Beef in Black-Bean Sauce


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • It serves

    2 or 3

    as a main course with rice to soak up the delicious sauce.

Appears in

This recipe is a good illustration of slippery-coating. Flank steak is coarse-grained and tough, but we shall see how the meat becomes extremely tender through cutting, marinating, coating, and fast cooking in hot oil over high heat.

Seasoned with fermented black beans, garlic, ginger, and oyster sauce, and embellished with onions and peppers, this is a hearty dish full of aroma and good flavor.


  • 1 pound flank steak, trimmed of fat
  • 1 large onion, sliced (about 2 cups)
  • cup chicken or meat stock or water


  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dry sherry
  • ¼ teaspoon sugar
  • tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 2 large cloves garlic
  • 2 quarter-sized slices peeled ginger
  • 1 tablespoon fermented black beans
  • 1 large green pepper, sliced (about 1 cup)
  • 2 cups oil
  • ¼ teaspoon salt


  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dry sherry
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil



Cut the meat lengthwise (with the grain) into 3 strips; then cut each strip crosswise (against the grain) into -inch-thick slices, snapping your knife outward with each cutting to break the attaching fibers so that each piece is separated and neat. Toss the slices into a bowl and add the slippery-coating ingredients in the order listed, sprinkling in the cornstarch and mixing it in before stirring in the oil. Let the meat marinate, refrigerated, for at least 30 minutes. This coating process may be done hours in advance. The chilling sets the cornstarch, making the coating adhere to the meat.

Smash the garlic cloves and peel them; then mince. Smash the ginger; then mince it. Rinse the fermented black beans in a strainer briefly to remove salt; drain and chop them coarsely. Put all these ingredients at one end of a working platter in separate piles.

Rinse and dry the pepper; cut it in half lengthwise; seed and derib it. Trim off the curved ends so that the pieces lie flat for even cooking. Slice the halves lengthwise into ¼-inch-wide pieces; if they are very long, cut in half crosswise first. Peel the onion; cut it in half lengthwise, then cut each half into wedges comparable in size to the pepper pieces. Place the peppers and onions at the other end of the working platter in separate piles.

Measure out the stock or water. Combine the sauce ingredients and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Place a strainer over a small pot for draining the slippery-coated meat.

Heat a wok or deep skillet over high heat until hot; add the 2 cups oil and heat until hot enough to foam a cube of bread or a piece of scallion instantly, about 375 degrees. Pour in the meat and immediately stir with chopsticks or a metal or wooden spoon in fast but gentle circular motions to separate the pieces and to swish them with the hot oil for about 30 seconds, until the coating is formed. Pour meat and oil immediately into the strainer over the pot. When the oil has drained off, turn the meat onto a plate.

You can do all these preparations and slippery-coating an hour or longer in advance, but the succulence of the meat will suffer if the slices sit around too long or are chilled.


Heat a wok or large, heavy skillet over high heat until hot; add 2 tablespoons oil, swirl, and heat until hot. Lower the heat, scrape in the garlic and ginger, and stir a few times until the garlic is slightly browned.

Add the fermented black beans and press and toss them with a spoon or spatula for 30 seconds to release their flavor. Turn heat high, scatter in the peppers, and stir for 30 seconds in brisk flipping and turning motions to sear them well. Add the onions and the salt and stir rapidly for 1 minute until the onions are glistening. Pour in the stock, spread the beef over the vegetables, cover, and let them steam-cook vigorously over medium-high heat for 1½ minutes.

Uncover, turn heat high, pour in the sauce, and stir briskly in fast sweeping motions for about 30 seconds until the meat and vegetables are evenly flavored and the sauce is slightly glazy. Pour into a hot serving dish.

One of the common errors in making this beef is to use additional cornstarch in the sauce, which makes it far too starchy. The beef is already well coated with cornstarch, and during the steam-cooking a sufficient amount of it is drawn into the sauce. When the beef and vegetables are stirred together in the final stage, the seasonings and stock blend with the cornstarch to give a consistency that needs no further thickening.


You could use additional dark soy sauce instead of the oyster sauce.

You could also omit the vegetables and use the beef as a crowning meat over a separately stir-fried vegetable, such as spinach, Chinese or celery cabbage, or broccoli (see the vegetable chapter). In that case, after slippery-coating the meat in the oil, turn it out onto a plate and then stir-fry the vegetable you want; put it on a hot serving platter, in a neat flat mound. Then sear the garlic, ginger, and fermented black beans in hot oil as above, add the meat and stir a few times, then add the stock or water, cover, and steam-cook for 1 minute over high heat. Add the sauce; stir briskly until the meat is evenly seasoned and the sauce is slightly glazy. Pour the meat over the stir-fried vegetables. This “crowning” is characteristic of the Cantonese school of cooking—especially nice, and practical, when you have just a small amount of meat. When spread on top, it looks better and is not dwarfed by the vegetables.