Hunan Beef Stir Fry with cumin is a perfect combination of succulent sirloin beef, dry chili and fresh crisp vegetables tossed with aromatic cumin and other savory spices. Super quick and easy, this stir fry beef will be loved by the whole family, friends or guests.
The Flavors of Hunan Cuisine —Spicy, Sour, and Salty
Hunan beef is one of those dish I always scan for when entering a Chinese restaurant along with any offerings of Szechuan cuisine, as they are very similar in taste profile. They’re both very spicy, but the main difference is that Szechuan uses an abundant of peppercorn and is usually more saucy in comparison to Hunan cuisine.
If you love Thai food which tends to be hot, sour and more on the salty side, you’ll love Hunan cuisine. If you’ve experienced the burning numbness of Sichuan or Chongqing food, you’ll appreciate Hunan cuisine which although is spicy, is not numbing. Their many recipes are more rounded; spicy, salty and sour-ish.
Szechuan cuisine uses peppercorn that numbs your mouth so if you ate a lot of dishes with peppercorns in them, they start tasting the same. On the other hand, Hunan food is considered more spicy than Szechuan food because the Hunanese uses vinegar with peppers, which serves to stimulate your taste buds, making them tingle so you can better appreciate and perceive a wider range of flavors; the richness of the ingredients and spices.
Here in Ontario, there are lot of Chinese restaurants, however, it’s actually quite hard to find good ones that serve authentic Chinese food that isn’t sweet, or what we call Canadianized Chinese food. Usually when I first enter a Chinese restaurant, I always ask for the menu first before I even get seated. And if there’s no Hunan or Szechuan offerings, I just leave. Actually, if the pictures of the dishes have broccoli and lots of carrots in in with no peppercorns of dry chili peppers to be seen, I also just leave. If you had authentic Chinese food, you’ll understand.
What is Hunan Beef?
Hunan beef with cumin originated in Hunan province of China. Thinly sliced sirloin beef is stir fried with a variety of fresh peppers, dried chili peppers, vegetables and flavored with aromatic cumin giving the dish a delightful fragrant. Cooking method and recipes varies depending on the region. In Western Chinese restaurants this dish is usually made less spicy, a bit sweet, with beef slices, cumin, bell pepper, onions and chili oil. So you should definitely try to replicate the authentic Hunan beef recipe at home instead. It’s easy and the ingredients shouldn’t be hard to find.
Ingredients for Hunan Beef
I prefer sirloin steak or rib eyes for this dish, but you can use any choice of beef cuts you prefer. Cut the beef into very thin slices, against the grain. This is usually easier when the beef is still in a semi-frozen state. I usually cook the beef separately, in batches on the highest temperature possible in order to keep the beef soft and juicy with a little crispiness on the outside. In most Chinese recipes, to keep the beef soft and tender, a little bit of baking soda is also used.
First, determine how many pounds of beef you have. You want to use a quarter teaspoon of baking soda per pound of beef. Sprinkle the baking soda over the meat and use your fingers to work it into the beef, making sure you cover the entire piece. Let it marinate in the baking soda for 15 to 30 minutes but no more than 2 hours. You don’t want the meat to extract the district taste of the baking soda. After 15 minutes or so, rinse the beef, remove excess water and pat it dry with paper towels.
Spices and Vegetables
Although cumin spices are rarely used in Chinese cooking, in this Hunan recipe, both cumin seeds and powders are used. For this recipe, I’ve omitted cumin seeds. In most Hunan Beef with cumin recipes, both fresh and dry hot chili peppers are used. If you love spicy food, you can use Thai bird eye chili peppers or banana peppers for an extra kick, but if you want a more balanced flavour with less spiciness, you can use bell peppers instead, preferably a mixture of red, green and orange to give the dish more colors. Other vegetables to consider for this recipe: garlic sprouts, snow peas, spring onions, carrots and coriander.
Marinades for Hunan Beef
Dark soy sauce —add a caramelized taste while also providing a deeper color.
Light soy sauce —light umami flavour with a hint of saltiness.
Black Rice Vinegar —adds a sweet tartness to the dish
Shaoxing wine —more complex taste than regular rice cooking wine. Can be substituted with dry sherry or mirin (this will add a hint of sweetness to the dish).
Oyster sauce —built a more umami profile with the soy sauces.
Cornstarch —helps to crisp up the surface of the beef while holding the marinade to the beef better.
This is my version of Hunan Beef Stir fry with cumin. I hope you try this recipe at home. If you did, let me know how it turned out in the comment section below.
Hunan Beef Stir Fry with Cumin
- 1 lb Beef [thinly sliced]
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 2 tbsp water
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
Hunan Sauce Ingredients
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 2 tbsp hot water
- 1 tsp oyster sauce
- 1 tbsp dark soy sauce
- 1½ tbsp light soy sauce
- 1/4 tsp white pepper
Cumin Sauce Ingredients
- 1/2 tsp Chinese black vinegar
- 2 tbsp Shaoxing wine
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 green bell pepper
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil for frying
- 1 tbsp fresh ginger [thinly sliced]
- 6 cloves garlic crushed
- 1/2 cup shallots [thinly sliced]
- 2 tbsp coriander stalk [finely chopped]
- coriander leaves and green onion to garnish
Preparing the Beef, Vegetables and Sauce
- In a medium bowl, combine the thinly sliced beef with baking soda and water. Massage these ingredients into the beef until most of the liquid has been absorbed by the meat. Let stand for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes or so, rinse the beef, remove excess water and pat it dry with paper towels.
- Slice all the fresh peppers into long thin slices. Set aside the dried red peppers. If you prefer a spicier version, chop half the dried red peppers into smaller pieces.
- In a small sauce bowl, stir the sugar into 2 tablespoons of hot water until dissolved. Add the rest of the Hunan sauce ingredients and mix well. Set aside.
- Take 1/2 tablespoon of the Hunan sauce made above and season the thinly sliced beef with it. Add 1 tablespoon of cornstarch. Massage until all ingredients are evenly absorbed. Set the beef aside.
- In another small sauce bowl, mix the Chinese black vinegar, Shaoxing wine and cumin. Set aside.
Frying the Beef Separately
- Heat your wok over high heat until smoking. Spread ⅓ cup of oil around the wok and sear the beef in small batches. For each batch, allow the beef to sear until it is browned and slightly crispy on the outside. Between each batch, make sure the wok and oil are hot. I did mine in 3 batches.
- Drain the crispy beef by moving it up to the side of the wok, allowing the oil to drain to the bottom portion of the wok. Transfer the beef to a plate or metal strainer.
- After frying the beef, leave approximately 2 tablespoons of the oil in the wok, removing the excess. If your wok got burned in the frying process, now is a good time to wash it. Or, you could remove any burnt pieces visible in the oil if you prefer. While you want the beef flavor from frying, you don’t want burned bits in the stir-fry.
Assembling Hunan Beef
- Set the wok over medium heat. Add the sliced ginger and fry until caramelized. Add the shallots and crushed garlic. Continue to fry for another 30 seconds, and then add the dried red peppers. Stir fry for another 30 seconds.
- Add the fresh peppers. Turn the heat up to high and stir-fry for 1 minute to get a nice sear on the peppers.
- Next, pour the cumin sauce ingredients around the perimeter of the wok. Stir-fry for another 30 to 60 seconds on high heat.
- Add the fried beef and then pour the pre-prepared Hunan sauce. Maintain the highest heat possible and stir-fry everything together for 30 seconds. Add the coriander stalks. Continue to stir fry until most of the sauce has evaporated.
- Remove from heat. Plate your Hunan Beef Stir Fry with Cumin, and garnish with coriander leaves and green onion. Enjoy!
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