef with cheap cuts.

2. How to slice the beef for stir fry

Always slice against the grain, and try to create even thickness and size with your cuts. This is the foundation to creating tender meat in a stir fry.

In the pictures below, I demonstrate my approach to slicing a chunk of flank steak. First, I identify the direction of the grain. Then I slice along the muscle lines to create 3 small strips. And I cut perpendicular to the grain of each strip, to create evenly sized slices that are about 1/8” (4mm) thick and 2” (5cm) long.

It’s OK if you slice the beef slightly thicker. As long as it has a consistent thickness, the stir fry results will be consistent, without any overcooked or undercooked pieces.

How to slice beef for stir fry

3. The secret formula to create crispy tender beef without deep-frying

Chinese restaurant usually deep fry the beef to create that heavenly crust. But that uses tons of oil and does require a wok. Not so practical in a home kitchen.

Here is a much easier approach.

The first step is to marinate the beef, which helps season and tenderize the beef. Then I coat the beef with extra cornstarch and pan fry it in a thin layer of oil. The combination of egg and cornstarch will create a crispy crust with minimal oil. You can probably get away with 1/4 cup of oil with a nonstick pan, or 1/3 of a cup of oil if using a cast iron or carbon steel pan.

It’s important to mix in the cornstarch right before you cook. Also, you should heat up the pan and the oil very well, until it is almost about to smoke.

Then you can add all the pieces into the pan and spread them out using a pair of tongs and your spatula. I personally prefer to use a pair of chopsticks to spread out the meat, to ensure that the beef slices are in contact with the hot pan. Remember, you should always leave the meat to sear in the pan without touching it, until the bottom is browned. It creates a better crust and minimizes sticking if you’re using a cast iron pan.

How to prep beef for stir fry

4. Extra rich Szechuan sauce

The two secret ingredients I use are Doubanjiang and homemade chili oil.

Doubanjiang (豆瓣酱), also called fermented spicy bean paste, is not your average hot sauce. It is a super rich, fermented, spicy paste made with dried fava beans, fresh chili peppers, salt, and wheat flour, then aged for between one and eight years. Doubanjiang has a deep savory, spicy and quite salty taste. It is a key ingredient in classic Sichuan dishes such as Mapo Tofu, Sichuan Eggplant Stir Fry, Sichuan Beef in Hot Broth, and Sichuan Fish with Pickled Mustard Greens. I use this ingredient to add spiciness and extra umami to the sauce. You can find it on Amazon or at The Mala Market.

Homemade chili oil is another booster to give the sauce a better aroma. However I do list it as an option, because you can skip it if you like your dish less spicy.

If you don’t have Doubanjiang, you can use another hot sauce as an alternative. For example, sambal oelek or sriracha. But do note that although the properties of the Szechuan sauce will change, it will still result in a delicious flavor.

5. Efficient workflow

This Szechuan beef recipe might look quite long and intimidating, but it actually only includes four steps:

  • Slice the beef and marinate it.
  • Mix the sauce.
  • Chop the rest of the ingredients, such as aromatics and veggies.
  • Make the stir fry.

Before you start cooking, you should have these bowls ready near your stove:

Marinated beef coated with cornstarch, a bowl of chopped ginger and garlic, a plate of chopped onion and pepper, mixed sauce, and dried chili peppers.

If you organize your ingredients in groups, the stir fry process will be so much easier.

Szechuan beef stir fry ingredients

Szechuan beef stir fry cooking process

6. Add different veggies to your meal

You can replace the peppers with other types of veggies. Here is a simple way to add more greens to your table. You can use a small head of broccoli (seperated into bite-size florets), 2 cups of green beans, 4 cups of kale (chopped), or 1/2 lb spinach. Add the veggies into a big bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Heat them in the microwave in 1-minute increments, until the plastic expands, or until the veggies are cooked to your desired texture. It usually requires 1 to 2 minutes for leafy greens and up to 4 minutes for harder veggies.

Simply serve the microwave steamed veggies on the side and pour the beef and sauce over them. This recipe creates quite a saucy dish, so you will have plenty of sauce to cover the veggies.

Szechuan beef stir fry served in a plate with rice

More homemade takeout recipes

If you give this recipe a try, let us know! Leave a comment, rate it (once you’ve tried it), and take a picture and tag it @omnivorescookbook on Instagram! I’d love to see what you come up with.

Easy Szechuan Beef Stir Fry - Tender crispy beef cooked in a bold sweet sour spicy sauce with peppers and onions. Learn how to make the richest sauce and create crispy beef without deep-frying. {Gluten-free adaptable}

Real-Deal Szechuan Beef Stir Fry

Tender crispy beef cooked in a bold sweet sour spicy sauce with peppers and onions. Learn how to make the richest sauce and create crispy beef without deep-frying. {Gluten-free adaptable}
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Course: Main
Cuisine: Chinese
Keyword: takeout
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 4
Calories: 388kcal
Author: Maggie Zhu

Ingredients

Marinade

  • 1 flank steak (about 0.7 lbs / 450 g), cut against the grain to 1/8” (4-mm) slices (*Footnote 1)
  • 1 egg , beaten
  • 1 tablespoon peanut oil (or vegetable oil)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Sauce

Stir-fry

  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 1/3 cup peanut oil (or vegetable oil)
  • 1/4 white onion , sliced
  • 1 bell pepper , thinly sliced (I used half red and half green)
  • 4 Chinese dried chili peppers
  • 1 tablespoon ginger , minced
  • 1 tablespoon garlic , minced
  • Roasted sesame seeds for garnish (Optional)

Instructions

Marinate the beef

  • Beat the egg in a medium sized bowl. Add the sliced beef, vegetable oil, and salt. Mix well and let marinate for 15 to 20 minutes while preparing the other ingredients.

Mix the sauce

  • Combine everything for the sauce in a big bowl and mix well.

Stir fry

  • When you’re ready to cook, drain the extra liquid from the bowl of beef. Add the cornstarch. Stir to coat the beef, until it forms an uneven coating with a little dry cornstarch left unattached.
  • Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet (or a cast iron pan) over medium high heat until hot. Add the beef and spread into a single layer in the skillet. Separate the beef pieces with a pair of tongs or chopsticks.
  • Cook without touching the beef for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the bottom turns golden. Flip to brown the other side, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer the beef to a big plate and remove the pan from the stove. Let cool for 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Place the pan back onto the stove and turn to medium heat. You should still have 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil in the pan. If not, add more.
  • Add the onion, pepper, and dried chili pepper. Cook and stir for 1 minute.
  • Add the ginger and garlic. Stir a few times to release the fragrance.
  • Stir the sauce again to dissolve the cornstarch completely. Pour into the pan. Stir and cook until it thickens a bit.
  • Add back the beef pieces. Stir to coat beef with sauce.
  • Transfer everything to a plate immediately and garnish with roasted sesame seeds, if using.
  • Serve hot over steamed rice as a main dish.

Notes

  1. To make the dish gluten-free, use rice vinegar to replace Chinkiang vinegar, tamari or coconut aminos to replace soy sauce, and a gluten-free hot sauce such as Sriracha to replace the Doubanjiang.
  2. Flank steak is my favorite cut for this dish, but you can use skirt steak, short ribs, or fajita meat, as well. If you decide to use a cheaper cut, such as as brisket or chuck roast, refer to my Orange Beef recipe to see how to tenderize the meat using baking soda.
  3. You can use rice vinegar as an alternative, although the sauce will come out slightly different and less pungent.
  4. Dark soy sauce will add a beautiful caramel color to the beef. You can use regular soy sauce as well but the dish will come out with a lighter color.
  5. You can use other hot sauces such as Sriracha, sambal oelek, etc. The sauce will come out differently but still be tasty.

Nutrition

Serving: 4g | Calories: 388kcal | Carbohydrates: 27.5g | Protein: 21.8g | Fat: 20.5g | Saturated Fat: 5g | Cholesterol: 78mg | Sodium: 1056mg | Potassium: 376mg | Fiber: 0.9g | Sugar: 13.1g | Calcium: 2% | Iron: 11%

Disclosure

Omnivore's Cookbook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.
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2 thoughts on “Real-Deal Szechuan Beef Stir Fry

  1. Emily

    Hi! This looks absolutely delicious! Quick question: Do you happen to know if there is a gluten-free version of Doubanjiang? I would love to try this recipe and the Doubanjiang is the only ingredient holding me back. Any recommendations for a girl with a severe allergy? Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Maggie

      Hi Emily, I found a gluten-free Doubanjiang on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2VGZ8Td
      Alternatively, I would consider use other Asian hot sauce such as Sriracha or Sambal Oelek to replace it. The taste will end up a bit different but the dish will remain delicious 🙂

      Reply