Our beef recipe collection is extensive, so we thought it would be helpful to demonstrate how to prepare beef for Chinese cuisine as well as how to cut beef for stir-fry.
If you want to make authentic Chinese food at home, we’ll show you how to chop and marinate beef like they do in Chinese restaurants and propose our favorite cuts of beef to use.
All of our recipes come with thorough instructions for preparation and cooking, but I figured it was about time I devoted an entire post to the specifics of getting beef ready for the wok.
GOOD BEEF CUT FOR STIR-FRYING
Most Chinese restaurants utilize flank steak in their stir-fry recipes since it is the most popular cut of meat to use. Not only does it taste great, but it also makes a great substitute for beef in stir-fry.
Flank steak is delicious, affordable, and widely available. To bring out its full meaty flavor, all you need to do is slice it thinly and marinade it overnight.
For less money, try using boneless beef chuck steak in your next beef stir fry. Because of the added fat, beef chuck steak is ideal for stews and braises, but it also holds up well in stir-fries.
As an added bonus, chuck steak is less expensive than flank. A whole roast can be purchased, sliced, portioned up for multiple stir-fries, and then frozen for later use.
The beef chuck steak needs a bit more work before it can be used in a stir-fry. Remove the thick membrane and trim the beef into uniform pieces by cutting along the fat lines. When preparing food, it’s important to use a high-quality chef’s knife and exercise caution around any blade.
TENDERS: CUTTING MEAT FOR STIR-FRY
If you’re using flank steak, remove the white muscle membranes and slice the meat into 2 to 2-and-a-half-inch long strips against the grain.
Long grains of muscle fiber can be seen clearly in flank steak. Strip the flank steak thinly across the grain (perpendicular to the long lines of muscle).
Cut everything to a thickness of just a quarter of an inch for soft, easily chewed bites. Keeping the knife at an angle of roughly 45 degrees also results in bigger slices.
The beef can now be marinated.
Check see our guide on how to cut boneless beef chuck if you decide to use it. If not, you can move on to the following paragraph.
PREPPING BONELESS BEEF CHUCK FOR STIR-FRY
If you want your stir-fry beef to be lovely and tender, you need to cut it against the grain.
One more time, the “grain” in beef alludes to the meat’s parallel long muscle fibers. When you cut across the fibers, or “against the grain,” you shorten the muscle fibers and create more sensitive bites.
Differentiating the direction of the grain in beef chuck from flank steak is quite challenging.
First, we need to divide the long strip into pieces that are 2 inches wide, as we must cut against the grain to get this part.
And then arrange your pieces for cutting in such a way that the long strands are shortened. To begin, slice the meat into strips about a quarter of an inch thick…
It’s a little easier to see out the grain and the slice in this photo, but you can still imagine how tricky the tender beef is to work with.
Chefs recommend partially freezing beef for 30-60 minutes to make it stiff and easy to slice.
When the beef is this hard, it won’t slide as much under the knife or over the cutting board, allowing for quicker and cleaner slicing. You can also achieve a more consistent slice thickness while cutting partially frozen meat.
WHAT TENDERIZATION METHOD DO CHINESE RESTAURANTS USE
Now I will reveal the techniques used by Chinese restaurants to tenderize the beef. The first step in the traditional velveting procedure used by Chinese cooks is tenderizing the meat.
- You should start by adding some baking soda to the beef, roughly 1 rounded teaspoon per pound (450g).
- Then, rub the steak with the baking soda and water mixture so that it is well spread, using 1/4 cup of water (60 ml) for every pound of beef. Delay for a few hours. The baking soda and water used in this process helps tenderize the beef.
- After that, remove any residual baking soda from the meat by rinsing it completely under running water.
- While the beef is being washed, mix it up with your hands.
- As soon as the water in the colander is clear, remove the meat and place it in a bowl for marinating (details in next section).
QUICK AND EASY IN-HOME METHOD FOR TENDERIZING BEEF
If the method for tenderizing beef employed in Chinese restaurants seems too laborious, there is another way to achieve the same result.
Because of its strong tenderizing effects, baking soda is often washed off beef before cooking.
The problem can be solved by reducing the amount of baking soda used and lengthening the marinating period. For every pound of beef, use between 1/8 and 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda and 2 to 3 tablespoons of water. Before marinating, mix and rub it into the meat. As a bonus, this method of tenderization is effective as well!
Add at least 15 minutes to the marinating time for the beef.
Adding water to the beef is, of course, a matter of taste. For certain stir-fry recipes, I think both hydrated beef and dry beef have their uses.
STIR-FRYING BEEF: A GUIDE TO MARINATION
A vital second step in velveting, marinating the beef for your stir-fry, should never be omitted. The marinade is not as traditional as you might be used to; it does not involve dousing the steak in a puddle of liquid or slathering it with a dozen spices.
The goal is to achieve a more tender and juicy meat. Have you ever made stir-fry at home only to have the meat turn out dry and taste nothing like the versions you’ve had at Asian restaurants?
If you can perfect the marinating process, you’ll have no trouble making authentic Chinese stir-fry at home.
Once the beef has been tenderized…
- To intensify the beef’s flavor, try adding some oyster sauce or soy sauce. Combine both seasonings with the beef at a rate of 2 teaspoons per pound.
- If you want the meat to have a velvety texture, try adding some cornstarch and oil. Season the beef with 2 teaspoons of each seasoning for every pound.
- Cornstarch and oil create a protective coating for the beef while it cooks, giving it a silky texture and making it safer to eat.
- Those who want extra taste can add 2 teaspoons of Shaoxing wine per pound of meat, but this is of course optional.
- Prepare the rest of your ingredients while you let this mixture marinade for 15–30 minutes.
What exactly is Chinese velvet?
In traditional Chinese cuisine, meats are “velveted” before being used in stir-fries. Chinese velveting procedures range from tenderizing to marinating to slow cooking, and they change based on the cut and type of meat used in the dish.
The velveting technique is used to give meats the trademark soft and velvety texture of Chinese cuisine while preserving their natural moisture.
How to Make Stir-Fry Beef Look Like Velvet
The process of velveting beef starts with the stages we’ve outlined above (involving tenderizing the beef and then marinating it with seasonings, oil, and cornstarch).
The marinating process enhances the beef’s umami flavor and creates a velvety coating, both of which are hallmarks of Chinese restaurant steak. The beef was marinated in the picture below before being cooked.
Pre-cooking is the final phase of velveting and can vary widely depending on the dish and the desired result.
Literally translated, zu yóu in Mandarin or “jau yau” in Cantonese refers to the practice of velveting beef by passing it in heated oil (basically deep frying).
Since it’s impractical to keep an oil wok at home, we usually just use a hot wok to sear the meat. However, we find that searing beef results in a deeper taste than the jau yau deep-frying technique.
The final step in certain dishes, such as soups, is just to boil the beef in water.
- 450g of beef flank steak or chuck steak (sliced against the grain)
- 1/4 cup of water per pound
- 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoons of cornstarch
- 2 teaspoons of Shaoxing Wine
- 2 teaspoons of oyster sauce or soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon of baking soda
- Massage the sliced beef with your hands to absorb as much baking soda and water as possible. Relax for a couple of hours.
- It’s recommended to wash the meat in running water until it becomes clear. Drain.
- It’s time to season the beef with oil, oyster sauce/soy sauce, Shaoxing wine (if using), and cornstarch. Put the steak in a marinade for 15 to 30 minutes before using.