If you enjoy bold and vibrant flavours then I think you are going to love this Szechuan beef stirfry. The Szechuan peppercorns provide not only a slightly peppery taste but also add subtle citrus undertones to the dish. And along with the peppercorns I've incorporated a medley of other Asian flavours to make this beef stirfry super delicious.
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What is Szechuan beef stirfry?
Szechuan beef stirfry consists of tender strips of beef, marinaded in a few simple ingredients and then combined with vegetables in a flavourful Szechuan sauce. The stirfry is normally served with either white rice or noodles.
For the beef I've used rump steak which only takes a few minutes in the frying pan, but you could substitute this for sirloin steak. You can also use whatever vegetables you prefer - for my version of this recipe I've used onions, red pepper and broccoli.
The hero of the dish is of course Szechuan peppercorns, which are not peppercorns as we know them but are actually the dried berries of the prickly ash tree. Only the husks of the berries are used, with the inner inedible kernel being discarded during processing.
Szechuan peppercorns are not hot (like chillies for instance). Instead, they have a mouth-numbing property which provides an interesting tingle on the tongue when you eat them. They also have slightly peppery, citrus overtones with a hint of spice. It is an unusual flavour - but absolutely delicious.
The heat in the dish comes from chillis and you can adjust this to your own taste by adding more or less chilli. I like to keep the chilli to a minimum so there is just a slight heat, and instead let the flavour of the Szechuan peppercorns shine through.
The sauce itself if full of flavour thanks to oyster and soy sauce, and also 5-spice powder and sesame oil. It is not a 'runny' sauce as such, but it is quite rich in flavour, and there is enough sauce to coat the meat and vegetables in its lusciousness, and also to soak into either the rice or noodles that you serve with the beef stirfry.
Let's get on to making it. Apart from marinating the meat, this won't take long.
What you will need
To grind the szechuan peppers you will need a mortar and pestle. If you don't have one, you can put the peppercorns inside a plastic bag and press down on them with a rolling pin, or you could use a coffee grinder.
This recipe will feed 4 people. You can easily adjust the recipe to cater for more or fewer people by adjusting the quantities of meat and vegetables. I wouldn't cut down on the sauce if you are making a smaller portion, although you could double the sauce ingredients to make a larger quantity. Be careful when doubling the chilli (unless you like a really hot dish).
**You can get the complete list of ingredients and full instructions for making Szechuan beef stirfry on the printable recipe card at the end of this post**
This looks like a lot of ingredients, but you probably have most of them in your pantry already.
Meat, marinade and vegetables
Beef - use good quality beef that you would normally fry and serve as beef steak. I've used rump, but sirloin would be a good alternative. The steak should be sliced into thin strips, approximately 1cm wide, or just over one-quarter of an inch.
For the marinade you will need:
- Dark soy sauce - adds colour to the meat and a rich flavour to the marinade.
- Sesame oil - for a nutty flavour. Sesame oil is only ever used for flavouring, and not for frying.
- Sherry - I used dry sherry, but if you have a bottle of Shaoxing wine you could use that instead.
- Cornflour - helps to tenderise the meat.
- Salt - to your own taste.
These are the vegetables I used - you can vary them to suit your own taste. Why not try julienned carrots, mushrooms, baby corn, broccolini (or tender-stem broccoli) or pak choi? Whatever vegetables you decide to use, for 4 people you will need 3 to 4 cups of your vegetables of choice.
- Onions - these should be halved or quartered (depending on size) and separated into petals.
- Broccoli - separated into florets.
- Red pepper (or capsicum) - deseeded, membranes removed and sliced.
The following ingredients are not pictured, but are cooked with the vegetables:
- Garlic - you can use finely minced cloves of fresh garlic, or ready-minced garlic from a jar.
- Ginger paste - if you prefer to use fresh ginger it should be finely minced.
- Sunflower oil - or other neutral-flavoured oil for frying the meat and vegetables.
I've separated the sauce ingredients out to make it easier for you. There are only 8 ingredients, and one of them is water.
Oyster sauce - adds a salty yet savoury flavour
Soy sauce - dark sauce, not light. Light soy sauce is too salty for this dish.
Brown sugar - for sweetness
Chilli flakes - for heat. You could use chilli paste instead. Do use the chilli according to your own taste. If you don't want the heat you can leave it out altogether.
5-spice powder - this is a mixture of star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Szechuan peppercorns and fennel seeds.
Szechuan peppercorns - if you are having trouble sourcing these locally, I've included a link to Szechuan peppercorns on Amazon.
Cornflour (or cornstarch) - helps thicken the sauce.
Water - not too much - a quarter of a cup of water is fine.
Note: If you would like to make this Szechuan sauce on its own to serve with a different dish - you will need to add a teaspoon of sesame oil and 2 tablespoons of dry sherry. These two ingredients are included in the marinade, and the flavours get carried through into the sauce.
What to do
In a nutshell, these are the steps:
- Slice the meat and combine it with the marinade ingredients. Leave it to marinade for one hour.
- Fry the meat and set it aside.
- Stir-fry the vegetables, then add the sauce and meat and cook until the sauce thickens.
- Serve hot with rice or pasta.
And here is the detail:
Place the sliced beef into a mixing bowl, add the marinade ingredients and mix well to combine. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it in the refrigerator for an hour to marinate.
Grind the Szechuan peppercorns in a mortar and pestle until they are fine. Alternatively, place them in a plastic bag and crush them with a rolling pin.
Combine the crushed Szechuan peppercorns with the rest of the sauce ingredients in a small bowl. The peppercorns will float on top - this is perfectly fine.
Once the steak has been marinated, heat the sunflower oil in a frying pan and fry the steak briefly (on a high heat) until it is cooked. If you are using good quality steak, this should not take more than 2 minutes per side. You may have to do this in batches to avoid overcrowding the pan. Reserve any leftover marinade to add to the sauce.
Transfer the cooked steak to a plate and set it aside while you fry the vegetables.
Add the onions and red peppers to the same pan. You may need to add an extra splash of oil. There will still be marinade in the pan - this is fine. Stir the vegetables to coat them with the oil then turn the heat down to low, cover the pan with a lid and leave the vegetables to steam for 3 to 4 minutes until they soften.
Add the broccoli to the pan and continue to stir fry until the broccoli has softened slightly.
Add the sauce plus any reserved marinade. Bring to the boil and stir until the sauce has thickened. Turn the heat down, and allow the sauce and vegetables to simmer for a minute or two until the vegetables are cooked to your liking.
Stir in the meat and allow it to heat through. Serve hot with white rice or Chinese noodles.
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Szechuan beef stirfry FAQ
They are so named because they come from the Sichuan Province of China which was previously spelt Szechuan and which is known for its spicy cuisine. Both spellings refer to the region and the cuisine.
Yes, you could substitute the Szechuan peppercorns for pink peppercorns which have a mild, sweet flavour with subtle spicy notes. However, you will not get the same mouth-tingling sensation that the Szechuan pepper provides.
While you can freeze this dish, I would not recommend it as the texture of the vegetables would alter on defrosting.
Yes, you can make this dish ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Reheat it in a saucepan on the stove.
Szechuan peppercorns have a unique taste that is often characterised as numbing or tingling, fragrant, citrusy and slightly sweet. They are not really spicy, but the tingling sensation gives the impression of heat.
Save for later
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If you enjoyed this recipe, why not take a look at some of my other Asian-inspired recipes too:
- Thai pork mince stirfry with green beans - a spicy yet fragrant dish of pork mince served on a bed of spaghetti.
- Sweet and sour chicken - tender chicken fried in a light tempura batter and smothered in a homemade sweet and sour sauce.
- Chinese egg fried rice with peas and ham - if you prefer rice instead of noodles with your meal, then I heartily recommend this fried rice dish.
- Crispy orange chicken - pieces of chicken coated in panko breadcrumbs and oven-baked for crispness. Served with a tasty orange sauce.
- Thai meatballs with satay sauce - chicken and pork meatballs served with a spicy satay sauce.
Szechuan Beef Stirfry
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- 1 pound / 450 grams rump steak or your own choice of beef cut.
- 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon cornflour / cornstarch
- 2 tablespoon dry sherry or use Shaoxing wine
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
- 2 medium onions quartered and separated into petals
- 1 large red pepper / capsicum deseeded, membranes removed and sliced
- 2 cups broccoli florets
- 2 tablespoons sunflower oil for frying
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- ½ teaspoon ginger paste
- 3 tablespoons oyster sauce
- 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon szechuan peppercorns ground in a mortar and pestle
- ½ teaspoon 5-spice powder
- 1 teaspoon cornflour
- ½ teaspoon chilli paste / dried chilli flakes or to taste
- ¼ cup water
- Salt to taste
- Slice the beef across the grain into thin strips1 pound / 450 grams rump steak
- Place the beef in a mixing bowl and add the marinade ingredients.2 tablespoons dark soy sauce, 1 tablespoon cornflour / cornstarch, 2 tablespoon dry sherry, 1 teaspoon sesame oil, 1 teaspoon salt
- Mix well to combine then cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for an hour to marinade.
- Grind the szechuan peppercorns in a mortar and pestle until they are quite fine.1 tablespoon szechuan peppercorns
- Combine the ingredients for the sauce into a small bowl and set aside.3 tablespoons oyster sauce, 2 tablespoons dark soy sauce, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 tablespoon szechuan peppercorns, ½ teaspoon 5-spice powder, 1 teaspoon cornflour, ½ teaspoon chilli paste / dried chilli flakes, ¼ cup water, Salt to taste
- Prepare the vegetables:Peel the onions, cut them into quarters and separate them into petals. Remove the seeds and membranes from the red pepper and slice it thinly. Separate the broccoli into florets.2 medium onions, 1 large red pepper / capsicum, 2 cups broccoli florets
Make the stirfry
- Heat the sunflower oil in a pan until it sizzles if you add a few drops of water.2 tablespoons sunflower oil
- Add the marinated steak piece by piece in a single layer and fry for 2 minutes per side. Remove the beef to a plate and set aside. You may have to fry the meat in batches so as not to overcrowd the pan. Reserve any leftover marinade.
- Add the onions and red peppers to the same pan along with the garlic and ginger paste and stirfry for about 3 minutes until the vegetables start to soften.2 medium onions, 1 large red pepper / capsicum, 2 tablespoons sunflower oil, 2 cloves garlic, ½ teaspoon ginger paste
- Add the broccoli and continue to stirfry for 2 minutes.2 cups broccoli florets
- Stir the sauce to ensure the ingredients are well combined, then pour it into the vegetables along with any leftover marinade. Bring to the boil then turn the heat down to a simmer and stir until the sauce thickens and the vegetables are cooked to your liking.
- Add the beef strips and simmer for another 2 minutes until the meat has heated through.
- Taste for seasoning and add salt if needed.
- Serve with white rice or noodles.
I am not a nutritionist. The nutrition information has been calculated using an on-line calculator, and is intended for information and guidance purposes only. If the nutrition information is important to you, you should consider calculating it yourself, using your preferred tool.
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