Hunan Beef: A Traditional Recipe With Modern Flavors

Hunan Beef: A Traditional Recipe With Modern Flavors

Hunan beef is one of the traditional recipes of Chinese cuisine that originated from one of the old villages of the province years back. Moreover, the Hunan cooking style is considered one of the best representations of ancient Chinese cooking. This post is about this delicious side dish that goes perfectly with a bowl of noodles, fried rice, and dumplings.

The primary taste profile of the Hunan beef Chinese recipe is spicy and sour. These are the two basic tastes you will experience while having any Hunan-style dish. So, if you want to know what is Hunan beef, it is a traditional Chinese beef preparation that includes the usage of a lot of hot peppers, onions, and fried beef.

While most Chinese recipes similar to Hunan beef involve shallow meat frying, there are two basic styles of cooking in this case. The first way is to coat the thin slices of beef with cornstarch or potato starch and then fry it to achieve a soft and velvet-like coating before putting it in the gravy.

On the other hand, some people prefer cooking the meat before shallow frying it. Both styles give out excellent outcomes in which the beef remains juicy and tender. If you feel that the original Hunan beef recipe is getting monotonous, you can use garlic in the same gravy.

What goes into the recipe of Beef Hunan style

These are the standard ingredients. However, Chinese chefs are now experimenting with food flavors. As a result, Chinese cuisine culture now includes various flavors and regional culinary textures.

Similar to how you can prepare beef Hunan style in numerous ways, distinct Hunan dishes are prepared differently in different Hunan provinces. For example, to make it more delectable and flavorful, some people like to add a sour flavor, while others want to add sugar or honey. As a side dish, Hunan beef with pineapple and avocado is available in some provinces too.

Here are a few common ingredients that are used in Chinese-style modern cooking, including Hunan dishes:

Black pepper powder
Canola oil
Flank steak
Hot peppers
Sesame seeds
Soy sauce
Thai chillis

Chinese people modify their dishes by incorporating modern and new food flavors. It is also how modern Chinese cuisine was born. It is simply a process of renovation and modification of traditional recipes. As a result, Chinese food is generally delicate and simple in flavor. However, the trends are now changing, creating a promising future for China’s food business.

Due to this, there are now several economic prospects for domestic and foreign chains to invest in and build cuisine-based restaurants in China. Although Hunan beef is a classic Chinese dish, its appeal has lately grown over the past ten years as a result of consumer demand and shifting tastes. This dish is incredibly flavorful and provides a beautiful, exquisite experience.

How to prepare a Hunan beef recipe at home?

A few reasons make the dish so popular, not just in China but worldwide. For example,

  • The dish comes with a sauce that is sweet, spicy, and tangy, all in one
  • It is a nutritious dish with beef as a protein and so many different vegetables too
  • The addition of the veggies makes the dish look very colorful
  • It is possible to modify the spice level by adding less or more chili paste
  • The recipe requires very few ingredients that are readily available in a local supermarket
  • The cooking process is easy, and the dish won’t take more than 30 minutes to get ready
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So, keeping all the above points in mind, make sure you try making the recipe home. While it is a typical dish in all local Chinese restaurants, why not try to do it yourself?

Hunan beef

Ingredients of Hunan sauce:

Beef broth
Chili paste (Sambal Oelek)
Oyster sauce
Rice vinegar
Soy sauce
Sugar or honey

Apart from these, to add authenticity and umami to this dish, you may add DoubanJiang. It is a traditional paste of fermented beans and chilies. While it is optional, professional chefs recommend the addition of DoubanJiang while making Hunan dishes.

Vegetables for the recipe:

Baby corn
Bamboo shoots
Bell pepper
Bok choy
Fresh chili peppers for added heat
Green onion
Slice red onion
Snow peas
Sugar snap peas
Water chestnuts


Step 1

Mince the ginger, onions, and garlic and keep aside.

Step 2

Mix all the ingredients under the sauce category above.

Step 3

Cut all the vegetables into bite-size pieces. Ensure that you maintain a size throughout to ensure that the cook on each vegetable is even. Also, take a flank steak of beef, and cut thin slices out of it.

Step 4

Take a large pan or skillet (preferably cast iron), and pour any neutral oil into it. Let it heat well, and add the beef slices to cook them till golden brown. It takes about 7-8 minutes to cook the beef at the right temperature. Take the beef out and keep it in a separate dish.

Step 5

Start stir-frying all the vegetables in the same pan or skillet for about 7-8 minutes. The beef fat and the remaining oil add to the dish’s flavors. Once done, add the beef slices back to the same pan.

Step 6

Add the sauce mix to the pan when you see that both the vegetables and meat are cooked. Now, toss everything to ensure that you incorporate the sauce well. Keep mixing for about 5 minutes or till you combine them well.

Step 7

Now, you can serve the dish with plain rice or any other main dish you choose.

Essential tips to make the best Hunan beef recipe

Follow these easy tips to ensure that your dish comes out perfectly:

Tender and crisp vegetables

This recipe can succeed or fail due to the texture of the vegetables. Only sauté the vegetables in the stir-fryer until they are halfway done; once the sauce is applied, they will continue to simmer and soften. They will become mushy and soggy if already overly soft from the stir-frying.

The vibrant, fresh vegetables in this dish make it beautiful. Remember, the colors can start fading if you overcook them. Depending on how long they need to cook, place the vegetables in the pan. The vegetables that cook the slowest are added first. Broccoli is the easiest to lose color and get mushy, so it is best to add it last.

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Juicy and tender beef

The beef is thinly sliced and finished in a pan. For the most tender meat, cut it against the grain. Use a hot pan, so the beef begins to brown before it is fully cooked inside. It is simpler to slice the beef into extremely thin slices after freezing it for around 30 minutes. Consider marinating and velveting the meat to make it even softer.


Have you ever noticed how delicate the steak is in Chinese restaurants? Tossing 1 pound of thinly sliced beef with 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda is simple to silken beef. 2 teaspoons oil and 1 teaspoon cornstarch. After 30 minutes of marinating, continue with the recipe.

Prevent overcrowding

While cooking stir-fry dishes like Hunan-style beef, use a large pan or skillet. It ensures that all the vegetables and meat touch the pan’s surface and cook evenly.

Authentic Vs. American: The better way of making Hunan beef

Let’s clarify the situation. You can make a Hunan Beef recipe using two different ways: traditionally Chinese and American styles.

The American version is less pleasant than what you can purchase in China. Moreover, it is almost the same as any other brown sauce stir-fry, like a mix of veggies and beef stir-fry or one in which you stir fry beef with string beans.

To a standard Chinese stir-fry sauce, the majority of Chinese takeaway restaurants merely add peppers, a few dried chili peppers, and chili oil. However, the province of Hunan is renowned for its love of hot peppers. Therefore, adding a few peppers to a meal will only make the taste better and more authentic!

Chinese Hunan Beef is frequently smokey and hot. One of the local specialties is dry-smoked beef. This meat transforms to the next level when you add it to a wok full of peppers and fermented black beans, almost like beef jerky. Since it’s a rare ingredient, you may use ordinary beef and lightly fry it to give it that dry, crispy feel.

Hunan beef vs Szechuan beef

Anything in Szechuan is always more flavorsome and spicier. In this type of beef, the usage of peppers, chili peppers, and garlic is wholesome. Some people also add Szechuan peppercorn as it is mild compared to other types of chili peppers.

When compared to hunan beef, Szechuan is sweeter and gives your mouth a tingly sensation. You might have expected Szechuan to be spicier as that’s usually how it is. However, hunan beef lacks sweetness present in Szechuan. Hunan includes a lot of veggies and the flavors are pretty straightforward.

Hunan beef vs Szechuan beef

Hunan beef vs Mongolian beef

Mongolian beef comes in slices. You can compare it to a flank steak cooked with a lot of onions. Mongolian beef originates from Taiwan and typically eaten alongside streamed rice. If you are from the US, you might be familiar with stir fried cellophane noodles served with Mongolian beef.

The preparation and ingredients added to Hunan beef vs Mongolian is different. While Hunan is smoked and cured, Mongolian beef looks colorful due to the addition of fresh veggies, and spicy sauces. It is mild and is a perfect addition to light dinner meals.

hunan beef vs mongolian beef

Final thoughts

Chinese Hunan, Beef Stir Fry, features a little acidic, moderately sweet, and mildly spicy flavor that is nicely balanced. It has a deep, umami Asian flavor thanks to the oyster sauce and soy sauce. The sauce gets its spiciness and garlic flavor from sambal oelek. The tastes are completed with ginger and garlic. DoubanJiang is used to give it its distinctive, hot, fermented flavor. Whether you want to serve it as a starter or a side dish, it is a complete dish.

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