Mongolian Beef


Mongolian beef is a popular Chinese-American restaurant dish that consists of tender, crispy beef in a savory-sweet brown sauce. This version comes from The Woks of Life, written by Bill, Judy, Kaitlin, and Sarah Leung, the family behind the popular Woks of Life blog. I’m a big fan of the cookbook and the blog, both of which are excellent resources for anyone interested in learning more about Chinese cooking. To prepare the dish, thinly sliced flank steak is first “velveted” or tenderized by marinating it in a mixture that includes baking soda, before being coated in cornstarch. The beef is then shallow-fried in a wok or skillet until crispy, and tossed in a flavorful brown sauce made with soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, ginger, and scallions. Served over steamed rice, the dish is a huge family-pleaser and every bit as good as the Mongolian beef served at your favorite Chinese restaurant.

Note that many of the ingredients are repeated throughout the recipe, so the ingredient list is not quite as long as it looks!

What You’ll Need To Make Mongolian Beef

mongolian beef ingredients

  • Soy sauce is an essential Chinese ingredient, and this recipe calls for two kinds: regular and dark soy sauce. Dark soy sauce is saltier, sweeter, and a bit thicker than regular soy sauce. It used to flavor dishes and also darken the color of sauces, and you only need a small amount. Dark soy sauce is available at Asian markets or online. If you don’t have any, you can simply omit it. However, your dish will be lighter in color. Alternatively, you can make a substitute by combining 2 teaspoons soy sauce, 1/2 teaspoon molasses, and 1/8 teaspoon sugar.
  • Cornstarch is an essential thickening, dredging, and binding agent in Chinese cooking. As a thickener, you need to first dissolve it in water before adding it to simmering liquid so it combines. It makes more robust, glistening, visually appealing sauces. Cornstarch also works well in batters and crispy coatings, and helps seal in juices of meat before cooking, resulting in tender meat.
  • Shaoxing wine is a type of Chinese rice wine that helps give Chinese food its distinctive flavor. It is not easy to find where I live, so I substitute dry sherry.
  • Dried whole red chili peppers are a common ingredient in Chinese cooking. They are made by drying fresh red chili peppers until they become hard and brittle. You can usually find them in the produce section at the supermarket.
  • Baking soda is used in Chinese cooking as a meat tenderizer. When mixed with water, baking soda creates an alkaline solution that can break down the tough fibers in meat, making it more tender. The process of using baking soda to tenderize meat is known as “velveting.”

Step-by-Step Instructions

Slice the flank steak against the grain into ¼-inch-thick slices.

sliced flank steak on cutting board

In a medium bowl, combine the Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry), soy sauce, cornstarch, water, and baking soda.

flank steak marinade

Add the beef and stir until evenly coated.

slices of flank steak marinating in bowl

In a small bowl, dissolve the brown sugar in the hot water. Mix in the regular soy sauce and dark soy sauce.

sauce for mongolian beef

Slice the scallions and mince the garlic and ginger.

minced garlic and ginger, and sliced scallions on cutting board

In a medium bowl, dredge the marinated beef slices in the ½ cup cornstarch until thoroughly coated.

dredging beef in cornstarch

Heat the oil in a wok or large nonstick skillet over high heat until just before the oil starts to smoke. Working in batches so as not to crowd the pan, spread the beef slices evenly in the wok or skillet and shallow-fry them undisturbed for 1 minute on each side to achieve a crusty coating. Transfer the beef to a plate and turn off the heat.

shallow frying beef in wok

Drain most of the oil from the pan, reserving 1 tablespoon. Wipe the pan with a paper towel, then add the reserved tablespoon of oil. Over medium-high heat, add the ginger and whole dried chilies (if using).

cooking ginger and red peppers

After 15 seconds, add the garlic and the scallion whites. Stir-fry for another 15 seconds.

cooking ginger, red peppers, garlic, and white scallions

Add the sauce and simmer for 2 minutes. 

simmering sauce for Mongolian beef in wok

Combine the cornstarch with the water to make a slurry, then slowly stir it into the pan.

thickened Mongolian beef sauce

Add the beef and the green parts of the scallions.

adding the beef and green scallions to the wok

Toss everything together for 30 seconds, until the scallions are wilted and there is almost no standing sauce. Serve.

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