Black Pepper Beef
The Chinese tend to prefer White Pepper for many preparations but Black Pepper does appear in some dishes, most notably Hot and Sour Soup, and it is not infrequently used in recipes that include beef. Here, I am doing a quick stir-fried dish using these two ingredients and I am also adding both zucchini and button mushrooms. You can, of course, easily replace these vegetables with any number of other combinations you like.
The Basic Method for making Black Pepper Beef
The beef is first tossed with a little salt and cornstarch, and then a dash of vegetable oil is added. The salt is for seasoning, the cornstarch provides a coating, and the oil will help prevent the pieces from sticking together during frying.
The pepper you use should be freshly ground pepper corns rather than commercially prepared powder. The pepper is the signature component of this dish and you want to experience the sharp, almost lemony pungency of the fresh article. For the best results, make sure you don’t grind it too finely, and leave some larger grains in the mix.
The sauce in this recipe does not contain any cornstarch or other thickening agents. In the end stages of the cooking process, you will reduce it so that the sugar it contains will help it to form a thin, almost syrupy glaze.
The beef is first gently deep-fried at a low temperature just until it browns. It will still be quite raw in the middle but will be cooked through during a second cooking with the other ingredients. The purpose of this two-step process is to produce very soft, tender pieces of meat.
You could use fresh mushrooms here, but this is one of those occasions where canned Button Mushrooms work very nicely. Their flavor, and appearance, is much enhanced if they are vigorously fried to caramelize them before the other ingredients are added.
Once the mushrooms are cooked, the zucchini is added, then the sauce mix. Once the sauce is almost completely reduced, the beef gets added back to the pan for the secondary cooking just before service.
Your Recipe Card:
Black Pepper Beef
- 1/2 lb. Beef sliced in 3” strips;
- 1 cup Zucchini in 3” batons;
- 1 small can Button Mushrooms;
- 1 pinch Salt;
- 1 tsp. Cornstarch;
- 1 tsp. Vegetable Oil;
- 2 tsp. Black Peppercorns;
- 1 tbsp. each of Sugar Chinese Black Vinegar, Soy Sauce and Shaoxing Wine;
- 1 tsp. Sesame Oil;
- ½ tsp. Sichuan Pepper Oil optional.
- Mix the strips of beef with the salt and cornstarch and then stir in the vegetable oil.
- Coarsely grind or crush the peppercorns.
- Mix together the remaining flavoring ingredients to make the sauce and set aside.
- Heat a cup or two of oil in your wok over moderate heat and then gently deep-fry the beef strips until they just turn color and remain soft and slightly raw at the center. Remove the strips to a bowl for the moment.
- Drain the oil from your wok, leaving a tablespoon or so and turn up the heat to high. Add the mushrooms and quickly sauté until they brown nicely.
- Now add the zucchini and stir-fry for a moment or two. As soon as they just start to soften, add the sauce ingredients and continue to stir while allowing the sauce to bubble away.
- When the sauce is reduced almost to a glaze, add the beef and cook, stirring briskly, until it is just cooked through.
- Serve immediately.