What Is Szechuan Beef?

Lee Johnson

Szechuan beef is a beef stir-fry dish which originated in the Sichuan province. It consists of beef cut into thin strips and marinated before being fried alongside other ingredients such as broccoli, onions, peanuts, and water chestnuts. Chefs marinate the meat in soy sauce, cornstarch, crushed red pepper and garlic for around 20 minutes before cooking it. Other ingredients such as baby corn, pea pods, and ginger can also be added to the stir-fry according the chef’s taste. The dish is typical of Szechuan style cooking because it includes peppers, garlic, salt, and sugar.

High-quality beef is not necessary for Szechuan beef.
High-quality beef is not necessary for Szechuan beef.

A stir-fry is a style of dish in which the ingredients are all shallow-fried in a wok to cook them. The name comes from the frying of the ingredients and the frequent stirring required to ensure the ingredients cook evenly. Szechuan beef is a stir-fry dish, and is therefore cooked in this way. The beef is usually added to the stir-fry first because it takes the longest to cook. Chefs add other ingredients after the beef has been cooking for a few minutes.

Szechuan beef includes bell peppers.
Szechuan beef includes bell peppers.

Marinating the beef prior to cooking is important to the flavor of Szechuan beef. Chefs make a marinade out of soy sauce, garlic, crushed red pepper, and cornstarch. The mixture is poured over the beef and then it is left to absorb the flavor for around 20 minutes. Some chefs choose to add cooking wine or rice wine to the marinade. Other ingredients can be added to the marinade mixture according to the chef’s specific version of the recipe.

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Szechuan beef can be served with brown rice in order to increase its nutritional content.
Szechuan beef can be served with brown rice in order to increase its nutritional content.

Other ingredients are fried alongside the meat in Szechuan beef. These ingredients can vary, but often include peanuts, water chestnuts, broccoli, and onions. Some chefs choose to add other ingredients such as baby corn, ginger root, sugar, bell peppers, and pea pods to the dish. Many cooks prefer to include ingredients listed on recipes for the dish, but some will add ingredients of their own choosing. For example, some chefs choose to make a sauce for the dish by adding chicken broth to the stir-fry.

Chefs have a lot of freedom when it comes to adding different ingredients when cooking szechuan beef.
Chefs have a lot of freedom when it comes to adding different ingredients when cooking szechuan beef.

Szechuan cuisine features flavors that are found in Szechuan beef. The Sichuan province in the west of China is the home of Szechuan food. Spiciness and rich flavor are hallmarks of Szechuan food, and it aims to bring together salty, bitter, sweet, sour, and pungent flavors. Common Szechuan ingredients such as garlic, chili pepper, salt, sugar, and ginger are included in most recipes for Szechuan beef. Chefs should ensure these ingredients are included in their dish for authentic flavor.

Ginger root is sometimes added to Szechuan beef.
Ginger root is sometimes added to Szechuan beef.
Garlic may be featured in a Szechuan beef marinade.
Garlic may be featured in a Szechuan beef marinade.
With its high smoking point and mild flavor, peanut oil is ideal for making Szechuan beef stir-fry.
With its high smoking point and mild flavor, peanut oil is ideal for making Szechuan beef stir-fry.

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Discussion Comments

stoneMason

@serenesurface-- I use beef tenderloin but you can basically use any lean cut. The trick is to slice them into thin strips and marinate them with the cornstarch for a while before frying. This is what makes them nice and chewy.

bluedolphin

@serenesurface-- This is actually a Chinese-American dish. I have never seen it in China! I have seen a similar dish with beef and hot sauce, but it's not a stir-fry and it doesn't have vegetables.

Szechuan is something that Chinese cooks in America came up with. They might have been inspired from dishes in Sichuan province in China and named the dish Szechuan for this reason. But the dish itself is not found in China. Broccoli for example, is not a vegetable grown in China and it is not used in Chinese cuisine.

serenesurface

I think Szechuan beef is my favorite Chinese dish. It's very filling and comforting. After a long day of work, I usually look for a meal like this, Szechuan beef on top of steamed rice.

I had always wondered how the cooks make the beef sauce thick like a gravy. I guess it's the cornstarch that does that! Maybe I will try making Szechuan beef at home one day, if I'm not too lazy. It doesn't sound like it's very difficult to make. Do I need a special cut of meat for this?

Logicfest

@Markerrag -- there's nothing wrong with leaving out the spices, but it's no longer Szechuan cuisine if it doesn't have a good dose of hot peppers in it. That would be rather like leaving the hamburger patty out of a hamburger. You might have something that looks like Szechuan, but it will be something else entirely.

Markerrag

If you're looking for Szechuan recipes make sure to look under "Sichuan" as well as a lot of cuisine has been been kind of renamed to line up with the modern name of the province.

Anyway, a lot of people can't cut the spices in traditional Szechuan cuisine. Is there anything wrong with leaving the hot peppers out of a dish?

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