Szechuan (also known by the newer spelling, Sichuan and also occasionally as Szechwan) is a province in Southwest China that’s famous for its spicy cuisine.
It’s full of dishes that build serious heat by using not only chili peppers, but also their special ingredient – Sichuan pepper.
This unique ingredient causes a tingly numbing sensation in the mouth and lips when eaten and is usually combined with chilies to create a taste that in Chinese is called “málà” – “numbing-spiciness”.
This flavor is added to all kinds of Sichuan dishes, but today, we’re focusing on beef stir fries. This is a list of some of the very best Sichuan beef stir-fry recipes around for a real taste of great Chinese food!
This recipe is a modified version of an authentic Sichuan dish. It deviates from the original slightly by calling for flank steak instead of tenderloin, which is less tender but more flavorsome.
It also has the beef cut a little thicker to stop it from drying out, and spends longer browning it to develop the flavors.
You’ll need a few Asian ingredients for this recipe, but it’s nothing you’ll have trouble finding in your local Asian grocery store, and if you can’t find them there, there’s always the internet.
The spicy bean paste, chili pepper and Sichuan peppercorns bring that fiery málà heat we mentioned earlier, but you can tone it down if you like things milder.
This great recipe attempts to recreate the overall style and spirit of Sichuan style beef stir-fry without using a wok or deep-frying anything. The secret is in the way you marinade the beef, using egg white and then cornstarch to help it crisp up when frying.
The secret to the spicy flavor is doubanjiang, a fermented chili bean paste that’s one of the key ingredients in many dishes from Sichuan province. Any good Asian grocery should be able to provide you with some.
In terms of vegetables, bell peppers are called for, but you can swap these out for any kind you like (or any kind that you need to use up in a hurry).
Some Chinkiang vinegar (again, ask your Asian grocery) balances all this with a delicious tartness, making for an incredible dish of bold flavors.
You might be more familiar with kung pao chicken, but did you know that that dish originated in Sichuan Province?
It’s believed to have been named for a provincial governor from the Qing Dynasty, Ding Baozhen, whose official title was “Palace Guardian” (Gong Bao, or Kung Pao).
It’s now a popular Chinese dish with regional variations from all across China and beyond, and various people have made versions that swap out the chicken for shrimp, tofu, and, of course, beef.
This might be a Westernized version but it preserves a lot of Sichuan spirit of the dish, including the Sichuan peppercorns and black vinegar that are part of the authentic recipe.
It’s also a lot spicier than some other kung pao dishes you might have had, as is fitting for a Sichuan dish. One thing it doesn’t include but that you could add easily are peanuts, to add a delightful crunch to the mix.
This is another dish that’s more famous for featuring chicken but that can be smoothly adapted to use beef instead. Bang Bang chicken/beef gets its name from the sound made by the mallet that was used to tenderize the meat.
This version sees the beef marinated in egg white and cornstarch and then fried with serrano peppers, bell peppers, and onions, but the sauce is what’s a bit more unusual.
To make the paste, you’ll be mixing chili paste together with peanut butter and this unorthodox but tasty mixture is what gives this dish its unique flavor.
This dish is traditionally made with ground pork, but substituting it for beef or lamb is common among people who don’t eat pork, even in China itself.
“Dan dan” literally means “carrying pole”, as in the large poles that street vendors carry across their backs in Sichuan, with a basket on each end. The noodles and sauce were kept in the two baskets, and people started to call the dish carrying pole noodles as a result.
There are a few ingredients in this that you might be unfamiliar with, particularly the sui mi ya cai, a Sichuanese condiment made from fermented mustard greens.
You might be able to get this in your Asian grocery, but if not, try online. You can make the dish without it, but nothing can replace its unique taste.
The quick prep and cooking time for this delicious spicy ginger stir-fry makes it a perfect weeknight meal.
It’s not perfectly authentic, including some short cuts like using sriracha as part of the sauce mixture, but when it’s this good, who cares if it’s not 100% identical to what’s served up in China?
A pleasant bit of crunch is provided by the carrots to make a well rounded dish that’s very welcome after a hard day’s work.
This is another great midweek meal candidate, and this one has particular focus on being health-conscious without sacrificing any flavor.
It’s packed with healthy veggies (bell peppers, bok choy, snow peas) and served on top of a bed of buckwheat as an alternative to rice. Serve it with sliced red chili and cilantro for a simple but well-balanced meal.
This recipe is distinguished by its homemade sauce, specifically this one. It can be easily adapted to make it milder or spicier, depending on your tastes.
Aside from that, the dish allows you to experiment and mix and match quite a bit within the overall outline of the dish. Beef is good as a protein, of course, but chicken or shrimp will do fine as well.
Stick to the basic onions and bell peppers for the vegetables if you want, or add in broccoli and asparagus if you’ve got it. Needless to say, this isn’t the most authentic recipe on this list, but that’s really not what it’s going for.
This recipe keeps the beef but adds a lot more in the way of vegetables than most other recipes. It includes carrots, baby corn, snow peas, and broccoli, as well as a scallion. All those vegetables should make for a very satisfying crunch when you bite into your dinner.
It’s also notable that this one includes less spice than a lot of other Sichuan recipes, with only one red chili and some five spice powder to provide any heat.
This recipe is not about subtlety, it’s about hitting you right away with strong flavors until you agree that it’s delicious, which it is.
This is another dish that calls for the spicy bean paste (doubanjiang) that we’ve mentioned before and it’s responsible for the fire at the heart of this dish.
The other thing are the pickled mustard greens – the recipe actually uses a Thai style, but many types of Asian pickled greens will work.
Peanuts are also a prominent part of the mix, bringing their inimitable crunch and nutty flavor. This is sheer fun and pleasure made into a dish.
Apart from the beef itself, this dish calls for a particular kind of pickled pepper from Sichuan called pào jiāo.
If you can’t get them then there are other kinds of pickled peppers you can sub in, but a more interesting option would be to make some yourself – here’s a recipe.
These peppers team up with doubanjiang to create a wonderful tart spice that makes this beef dish unlike any other you’ve tasted.
The beef here is cut into very thin shreds which makes it extremely tender, but remember to cut against the grain when you do this (see the FAQ below for more).
Frequently Asked Questions?
What Is Sichuan Pepper?
Sichuan pepper is an ingredient that’s widely used in Sichuan cooking and is also known by various other names including (Chinese) prickly ash, timut pepper, and mala pepper.
The corns look somewhat like regular peppercorns, but are actually not closely related to them.
They have a unique taste that numbs the mouth and lips due to the presence of a substance called hydroxy-alpha sanshool and they are usually combined with chili peppers to produce a flavor called “numbing-spiciness” (málà in Chinese) which is a core element of many Sichuan dishes.
The corns can be used whole or powdered (as in the Chinese five spice blend).
Is Sichuan Food Spicy?
Yes, the cuisine of Sichuan is best known for being very spicy, but also for including that aforementioned málà taste.
Some of the dishes on this list are spicier than others, but it’s usually pretty easy to adjust the spice to your liking, whether you’re a chili lover or a bit more cautious with capsaicin.
What Food Is Sichuan Famous For?
Sichuan is where some of the most popular dishes in China originated. The most famous one is probably kung pao chicken, but other classics from the region include mapo tofu, Sichuan hotpot, dan dan noodles, and husband and wife lung slices.
How Should I Cut Beef For Stir Fry?
Most people probably just cut beef any way that’s easy for them when they’re making a stir-fry, but the secret to getting really tender beef is to cut it against the grain.
You’ll see several of the recipes on this list mentioning this point because if you cut with the grain, the meat gets tough when cooked. If you cut against the grain, the fibers in the meat are shortened, which tenderizes the meat.
It’s such a simple thing but try it, and you’ll notice the difference. You’ll also want the slices to be pretty thin because the goal of a stir-fry is to cook everything quickly.
This won’t work if you’re working with thick pieces of meat, though it’s not as much of a concern with beef as with chicken.