In cooking, texture is everything. If what you are eating is not pleasing to the palate, no matter how good the flavor, it will leave much to be desired. This was the case with my Chinese Pepper Steak. Although the family truly loved this meal, no matter how long I marinated the steak, it was always a bit tough. This was even the case when I used a good cut of meat, which to be honest, isn’t usually the case. That being said, because I don’t usually have the best cuts of meat in the freezer for budget reasons, finding a solution to tough steak that got stuck in our teeth was really important.
Marinading sliced beef, pork or chicken in a solution of corn starch mixed with soy sauce and sherry did make a difference in the tenderness of the meat, but not enough. Now I’m sure that Chinese restaurants probably use good cuts of meat, but no matter how good the cut of meat, there was no way their meat would be as tender if there were not some trick used to get it that way. Research revealed that there were definitely tricks of the trade that could be incorporated into my recipe. The one that best suited me was to use a combination of water and baking soda on the meat prior to marinading.
The baking soda solution along with the cornstarch marinade definitely improved the texture of the meat. When using round steak however, which is the cheapest cut of steak around and the one I usually have on hand, the meat could still be somewhat tough and chewy. To remedy this, I decided to utilize one of my favorite kitchen gadgets — my meat tenderizer/cuber. This little contraption quickly tenderized the round steak and thinned it so stir-frying in a hot wok was quick. The combination of the tenderizing and the fast frying made all the difference.
In order to duplicate the tender, melt-in-your-mouth steak found in restaurant-style pepper steak the technique was as follows:
- Slice round steak into 1/4″ slices.
- Run slices through meat tenderizer/cuber 3-4 times, turning slices prior to each insertion.
- Cut tenderized slices into 1/4″ strips.
- For every pound of strips, add 1/4 tsp. baking soda mixed with 1 tbsp. water. Let sit for 5 minutes.
- Combine 1 1/2 tsp. corn starch, 1 tbsp. soy sauce, 1 tbsp. sherry, and 1/2 tsp. sugar for every pound of meat strips. Pour over strips and stir to coat. Let sit 30 – 45 minutes.
- When ready to fry: Heat wok to medium-high with 1 tbsp. oil. Add meat 1/2 to 3/4 pound at a time. Be sure not to overload the wok or the meat will not cook evenly. Fry quickly, stirring constantly until meat is no longer pink, about 3 – 5 minutes. Do not over-cook. Remove from pan immediately and cover with foil. Continue with remaining meat.
This process yielded the tenderest meat I’ve ever stir-fried and was all the family could talk about all through dinner.
Once discovering how well this meat tenderizing worked, I began incorporating it into many other meals I made, especially ones that I used pork or round steak in. Each time I use it the family cannot get over how tender the meat is. It makes a world of difference and has yet to go unnoticed, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.