How to make Cantonese Black Pepper Beef?
Cantonese black pepper sauce is delicious, and a complete paradox of an ingredient.
Ask someone in the West? They’ll tell you it’s Chinese.
How To Make Cantonese Black Pepper Beef?
Ask someone in China? They’ll prolly tell you it’s from the west.
The history of the stuff is murky as all hell – all we really know is that it probably came from Hong Kong, and it’s absolute fire with beef.
See, the first form the sauce most likely took was as a way to smother Cantonese-style iron-plate steak, a dish that features prominently in the ever-so-classic Hong Kong-style Cha Chaan Teng.
For the unaware, Cha Chaan Teng is joints that serve up a sort of Canto-western fusion, and you can find those black pepper steaks right there on the menu next to stuff like the Cheesy Seafood Rice or the Spam & Fried Egg Pineapple buns.
Then somewhere along the line, I suppose, some Cantonese chefs further sino-fied things by using that sauce as the base for a sizzling beef hotplate, which became a modern classic of sorts at Cantonese Dai Pai Dong.
So. For this recipe, our local Dai Pai Dong was actually nice enough to let us back into the kitchen to show us the broad strokes of how to make this – and an uncut version of them whipping it up is up here if you’re curious.
This recipe is more or less verbatim what they do, but unfortunately, they decided to keep the recipe for their house-made black pepper sauce under lock and key.
That said, the good news is that Cantonese black pepper sauce is actually something you can just buy.
The very best brand of black pepper sauce is actually produced by Heinz – which after some cursory research seems to be hilariously unavailable outside of Asia.
What you’ll probably be able to find is the brand Lee Kum Kee – and while we don’t want to be snobs about this, in our personal opinion theirs is pretty mediocre, so for any obsessives out there we also wanted to show you how you could alter it to get it closer in taste to what you’d get outside.
For the true obsessives, we’ll also show you how you can make the stuff from scratch at home.
So first, let’s look at that Lee Kum Kee though.
Compared to homemade, or even Heinz it’s missing a bit of depth, some aromatics, and a whole lot of black pepper flavor.
The black pepper is easy enough – just take a tablespoon and a half of whole black peppercorns, grind in a coffee or spice grinder, and that’s pretty much it.
For the depth then, we just pounded a half tablespoon of Chinese douchi, black fermented soybeans, and added that together with a half tablespoon of soy sauce.
We then adjusted the seasoning with a sixteenth teaspoon of each garlic and onion powder, an eighth teaspoon of MSG,and mixed that all in with two and a half tablespoons of Lee Kum Kee.
And with all of that, we’ve finally got something that we feel could go toe to toe with Heinz or homemade.
For the homemade version then, this is gonna rely pretty heavily on two components – black pepper of course, and douchi, those
Chinese fermented black soybeans.
You should be able to find douchi at pretty much any Chinese supermarket – the most common-abroad sort seem to come in a little box that specifies that it’s “Yangjiang Preserved Beans with Ginger”, which is a Cantonese style of the product.
So just pound up 15 grams worth, and set it aside.
So to make the sauce then, over a medium-low flame first fry up about an eighth of finely minced onion.
Cook it til starts to soften, or about three minutes, then go in with a half a shallot and four cloves of garlic and fry for another
Then toss in a half a fresh mild chili together with your mashed douchi and fry for another a minute or two, or until the douchi’s just starting to smell incredible.
Then toss in a tablespoon each of soy sauce and oyster sauce together with 50 grams of pounded black pepper.
Now fry that for a minute or so til it’s starting to clump right up, then go in with 150mL of water.
Just keep cooking that over a low flame for about five minutes, or until it reduces down to a pasty consistency – like so.
Then season with a half tablespoon sugar, half teaspoon salt, and a teaspoon of MSG. Give it a real good mix, and once that’s all dissolved, jar it up, and you’ve got yourself some homemade black pepper sauce.
So right, with the sauce sorted now, we can finally get to the dish itself.
Regardless of which route you chose, before your stir fry just mixes your sauce of choice together with three tablespoons of water and, set it aside.
Next up, aromatics – four cloves garlic, crushed and opened; an inch of ginger cut into slices, the white portion of about four
scallions, cut into two-inch sections, a quarter of an onion, cut into chunks; half a green mild chili cut into diamonds, a half a red mild chili also cut into diamonds, and the bell pepper equivalents of those two would also be totally fine.
So then with that sorted, let’s talk beef.
So. The thing to understand here is that lean beef, like meat, is naturally kind of dry, which’s why in western cooking something like a steak generally isn’t cooked too well done.
We’re using 140 grams of thinly sliced loin here, so to get this into something tender enough to actually enjoy cooked though does take a bit of prep.
See, the open secret to tender stir-fried beef at restaurants is the use of papain, that is, Chinese meat tenderizer powder.
If you can’t find this, some sodium carbonate would also work, but either way, add a quarter teaspoons worth together with two tablespoons of water.
Mix well, then toss in a half teaspoon of salt, one teaspoon sugar, and a teaspoon of cornstarch – and I like mixing that in with a teaspoon of Shaoxing wine first to avoid clumps.
Then top it off with a half tsp dark soy sauce, give that a good mix, finish it off with a teaspoon of oil, and set that aside.
Now at this point, what a restaurant would do then is pass the beef through oil – that is, giving it a super brief shallow fry.
And in an ideal world, that’s what you would do too.
To go that route, fill a wok with a couple of cups of oil – heat it up until about 150 centigrade, toss the beef in, give it a jiggle, cook for about 20 seconds over the max flame, then dip it out and drain.
That said, on this channel I know we always seem to struggle to convince you guys to give passing through oil a whirl.
So while I promise it’s really not that bad, you can alternatively prep your beef by giving it a quick oily stir-fry.
To do so, as always, first longyau – get your wok piping hot, shut off the heat, add in the oil – here, about four tablespoons, and
give it a swirl to get a nice nonstick surface.
Then swap the flame to high, heat the oil up til it’s rapidly bubbling around a pair of chopsticks, then toss in your beef. Stir fry for about thirty seconds, or until the beef’s obviously changed color, and drain.
This ‘oily pan-fry isn’t quite as good as a proper pass-through, but, good enough for government work.
So then now, for the final stir-fry.
Now, we’re going to be plating this on a hotplate, but quick note that a cast iron skillet can serve much the same function.
Just toss that over a high flame and leave that heating up as you’re doing your stir-fry.
So as always, of course, longyau – piping hot wok, heat off, oil in – here about a tablespoon and a half of peanut – nice swirl and toss in the beef and aromatics.
Now swap your flame back on high, give it a super brief mix, then pour two tablespoons of Cantonese rice wine over your spatula and around the sides of the wok.
Now immediately go in with the pepper sauce water mixture, and give it a quick fry all together for about fifteen seconds.
Then toss in a teaspoon of dark soy sauce together with a slurry of a half tablespoon cornstarch mixed with equal amount of water, another quick mix, and finish with another tablespoon and a half of peanut oil.
Heat off, final brief mix, then move that over to some aluminum foil.
Then just wrap that up, and toss on your now absurdly-hot cast iron hotplate.
Move it over to your table, and serve. As close as we could possibly get to the Dai Pai Dong and be sure to enjoy the sound – there’s nothing quite as satisfying as the sizzle of a Chinese hotplate.
So right! Black Pepper Sauce is the kind of sauce that every restaurant has its own.
Some, they would mix in Chu Hou paste or Shacha sauce… some would add some butter or tallow to it to get a more ‘western’ kick.
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