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Better Than Takeout Crispy Chili Beef

Crispy chili beef is made with strips of beef that are crusty and crunchy on the outside but tender and juicy on the inside and coated in a perfectly balanced spicy, tangy, and sweet sauce.

It is addictively delicious. The kind of mouthwatering tastiness that has your family fighting with chopsticks over who gets to take the last piece.

So it goes without saying that it is my favorite thing to order at Chinese restaurants.

And yet, it’s soooo much better made at home. Here’s why:

The beef. One thing that I really have a beef with (pun intended) is when I order crispy chili beef at a restaurant and find that it’s tiny slivers of crispy…cornstarch. There may be beef inside, there may not. Nobody knows. It’s been shredded to oblivion. At home, I can choose the steak cut I want and how thick I want to slice it.

The vegetables. This is a fried, red meat dish. It’s delicious but I do feel less guilty about consuming it (regularly. frequently. religiously.) when there are plenty of veggies added to it. Rarely do I get takeout or dine in at a restaurant that adds in as many or as diverse a vegetable range as I can at home.

The portions. Okay, not gonna lie – one of the best parts of making crispy chili beef at home is that I can be very generous with my portions. I know it’s not just me noticing that the servings have been getting smaller and smaller at restaurants. Well, there’s none of that happening in my kitchen.

It’s easy. At first, this recipe looks like it has a lot of parts. But it’s actually really easy to make. It’ll take you around 30 – 35 minutes from start to finish. Considering the perks, it’s so worth it.

What is Crispy Chili Beef?

Crispy chili beef is apparently Chinese and yet, the first time I encountered it in this form was in the UK. No surprise there. Crispy chili beef probably tops the list of the UK’s favorite Chinese dishes. And for good reason – it’s maddeningly delicious.

But where does it come from? To be honest, I don’t know. I’ve lived in Shanghai, spent months in Tianjin, and traveled around China and I can’t recall tasting this dish. Ditto for Hong Kong. I’ve lived there for a year and the closest thing I can remember is a Szechuan beef that was similar.

And that, I’m guessing, is where the origin lies – the tasty but fiery Szechuan dish, dry-fried shredded beef (gān biān niúròu sī – 干煸牛肉丝).

Perhaps the dish transformed over time from a spicy dry stir fry into the sweeter, deep-fried version as it made its way around the world and adapted to Western tastebuds.

Whatever transpired to get us the crispy chili beef we know and love today, I’m supremely grateful because as delicious as dry-fried shredded beef is, this version of crispy chili beef is probably my favorite.

If you haven’t had it yet, it’s very similar to Panda Express’s Beijing Beef (if you’re from the US). It’s also similar to crispy Peking beef (aka Peking shredded beef or “rusty nails” – if you’re from Australia).

But this particular recipe is closest to what you’ll get if you order crispy chili beef in the UK – perfectly fried strips of beef smothered in a spicy-tangy-sweet sauce.

Crispy Chili Beef Ingredients

The easiest way to go over the ingredients is to break them down into what’s need for each part of the dish. Let’s start with the star ingredient…

Beef

Beef. You’ve got choices when it comes to the beef you use for Chinese crispy beef. My favorite cuts for this dish are tenderloin, medallion steak (which is typically cut from tenderloin), or rump steak.

But if you don’t have those, that’s okay. Sirloin, ribeye, even flank or skirt are also great for this dish.

Marinade. We’ll be tossing the beef strips in a simple marinade made of:

  • soy sauce
  • sesame oil
  • sugar
  • salt
  • white or black pepper

And then we’ll be adding an egg and tossing everything in cornflour.

Note: Cornflour in the UK is the same thing as cornstarch in the US. I tend to use the two terms interchangeably.

Vegetables

The best thing about making Chinese crispy beef at home is that you’re the boss. You can choose whatever vegetables you want to add – and how much. I usually go with:

Bell peppers. I use a mix of colors of 3 colors, with about 1/3 sliced off from each bell pepper. It’s not necessary at all but I like the look of it.

Onions. White, red, yellow, brown – it doesn’t matter. You can also use shallots, which have the perk of needing less cook time.

Carrots. Sliced, diced, cut into matchsticks – again, you’re the boss.

Green onions. These are optional. I sometimes add them in, sometimes leave them out.

You can also add broccoli, snap peas, baby bok choy – or you can leave out vegetables altogether.

The Sauce

Beef and veggies are delicious but there’s no denying that the thing that makes this dish so addictive is that perfectly balanced spicy-tangy-sweet sauce.

To make that, you’ll need:

Ginger and garlic. These are the bread and butter of Chinese food. They must be present.

Chili peppers. This is really up to you. You can use Szechuan peppers, bird’s eye chilis, or milder chilis. I do the latter because we have a young kid who can’t take the heat of the hotter chilis (yet).

Dark soy sauce. If you don’t have it, you can substitute dark soy sauce with double black soy sauce or kecap manis (add a pinch of salt to it). Or you can use regular soy sauce but add a teaspoon of brown sugar and a pinch of salt.

Rice vinegar. If you don’t have it, you can substitute rice vinegar with white or apple cider vinegar. If you have Chinkiang (Zhenjiang) black rice vinegar, you can use that instead – but use only half the dark soy sauce.

Sugar. White or brown, it doesn’t really matter, but I prefer brown for the molasses content.

Ketchup. Tomato ketchup has that sweet tang that lends itself beautifully to this recipe.

How to Make Crispy Chili Beef

1. Make Crispy Beef Sauce

Let’s start with the sauce so we can have that ready to go. Roughly chop the ginger, garlic, chili peppers into small pieces and set aside.

Then add soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar and ketchup to a bowl and stir to combine. Set aside

2. Season the beef

Cut beef into thin slices or strips. Add the beef strips to a bowl with soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, salt, and white pepper. Toss to coat.

Add an egg to the bowl and mix it in until all the beef slices are coated.

Pour a cup of cornstarch into a large bowl or plate and add about a teaspoon of salt and pepper. Stir to combine. Set aside.

3. Heat the Oil for Frying

At this point, we’re going to step away from the beef and the cornflour to get the oil ready for frying.

Add enough cooking oil to a large pan (around a centimeter deep). I’m using a non-stick pan and around 1/4 cup vegetable oil.

Heat the oil over medium heat for around 5 minutes. This will be the perfect amount of time to get the beef ready to fry…

4. Coat the beef

Add the beef slices to the big bowl of cornflour and start massaging the cornflour onto the beef. At first, it’s going to be a clumpy, gloopy mess but keep going, continuing to incorporate more cornflour into the beef.

In a couple minutes, the beef strips will start to separate. Place these coated beef strips onto a clean plate.

5. Fry the beef

Add the strips of beef to the hot oil in the pan in a single layer. Let it sizzle like that for around 3 to 4 minutes before you flip them over and repeat on the other side.

Because we’re going to be shallow frying, you want to leave the pieces for longer than you would with deep frying. Give them time to get dark brown and crusty-crispy before you flip them over.

When finished frying, set aside on a clean plate.

Note: You may have to do it in batches. It’s important you don’t overcrowd the pan so that each strip can get full exposure to the oil and heat.

Tip: The hot oil will definitely splatter and it feels like hundreds of tiny pin pricks. Not nice. Protect your hands with a glove. I go with the rubber gloves that I use when washing dishes.

6. Simmer the Sauce

If you’re okay with multi-tasking, you can do this step concurrently while frying the beef and sautéing the vegetables. It’s easy enough since it’ll just simmer on its own.

Add a tablespoon of oil and the chopped ginger, garlic, and peppers to a pan. Sauté for a minute and then pour in the sauce. Let it simmer on low heat for around 10 minutes to reduce and thicken.

7. Sauté the Vegetables

In the same pan that you fried the beef, add the vegetables and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes.

8. Mix everything together

Add both the crispy fried beef and the sautéed vegetables to the sauce. Toss to coat everything in the sauce.

Serve immediately. Enjoy!

FAQs

What to eat it with? It’s perfect served with a side of white rice or fried rice.

How to store leftovers? The thing about fried foods is that they’re best consumed immediately for the ideal crispiness. You can technically store leftover crispy chili beef in the fridge for up to 4 days. But keep in mind that the crisp/crunch factor won’t be as good. Reheating in the oven rather than the microwave helps.

What if I want more sauce? The measurements for this sauce recipe are enough to coat the beef and veggies – but there won’t be much leftover to drizzle on top of your rice or smother everything in. But measurements are just suggestions. If you want lots of sauce, feel free to double or even triple the measurements for the sauce recipe.

crispy chili beef

Crispy Chili Beef

Crispy chili beef is made with strips of beef that are crusty and crunchy on the outside but tender and juicy on the inside and coated in a perfectly balanced spicy, tangy, and sweet sauce.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Chinese
Servings 4
Calories 363 kcal

Ingredients
  

Beef and Marinade

  • 400 grams rump steak or tenderloin, medallion, sirloin, ribeye, flank or skirt
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • ½ tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp white or black pepper
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup cornflour

Sauce

  • 1 tsp ginger finely chopped
  • 1 tsp garlic finely chopped
  • 1 bird's eye chili or 2 mild chili peppers, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 4 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp tomato ketchup
  • 1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine optional

Vegetables (Optional)

  • 1 onion sliced
  • 1 bell pepper sliced
  • 1 carrot julienned or cut into matchsticks
  • green onions

Instructions
 

Start with the Sauce

  • Roughly chop the ginger, garlic, chili peppers into small pieces and set aside.
    crispy chili beef
  • Add the soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar, ketchup, and Shaoxing wine (if you have it) to a bowl and stir to combine. Set aside.
    crispy beef sauce

Prep the Beef

  • Cut beef into thin slices or strips. Add the beef strips to a bowl with soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, salt, and white pepper. Toss to coat.
    crispy chili beef
  • Add an egg to the bowl and mix it in until all the beef slices are coated.
    crispy chili beef recipe
  • Pour a cup of cornstarch into a large bowl or plate and add about a teaspoon of salt and pepper. Stir to combine. Set aside.
    crispy chili beef
  • Note: This is a good time to step away from the beef and the cornflour to get the oil ready for frying.
    Add cooking oil to a large pan (around a centimeter deep). Heat the oil over medium heat for around 5 minutes. This will be the perfect amount of time to get the beef ready to fry…
  • While the oil is heating, add the beef slices to the big bowl of cornflour and start massaging the cornflour onto the beef. At first, it’s going to be a clumpy, gloopy mess but keep going, continuing to incorporate more cornflour into the beef.
    In a couple minutes, the beef strips will start to separate. Place these coated beef strips onto a clean plate.
    crispy chili beef

Fry the Beef

  • Add the strips of beef to the hot oil in the pan in a single layer. Let it sizzle like that for around 3 to 4 minutes before you flip them over and repeat on the other side. Do this in batches if you need to.
    Note: Because we’re going to be shallow frying, you want to leave the pieces for longer than you would with deep frying. Give them time to get dark brown and crusty-crispy before you flip them over.
    When finished frying, set aside on a clean plate.
    crispy chili beef

Simmer the Sauce

  • Add a tablespoon of oil and the chopped ginger, garlic, and peppers to a pan. Sauté for a minute and then pour in the sauce.
    crispy chili beef
  • Let it simmer on low heat for around 10 minutes to reduce and thicken.
    When finished frying, set aside on a clean plate.

Sauté the Vegetables

  • In the same pan that you fried the beef, add the vegetables and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes.
    crispy chili beef

Mix and Serve

  • Add both the crispy fried beef and the sautéed vegetables to the sauce. Toss to coat everything in the sauce.
    Serve immediately. Enjoy!
    crispy chili beef

Notes

What beef is best? The best cuts for this dish are the tender ones like tenderloin, medallion steak (which is typically cut from tenderloin), or rump steak. Ribeye and sirloin are great as well. Flank and skirt are slightly tougher but when cut into strips (and against the grain!) work well too. 
Which veggies to use? You’re the boss here. You can skip vegetables altogether or go with onions, bell peppers, green onions, carrots, broccoli, snap peas, baby bok choy – these all go very nicely in this dish. 
What chili peppers to use? It is called crispy chili beef but the kind of chilis you use comes down to your personal preference. For a spicy dish, go with Szechuan peppers or bird’s eye chilis. I use milder chilis so our kid can eat with us. 
Is there a substitute for dark soy sauce? You can substitute dark soy sauce with double black soy sauce or kecap manis (add a pinch of salt to it). Or you can use regular soy sauce but add a teaspoon of brown sugar and a pinch of salt.
Is there a substitute for rice vinegar? You can substitute rice vinegar with white or apple cider vinegar. If you have Chinkiang (Zhenjiang) black rice vinegar, you can use that instead.
How long to heat the oil before frying? Before we add our beef, we want to oil to be sizzling hot and ready to go. Around 5 minutes over medium heat should be perfect. 
How long to fry the beef for? Because we’re going to be shallow frying, you want to leave the pieces for longer than you would with deep frying. Give them time to get dark brown and crusty-crispy before you flip them over – around 3 to 5 minutes is perfect. 
Brown in batches! If you need to, do the browning in batches. It’s important you don’t overcrowd the pan so that each strip can get full exposure to the oil and heat.
Wear gloves when frying! The hot oil will definitely splatter and it feels like hundreds of tiny pin pricks. Protect your hands with rubber gloves. 
Multi-tasking for the win. This dish has a couple parts to it but you can definitely multi-task fairly easily. Heat the oil while you coat the beef. Start simmering the sauce while the beef and the vegetables cook. You’ll be done so much quicker. 
 

Nutrition

Calories: 363kcalCarbohydrates: 45gProtein: 26gFat: 7gSaturated Fat: 2gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0.01gCholesterol: 103mgSodium: 1201mgPotassium: 571mgFiber: 2gSugar: 12gVitamin A: 3588IUVitamin C: 43mgCalcium: 47mgIron: 3mg
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