Pepper Steak made with thinly sliced sirloin beef, bell peppers, sliced onions, and a peppery stir fry sauce is a 15 minute dinner that tastes better than take out.
Classic Chinese Pepper Steak Stir Fry that comes together in just 15 minutes in a delicious savory stir fry sauce with fresh bell peppers, onions, and think sliced sirloin steak.
I have always loved this classic Chinese American takeout dish. It's one of those dishes that always leaves me wanting more. Between the crunchy bell peppers and peppery sauce, it's hard to stop eating. Seriously, that sauce is just so good.
When I decided to try out an at-home version, I wanted to keep all those classic flavors while also adding my own spin. The first change was adding onion to the dish. I love the extra flavor it adds, some slight sweetness, and peppers and onions just work in my opinion.
The second change was to slice the beef into thin steaks instead of small strips traditionally found in stir-fries. This simple change made the dish feel a bit more special and elevated. With that said, this recipe will work great as well with the beef sliced in a more traditional way.
What is Pepper Steak?
Pepper steak is a classic American Chinese dish that you will find on almost every menu. It's made with thinly sliced beef, bell peppers, and a savory sauce that usually has a good amount of black pepper. There are a few different styles of pepper sauce used in this dish but it always includes soy sauce, garlic, ginger, and black pepper. To create even more flavor, this recipe adds rice vinegar, sesame oil, and a pinch of red pepper flakes for some heat.
The other key ingredient in pepper steak is the bell peppers. Any color bell peppers work but using two different colors creates a more beautiful dish. Additional vegetables can also be used but the dish won't be as authentic.
In terms of the steak, traditional pepper steak calls for thinly sliced sirloin or flank steak. Like most stir-fries, slicing the beef thin helps it to cook quickly and get a nice, crispy exterior. This version mixes things up and uses a thin-sliced steak, but it will also work with more traditional thinly sliced beef pieces.
How do you make pepper steak from scratch?
Like most stir fry dishes, most of the hard work is done while you prep the ingredients. Start by thinly slicing the beef either into thin strips or thin steaks. To make it easier to slice the beef nice and thin, place it in the freezer for 15 minutes before slicing it.
Next, get the vegetables prepped. Cut the bell peppers and onions into thin slices. They need to cook quickly, so make sure they are nice and thin.
Now it is on to the sauce. Get the garlic and ginger minced (or use a tube) and stir in the other ingredients. Set everything up near your skillet or wok since once you start cooking, you'll need all the ingredients nearby.
Turn up the wok or skillet and add some oil. Once it is hot, add the steak and let it cook for about 1 minute without stirring the pan. It should get some nice brown caramelization. Then give it a good stir, or flip the steaks over, and let them cook for another minute. Remove the streak and set aside. Remember, the steak is sliced thin so it will cook quickly. Try not to overcook it since it can get rubbery.
Add the onions and pepper to the pan and cook them for 4-5 minutes until they are tender-crisp. Do not let them get soggy. Stir them often so that they don't burn.
Now add the sauce and steak back to the pan. Give it a stir, let the sauce cook and thicken for a couple of minutes. That's it! Dinner is down. Serve it with traditional steamed rice or opt for lighter cauliflower rice. Pepper steal is also delicious wrapped up in lettuce leaves, served on a bed of quinoa, or even in a roll as an Asian style steak sandwich.
Recipe Tips and Ideas
Although this is a classic dish, you can still make it your own with some easy swaps and ideas:
- This version uses a thinly sliced steak instead of smaller strips of beef. If you prefer a more traditional stir-fry, just swap in thinly sliced steak pieces. You could also make this dish with ground beef to really speed things up, like in these Ground Beef Bulgogi Bowls.
- If you want an alternative to red meat, this recipe will work with thinly sliced chicken or pork. It would like even work with tofu or tempeh.
- For a spicier dish, add extra red pepper flakes or swap in some Sriracha or sambal olek.
- If bell peppers and onions aren't a good option for you, this recipe will work with all different vegetables. Consider green beans, asparagus, sugar snap pans, thinly sliced cabbage, carrots, broccoli, or cauliflower.
- If you prefer sweeter stir fry dishes, consider adding a touch of honey, maple syrup, or brown sugar to the stir fry sauce.
Side Dish Ideas
Like most Chinese stir fry dishes, this is traditionally served with white or brown steamed rice and may have some sliced green onions on top. With that said, there are lots of other options.
- Stick to serving a grain with the pepper steak but opt for a higher protein grain like quinoa, a nutty grain like farro, or a lighter grain like couscous.
- For a lower carb option, consider serving it alongside some cauliflower rice, cauliflower fried rice, or cabbage fried rice.
- For noodle lovers, this recipe is delicious with rice noodles, soba noodles, lo mein, or chow mein.
- Another low carb option is wrapping this pepper steak stir fry up in butter lettuce wraps and topping it with bean sprouts, chopped peanuts, or sesame seeds.
- For extra veggies, consider making some Roasted Asian Broccoli or Sesame Soy Edamame.
Why is my pepper steak tough?
There are two main reasons that this happens. The first and most common is that the steak was overcooked. Since the recipe uses a less expensive cut of beef, if it is overcooked it will quickly become rubbery.
The second most common reason for tough steak is that it was sliced too thick. When cooking streak for a stir-fry, it needs to be sliced very thin so it browns on the outside and cooks very quickly. When it is cut too thick, it tends to get rubbery.
How to thicken the stir fry sauce?
There are two main ways to thicken stir fry sauce. The first, and most common, is using cornstarch (or another thickener) to thicken the sauce. It can be added directly to the stir fry sauce. Or if you notice the sauce isn't thickening after you have started cooking, mix the cornstarch with a small amount of cold water. Add it to the sauce, bring it to a boil, and then turn down the heat. The sauce will thicken in 2-3 minutes in most cases.
Additionally, you can thicken a sauce by cooking it longer and letting some of the water in the sauce evaporate. As the sauce bubbles and cook, some of the water and liquid in the sauce will evaporate to naturally thicken the sauce.
Always be aware of veggies and proteins that release lots of water when making a stir-fry. One common reason sauces don't thicken in stir-fries, is that the vegetables release lots of extra liquid into the sauce they cook.
What's the best beef to use for pepper steak?
There are lots of options when it comes to beef cuts when making pepper steak. Normally the recipe calls for lean sirloin steak since it stays tender and is relatively affordable. Other good options include flank steak, fajita steak, skirt steak, and most sirloin cuts.
Storage, Meal Prep, and Freezer Instructions
- Storage: This pepper steak will keep well in the fridge for 3-4 days after cooking. Store it in an airtight container.
- Meal Prep: This meal is great for meal prep. Pack individual servings with rice, cauliflower rice, or another grain and reheat in the microwave or a skillet.
- Freezer: This is actually a great freezer meal. Make sure to let the dish cool completely before freezing it. Then store it in individual or family sized servings in a freezer safe container. Try to make sure there isn't a lot of extra air in the container or bag to prevent freezer burn.
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1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp cornstarch
2 tsp sesame oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp ginger, grated
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (optional )
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 lb top sirloin beef, trimmed and sliced thin
1 onion, sliced thin
1 bell pepper, sliced thin
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* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
The Nutritional Values provided are estimates only and may vary based on the preparation method.
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