Chinese Soul Food | Orange Beef
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Orange Beef

Orange Beef

This dish is a popular one in Chinese restaurants. It’s often deep fried and drenched in a goopy sauce. It doesn’t have to be. I use fresh orange peel instead, which results in a brighter flavor.

Traditionally, the dish is made with dried orange peel (chen pi) that you buy in Chinese herb shops. Among its purposes, dried orange peel is used to help settle the stomach. For Chinese New Year, oranges – because of their golden color – are auspicious and therefore incorporated into the celebration feast. I’ll be making this for my Chinese New Year dinner.


For the sauce:

1/3 cup orange juice
2 tablespoons plus 1-1/2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine or dry Marsala wine

For the marinade:

1 tablespoon orange juice
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon Shaoxing rice wine or a dry white or red wine (an everyday wine is perfect)
2 medium cloves garlic, crushed

3/4 pound flank steak
1 large tangerine
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon vegetable oil, divided
2 to 3 dried red chili peppers, cut in half crosswise
1 stalk green onion, cut into 3-inch segments
1-1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon freshly ground Sichuan peppercorns
Chopped fresh cilantro, optional

To make the sauce, in a small bowl, put the orange juice, soy sauce, water, and wine, and stir to combine. Set aside.
To make the marinade, in a medium bowl, put the orange juice, soy sauce, wine, and garlic, and stir to combine.

Trim the flank steak of any large pieces of membrane. Cut the flank in half or thirds lengthwise, or with the grain. (It should be relatively easy to determine the grain on flank steak. There are visible vertical lines in the meat. Find the center and make a cut along the grain.) Depending on the width of the flank, you may get two or three sections that are about 2-1/2 to 3 inches wide. Sometimes, a piece of flank can be pretty wide. If it looks like you can cut three strips that are 3-4 inches across, do so.

Now, against the grain on each strip, cut ¼-inch slices. Place the slices in a mixing bowl large enough to hold the beef with the marinade. Add the marinade and mix well. Set aside.


Using a peeler or sharp paring knife, gently peel strips of zest from the tangerine. Avoid the white pith, which is bitter. You want about five or six pieces that are roughly 2 inches long and about 1/2 inch wide. The pieces don’t have to be exact. Set aside.

To the beef, add the cornstarch, and mix well to coat all the pieces so that the beef will develop a thin crust when it cooks. Set aside.

Preheat a wok over high heat until wisps of smoke rise from the surface. Add 3/4 cup of the oil and heat for 1 minute, or until it starts to shimmer. In two to three batches, place the beef in the oil and fry for about 30 seconds on each side, or until the beef is caramelized and crispy on the edges. The oil will sputter, so be careful. Stir-fry the beef for 1 minute more until the beef is nearly cooked through. Transfer the beef to a paper-towel-lined plate. Work quickly and repeat with the remaining beef. You may have to decrease the heat if the oil seems to be overheating. Once you’re done frying the beef, clean out the wok. Pour the frying oil into a heatproof container to cool, and then discard.

Return the wok to the stove over high heat and heat until wisps of smoke rise from the surface. Add the remaining 1 teaspoon oil and heat until it starts to shimmer. Add the tangerine zest, chili peppers, and onions, and stir-fry for about 30 seconds to release the aromas. Add the sauce and the sugar. It will sputter a bit. Let it heat through for about 10 seconds. Add the beef and stir for a few seconds to coat. Continue to stir-fry the beef in the sauce for 1 to 2 minutes to allow it to heat through and finish cooking. Sprinkle with the peppercorns and mix well again. Garnish with cilantro, if using, and serve.

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