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~ My Chinese-American Lo Mein-Style Pepper Steak ~

IMG_7857Pepper steak is a Chinese-American dish that, as per its name, features thin strips of soy- ginger- and garlic-marinated flank-, sirloin- or round-steak, boldly-seasoned with a copious amount of pepper, stir-fried with crunchy water chestnuts and julienne strips of colorful bell peppers and onion.  The dark brown stir-fry sauce ranges from thick-to-thin depending on whether the dish is to be served to the side of or atop some steamed rice (thick), or, to be tossed with and absorbed into some cooked noodles (thin). Pepper steak was popularized in Chinese-American restaurants in the late '40's and early '50's, and home cooks have been making regional versions ever since.

6a0120a8551282970b0224df37e1e9200bPepper steak.  The dish originated in the Fujian Province in China where it was made with lightly-seasoned, inexpensive pork -- in China, quality beef is a luxury for the working class. Americans began making the dish when soldiers began returning home from World War II (research reveals as early as 1948).  Due to the public's overwhelming dissatisfaction with the wartime rationing of red meat, the transition from pork to beef was immediate -- red meat in the USA was considered the prime source of energy for the working man, and, its mere presence on a dinner plate with a starch and a vegetable, the definition of a proper meal.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb095ed5e3970dLo mein. In Chinese it literally means "tossed noodles", and, it implies a method in which cooked wheat noodles get tossed into almost any type of stir-fry at the end of the cooking process.  As a result, the noodles absorb some sauce and stay soft while the other previously-cooked ingredients (meat, poultry, seafood and/or vegetables) get distributed evenly throughout. An example of the opposite would be chow mein, which means "fried noodles", and implies a method in which the noodles are stir-fried or deep-fried to a crispy state at the beginning of the cooking process.

IMG_7774For the marinade/sauce (1 cup -- 1/4 cup for marinade/3/4 cup to sauce stir-fry) & noodles: 

6  tablespoons tablespoons Chinese soy sauce

3  tablespoons each:  hoisin sauce, oyster-flavored sauce, Sriracha sauce and sesame oil

1  tablespoon each:  garlic paste and ginger paste

1  tablespoon coarse-grind black pepper

12  ounces lo-mein noodles or spaghetti

IMG_7809For the stir-fry:

1 1/2-2  pounds flank steak, sliced and marinated as directed below

2  tablespoons sesame oil 

3/4  cup marinade/sauce, from above recipe 

1 1/2  cups 1/4"-sliced half-moon-shaped sweet onion (6-7 ounces)

1 1/2  cups each: julienne strips green and red bell peppers (6-7 ounces)

1  cup peeled and diced water chestnuts, well-drained (1, 5-ounce can)

12-ounces cooked lo-mein noodles or spaghetti

IMG_7775 IMG_7775 IMG_7783 IMG_7783 IMG_7783 IMG_7783 IMG_7783 IMG_7783 IMG_7783~Step 1.  In a 1-cup measuring container, stir together the ingredients for the marinade/sauce. Set aside.  Slice the flank steak in half lengthwise, to form two halves.  Holding your knife at a 30º angle, slice each half of the flank steak into thin, 1/4"-thick strips.  Transfer the steak to a 1-gallon food storage bag.  Add 6 tablespoons of the marinade/sauce mixture to the meat and seal the bag.  Using your fingertips, "massage" bag of steak until slices are evenly coated in marinade.  Set aside to marinate a minimum of 1 hour on the countertop, or up to 6-8 hours in the refrigerator.  Return to room temperature, about 1 hour, prior to stir-frying.  Slice the onion, julienne the bell peppers, drain the water chestnuts (as pictured above) and set aside.  

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8bbd680970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8bbd680970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8bbd680970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8bbd680970b~Step 2.  While steak is marinating, cook lo-mein noodles as directed, drain into a colander and rinse under cold running water.  For a moment or two, give the colander several vigorous shakes to insure excess water is removed.  Set aside to thoroughly drain while preparing the stir-fry.

Note:  While spaghetti may be substituted for lo-mein noodles without any compromise in taste or texture, be aware that lo-mein noodles cook to al dente in a short 3-4 minutes  and  spaghetti will take a bit longer, 10-11 minutes.  Be vigilant:  Be sure not to overcook either one.

IMG_7811 IMG_7811 IMG_7817 IMG_7817 IMG_7817 IMG_7817 IMG_7817 IMG_7817 IMG_7817 IMG_7817~Step 3.  In a 16" electric skillet, heat the sesame oil to 325º (medium-high on the stovetop.  Add the steak and all of its marinade and stir-fry, stirring constantly, until steak is just short of being cooked through, 2-2 1/2 minutes.  Add the onion, bell peppers and water chestnuts. Continue to stir-fry, stirring constantly, until veggies are crunch-tender, 2-2 1/2 minutes.  Drizzle in 1/2 cup of the sauce and stir until all ingredients are completely and evenly coated.  Note:  There will be 1/4 cup sauce left for the next step.

IMG_7839 IMG_7839~ Step 4.  Add the cooked lo mein noodles to the skillet.  Using two forks or two spoons, toss, like you would a salad, until noodles are coated in sauce, adding (all of the) additional sauce, in small amounts, until the mixture suits your taste.

Remove from heat, portion into bowls & serve ASAP:

IMG_7862My Chinese-American Lo Mein-Style Pepper Steak:  Recipe yields 6 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; cutting board; chef's knife; 1-gallon food storage bag; 4-quart wide-bottomed stockpot; colander; 16" electric skillet or 12" stir-fry pan or skillet, preferably nonstick; two large slotted spoons or spatulas

IMG_7877Cook's Note: Have you ever noticed how many of your favorite dishes at your favorite Chinese restaurant seem to be enrobed in a semi-viscous, glossy, dark-brown sauce? Examples: Beef or chicken with broccoli, chow mien or lo mein, kung poa or General Tso, etc.  It's one of every Chinese restaurant's best kept secrets:  Brown sauce.  I've heard it referred to as "the Chinese mother sauce", but, even in China, recipes for it vary from region to region.  I make no claim to my concoction being authentic Chinese brown sauce -- it is not.  What it is, is:  Easy to make, full of Chinese flavors, the perfect consistency, and, unbelievably scrumptious: ~ All-purpose Chinese-American Brown Stir-Fry Sauce ~.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)


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