Made with tender flank steak, fresh vegetables, and a tangy, slightly spicy Hunan sauce, this recipe for Hunan Beef is a healthier spin on a favorite Chinese-American take-out dish.
What is Hunan Beef?
Hunan Beef originates from the Hunan region in China. Classically, it is made with dried beef, tons of chiles, and fermented black beans.
The Hunan Beef that you order from your favorite restaurant, while still inspired by the classic flavors, has been toned down significantly in spice level and made with more readily found ingredients.
This recipe is a copycat version of the wildly popular Chinese-American Hunan Beef. And just like my recipe for Hunan Chicken, it is easy to make and made with ingredients you can find at any grocery store. If you are looking for authentic Chinese Hunan Beef, check out this recipe from Woks of Life. Just be warned that while delicious, you may need to take a trip to an Asian market to find the ingredients needed for authentic Hunan Beef.
why you'll love this recipe
- This Beef Stir Fry is incredibly flavorful, thanks to the tangy, rich sauce that is slightly spicy, without being overwhelming.
- Kid-Friendly. Even though this dish is on the spicier side, the Americanized version of Hunan Beef is toned down enough that even those with sensitive palates (AKA kids) enjoy this dish. And when you prepare the Hunan sauce yourself, you can adjust the amount of chili paste added to control the level of heat your family prefers.
- Ready in 30 minutes--and that includes the time needed to freeze the beef for easier slicing.
- Better for you than take-out. Lower in fat, calories, and sodium, and made with quality beef and fresh vegetables, you can feel good about eating this meal any night of the week.
Notes on Ingredients
- Flank Steak: Instead of using dried, smoked beef, this American version of Hunan Beef calls for flank steak. Flank steak when sliced thin, as this recipe directs, cooks up quickly and is incredibly tender.
- Vegetables: This recipe adds broccoli, bell peppers, and onions for texture, nutrients, and flavor. Feel free to use any quick-cooking, sturdy vegetables you like.
- Oil: Use canola, vegetable, or peanut oil for pan-frying, as they all have a high smoking point and are well-suited to stir-fries.
- Soy Sauce: Use low-sodium soy sauce to keep the level of sodium lower in this recipe.
- Oyster Sauce: Oyster Sauce has such a rich punch of flavor, but if you don't have it on hand, you can use Hoisin. Keep in mind that some brands of oyster sauce contain MSG. If you need/want to avoid MSG, Kikkoman Oyster Sauce is made without added MSG.
- Chili Paste: Use chili paste, not chili sauce, as they are not the same ingredients. Chili paste, or sambal oelek, is made from ground chiles and will give this dish its authentic kick, while chili sauce is made from tomato sauce, vinegar, and sugar.
- Honey: Just a touch of sweetness helps to balance out the acidity and heat in this sauce. Feel free to use brown sugar in place of the honey.
- Cornstarch: The cornstarch helps the Hunan Sauce to thicken. If you have an allergy to corn, feel free to use arrowroot powder in place of cornstarch.
- For Serving: While not necessary, it is classic to serve Hunan Beef over a bed of rice and top it with green onions for a nice punch of fresh flavor. I love to prepare Instant Pot Brown Rice or Instant Pot Jasmine Rice while the beef is cooking, for an effortless meal.
How to Make Hunan Beef
- Place your flank steak into the freezer for 10 minutes. This will help make it easier to cut into thin slices, which is essential for quick-cooking, tender beef.
- While the beef is in the freezer, use this time to chop the vegetables and prepare the sauce, as the dish will come together quite quickly once you begin the cooking process.
- To prepare the Hunan Sauce, whisk together beef broth, soy sauce, oyster sauce, rice vinegar, honey, chili paste, and cornstarch in a small bowl until the cornstarch is fully dissolved. Set aside.
- Remove the beef from the freezer and slice it into ¼-inch thick slices, going against the grain. Season the meat evenly with salt and pepper.
- Heat the oil in a large pan over high heat.
- When a drop of water sizzles when added to the oil, the oil has heated enough to begin stir-frying the beef. Add the steak to the pan in a single layer. It is really important not to crowd the pan so that the beef sears evenly. If needed, cook in batches.
- Cook for 3-4 minutes per side or until browned. Remove the seared beef from the pan and place it on a plate.
- Add the broccoli, peppers, and onion to the pan. Cook for 4-5 minutes or until the vegetables are just slightly tender.
- Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds more. That will ensure the garlic will not burn, which can run a dish fast.
- Add the beef back to the pan with the vegetables and then pour the prepared Hunan Sauce over the beef and vegetables.
- Bring the mixture to a gentle boil, and cook for just a couple of minutes to allow the sauce to thicken.
- Serve the Hunan Beef over rice and top with sliced green onions if desired.
- Gluten-Free Hunan Beef: To make this stir-fry gluten-free, use gluten-free beef broth, gluten-free soy sauce, and gluten-free oyster sauce. Pay special attention to the soy sauce and oyster sauce, as they often contain wheat products.
- Heat-Level: Because you are making Hunan Beef yourself, you can control the level of spiciness. As written this dish has a mild kick. If you would like a more mild level of spice, cut the chili paste to just 1 teaspoon. To increase the spice level, add an additional teaspoon of chili paste to the Hunan Sauce.
- Vegetable Options: If you don't care for peppers or broccoli, other great options are shelled edamame, carrots, canned baby corn, or zucchini.
More Asian-Inspired Recipes
- Moo Goo Gai Pan
- Vegetable Fried Rice
- Chicken Katsu
- Shrimp Stir-Fry
- Spring Rolls
- Vegetarian Lettuce Wraps
Need more inspiration for planning meals that your family will love? Sign up for my FREE Meal Plans and each week you will get a meal plan with a shopping list.
If you tried this recipe for Hunan Beef, I would love for you to leave a comment and review below.
For the Stir Fry
- 1 pound beef flank steak
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon pepper
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 1 cup broccoli florets chopped
- 1 medium red bell pepper chopped
- 1 medium green bell pepper chopped
- 1 medium onion diced
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- ½ cup low-sodium beef broth
- 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
- 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon honey or brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons chili paste such as sambal oelek
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- Steamed Rice
- Green Onions
- Place the flank steak into the freezer for 10 minutes, this will help make it easier to cut into thin slices. Remove the beef from the freezer and slice it into ¼-inch thick slices, going against the grain. Season the meat evenly with salt and pepper.
- Prepare the Hunan Sauce by whisking together beef broth, soy sauce, oyster sauce, rice vinegar, honey, chili paste, and cornstarch in a small bowl until the cornstarch is fully dissolved. Set aside.
- Heat the oil in a large pan over high heat. Once the oil sizzles when a drop of water is added add the steak to the pan in a single layer–don’t crowd the pan. Cook in batches if needed. Cook for 3-4 minutes per side or until browned. Remove the seared beef from the pan and place it on a plate.
- If the skillet is dry, add 1 teaspoon of additional canola oil. Add the broccoli, peppers, and onion to the pan. Cook for 4-5 minutes or until the vegetables are just slightly tender. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds more.
- Add the beef back to the pan with the vegetables.
- Whisk the reserved sauce again to be sure fully incorporated, and then pour the sauce over the beef and vegetables. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil, and cook for 1-2 minutes or until sauce has thickened.
- Serve over rice with chopped green onions.