Pepper steak is one of the easiest stir fry dishes you can make. It doesn’t require any ingredients you can’t find in just about any grocery store — except for one, maybe, if you’re really in the middle of nowhere. And it’s fairly non-exotic, compared to some of the things you see on Anthony Bourdain‘s show, so even the most timid eater (or your kids) shouldn’t be afraid to try it.
Wait, that’s a pretty back-handed compliment … “it’s ordinary and safe.” Okay, put it this way: Pepper steak is the meatloaf of stir fry cooking. It’s never going to impress a critic, but everyone else knows it’s just plain good.
1 pound flank steak
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice wine or dry sherry
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch (see below)
1 bell pepper
one medium onion
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
3 slices fresh ginger (see below)
oil for frying
Prepping the Meat
The butcher was out of flank steak when I went. I told them what I was making and asked what would be a good substitute and they pointed me to the steak “for swissing”. Meaning it was prepped for making swiss steak. It happened to also be the cheapest cut of steak in the store. This is why I go to a butcher instead of the grocery store for my meat.
Slice a quarter-inch thick across the grain. If you cut in the same direction as the grain, you’ll leave long fibers it will be tough and stringy.
Slice the pieces in half, if they’re longer than bite-sized.
Once it’s all sliced, transfer to a bowl with a tight lid.
Push the meat to one side, and in the other side add the sugar and cornstarch …
… and the soy sauce and rice wine.
You can substitute dry sherry for the rice wine or, like I did here, rice wine vinegar. Note that I only used two teaspoons of cornstarch, and the sauce didn’t thicken up enough. The tablespoon I listed in the ingredients above still might not be enough.
Stir the wet and dry ingredients together, then mix the meat in until it’s all covered. There should be just enough liquid to cover the meat.
Prepping the Veg
Cut the stem end off the onion and cut in half through the root.
Peel the papery outer layer or layers off. Cut off the stem.
Cut the half in half again.
Starting from the center, make a couple of slices. Once the piece you are holding is taller than it is wide, flip it down and keep slicing.
Remember to keep your fingertips tucked back away from the edge of the knife, and guide it with your knuckles.
Scoop the finished onion into a bowl.
Dice the peppers into large chunks. See my previous post for the fastest way to prep peppers.
Add the pepper to the bowl with the onion.
Peel the garlic … hmm, I didn’t take any pictures of that. Okay, so take a look at the post on making and canning spaghetti sauce to see how to peel them. Then look at the one on how to mince garlic, and do that.
Once the garlic is minced, scoop it into the bowl with the onion and pepper.
Finally, slice three pieces of fresh ginger root. If yours has gotten dark and dried out on the end, like mine, slice off about a quarter-inch first. The root should be bright, almost white.
NOTE: The preparation as shown here will lend a very slight flavor to the sauce. The next time I make this I’ll grate about a half-inch chunk of the root into the marinade with the meat. If you know you like ginger, I recommend you do the same. If this is your first try at stir-fry, you might want to do it as I’m showing here.
Add a few tablespoons of oil to a wok over high heat. (I’ve got this non-stick almost-wok that I have to use because it has a flat bottom and I have an electric stove. True woks have a round bottom and only work well over a flame.) Add the ginger to the oil.
Cook the ginger for just a minute or so, until the flavor infuses the oil, then add the vegetables.
Cook for two or three minutes, stirring constantly, until the onion is translucent and the pepper has softened. Scoop the finished vegetables back into the bowl you sliced them into, and return the ginger to the oil. Add a little more oil if there’s not enough to coat the bottom of the wok.
Add the meat to the wok.
Toss/stir the meat until it is cooked through — the thin slices should only take a minute or so — then remove the ginger and discard it.
Return the vegetables to the wok and toss to combine. Stir for a minute until the vegetables are warmed through again. If you’ve been working fast — and that’s the only way to do stir-fry — the veggies should have still been warm.
Turn the finished meat and vegetables out into a serving dish while you re-use the wok to fry the rice.
I’m not showing that because mine didn’t come out well at all. I need to try again until I figure out what I did wrong, then I’ll show that. Let’s just pretend that in here …
… I showed how to do fried rice. Serve a little of the pepper steak on top of about a cup of the fried rice.
And that’s it.
Alternatively, serve it on top of spaghetti and call it “lo mein”. Remember, the Chinese invented noodles.
Want more like this? For more recipes like this, that you can hold right in your hands, and write on, take notes, tear pages out if you want (Gosh, you're tough on books, aren't you?) you might be interested in How To Cook Like Your Grandmother, 2nd edition, Illustrated. Or to learn your way around the kitchen, check out Starting From Scratch: The Owner's Manual for Your Kitchen.