Black pepper beef is a classic Chinese stir-fry dish that is amazingly easy to prepare. Now with the availability of black pepper sauce in a jar, it as become even easier to cook this dish at home.
I’m particularly nostalgic over this dish because it brings back memories of my parents teaching me and my sister to cook at home. Our first lesson in cooking beef was slicing the meat. We learned to identify the direction that the muscles grows and to slice it against the grain.
We also learned how to trim off the tough tendons and silver skins that ran at odd angles all over the meat. What we ended up with were usually shredded bits of beef and only a few whole chunks that we could slice. Then we found out this was because my parents bought the more economical cuts of beef that were meant for long cooking such as stews and rendang.
Now we buy the tenderloin cut of meat, or batang pinang from the Malay butcher, which gives us a straight grain that we make clean slices. If you are using high-grade premium beef with a nice marbling of fat, it is recommended that you dice them into 1-inch cubes rather than slicing.
Regardless of which cut of meat you use, it is important that beef should only be cooked briefly, preferably medium-rare. It is even more imperative that you just barely sear the beef if you are using a cheaper cut for this dish because the meat gets tougher the longer you cook it, unless you let it braise for hours.
Although most home cooks would usually just add the beef after the ginger and garlic, you’d notice that my recipe called for a two-step cooking method, where I would sear the beef in hot oil and strain it, then return it to the wok after sautéing the aromatic vegetables.
This procedure that my mom taught me, known as velveting, ensures that the beef is not overcooked and there would be a flavourful gravy from the strained beef jus.
If you’ve not tried this method before, do proceed with caution because there tends to be quite a splatter from the amount of oil used, and be sure to skim off as much of the excess oil as you can because it can make the dish to oily for some people.
- 300g fresh beef tenderloin, sliced against the grain
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp light soy sauce
- 1 tbsp black pepper
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- cooking oil
- 3cm old ginger, sliced
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ stick carrot, sliced
- 1 red onion, diced
- 3 sprigs scallions, diced
- 3 red chillies
- 2 green chillies
- ½ tsp sugar
- ¼ tsp salt
- 2 tbsp black pepper sauce
- 1 tsp cornstarch in 1 tbsp water
- Cut beef into 1x2-inch blocks and slice thinly against the grain.
- Marinate sliced beef in sesame oil, light soy sauce, black pepper and cornstarch for 30 minutes.
- Heat ½ cup cooking oil in frying pan. When oil reaches smoking point, add beef and toss until partially cooked, about 1 minute. Strain the jus from the beef and skim off excess oil.
- In a clean pan, heat 2 tbsp oil and sauté ginger, garlic, carrot, onion and scallions. Return beef to the pan and sauté until cooked. Add in red and green chillies before adding in seasonings. Toss all the ingredients in gravy to ensure an even coating.
- Serve hot with a garnish of freshly ground black pepper.