Preparing Stir-Fried Beef in Oyster Sauce

One of our favourite dishes at any time and not just Chinese New Year is beef in oyster sauce. It such a popular and beloved dish in Chinese cuisine, and its importance can be attributed to several factors including flavor, culinary tradition, and historical context.

Flavor and Umami

Oyster sauce itself is rich in umami, which is often referred to as the “fifth taste” alongside sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Umami is a savory, mouthwatering taste that enhances the overall flavor of a dish. Oyster sauce is made from oysters that are cooked, simmered, and then reduced into a thick, flavorful sauce. This sauce adds a deep, savory, and slightly sweet note to stir-fried dishes. When combined with the tender beef and fresh vegetables, it creates a harmonious and well-balanced flavor profile that is appealing to many palates.

Culinary Tradition

Chinese cuisine places a strong emphasis on balancing flavors, textures, and colors in dishes. Stir-frying is a cooking technique that is deeply rooted in Chinese culinary tradition. It involves cooking small pieces of ingredients quickly over high heat, preserving their natural flavors and textures. Stir-fried dishes are not only delicious but also nutritious, as they retain the vitamins and nutrients present in the ingredients.

Historical Context

The use of oyster sauce in Chinese cuisine has a long history. Oysters have been a part of Chinese diet and culture for centuries, and their umami-rich flavor has been harnessed to enhance dishes. The development of oyster sauce as a condiment can be traced back to the Southern Chinese city of Guangzhou (Canton), where it is believed to have originated in the 19th century. It was created as a way to preserve and utilize the umami-rich flavor of oysters beyond their immediate harvest. 

Over time, oyster sauce became a staple in Chinese cooking, especially in Southern Chinese cuisine. Its popularity eventually spread to other parts of China. Its popularity eventually spread to other parts of China and and is now available throughout the world. I cannot recommedn one particular type because let’s face it there are so many different variants to choose from.

Ingredients

For the marinade:

  • 1 pound (450g) beef steak (such as sirloin or flank), thinly sliced against the grain
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

For the stir-fry:

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, julienned
  • 1 green bell pepper, julienned
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce (adjust to taste)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup beef broth or water
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch mixed with 2 tablespoons water (for thickening)
  • Green onions, chopped, for garnish

Preparation

  1. In a bowl, combine the thinly sliced beef with the soy sauce, oyster sauce, cornstarch, sesame oil, and black pepper. Mix well and let it marinate for about 20-30 minutes.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a wok or large skillet over high heat. Add the marinated beef and stir-fry for 2-3 minutes, or until it’s browned and cooked through. Remove the beef from the wok and set it aside.
  3. In the same wok, add the remaining tablespoon of vegetable oil. Add the sliced onion and stir-fry for about 1-2 minutes until it starts to soften.
  4. Add the julienned red and green bell peppers to the wok and continue to stir-fry for another 2 minutes, or until the vegetables are slightly tender but still crisp.
  5. Push the vegetables to the side of the wok and add the minced garlic to the empty space. Sauté the garlic for about 30 seconds until fragrant.
  6. Combine the vegetables with the garlic, then add the cooked beef back to the wok.
  7. In a small bowl, mix together the oyster sauce, soy sauce, sugar, and beef broth (or water). Pour this sauce mixture over the beef and vegetables.
  8. Stir everything together and let the sauce come to a simmer.
  9. In a separate small bowl, mix the cornstarch with water to create a slurry. Pour the cornstarch slurry into the wok and stir well. The sauce will thicken as it simmers for another 1-2 minutes.
  10. Once the sauce has thickened and coats the beef and vegetables evenly, remove the wok from the heat.
  11. Serve the stir-fried beef over steamed rice and garnish with chopped green onions.
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