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Beef w/ Bitter Melon in Black Bean Sauce

Stir Fry Beef in Black Bean Sauce with Bitter Melon (豉汁苦瓜炒牛肉) is super popular in the south of China. You will find it in school canteens, takeout restaurants, regular family dinner tables, or at tea house dim sum places. I grew up with it and am excited to share it with you.

I am using top sirloin fillet. You can use other cuts such as flank steak or chuck roast. Cut it into a few big chunks. Find the direction that the muscle fibers are aligned. Slice the meat across the grains instead of parallel with them. The thickness should be around 1/5 of an inch.

Marinate the beef with 1/2 tsp of salt, 1/3 tsp of baking soda, 1 tsp of cornstarch, 1/2 tbsp of Chinese cooking wine, 1/2 tbsp of soy sauce. Mix well then coat the beef with a drizzle of vegetable oil. Let it sit for 15 minutes.

Souped Up Tip: Baking soda will break down the meat fibers and tenderize your beef. Cornstarch will wrap around the beef and create a thin starch layer which will protect the beef from drying out while cooking.

Bitter melon is the must have ingredient for Cantonese people whenever we make stir fry beef in black bean sauce. Although it is bitter, it goes really well with the sauce. If you don’t like it or you don’t have access to buy it, you can use broccoli, asparagus, or celery as a replacement. Discard the end.

Cut it in half, then quarter it. The white inside part has a spongy texture; we want to remove it completely because it is the most bitter part. Use a rounded teaspoon to scrape the last bits of the white part. Once it is clean, you can cut it with a 45-degree angle into 1/2 of an inch thick slices.

Season it with 1 tsp of salt. Rub for a minute or 2. The salt will draw out some moisture and reduce the bitter taste. Of course, if you are using a non-bitter vegetable, you don’t need to rub it with salt. Let it sit for 15 minutes.

Squeeze out as much moisture as you can. Look how much liquid we got out. Discard that. We will rinse the bitter melon with cold running water several times. The cells will start absorbing some water and it will become crunchy again. Drain it thoroughly. Set it aside.

Besides that, I also prepared 2 cloves of garlic and 1/2 inch of ginger. I sliced them thinly.

Before cooking, let’s quickly make a sauce. In a bowl, combine the follow ingredients: 1 tbsp of soy sauce, 1/2 tbsp of oyster sauce, 2 tbsp of black bean sauce, 2 tsp of cornstarch, and 3/4 cup of beef stock. Mix well and set it aside.

Turn the heat to high and heat the wok until it is smoking hot. Add 2-3 tbsp of cooking oil. Loosen up the beef before adding it to the wok so they don’t tangle together. The wok is super-hot. You only need to stir this for a minute or two. I know that doesn’t sound like enough time to cook the meat through; that is because we will cook it furthermore. If the beef is fully cooked at this moment, it will be overcooked after we mix it with bitter melon. Once most of the beef has changed color but not all of them, you should see some pink color here and there. Turn off the heat. Take the beef out. Be sure to tilt the wok so you can leave the oil in there.

Turn the heat back on medium. Toss in the garlic, ginger, and bitter melon. We will stir this for a few minutes or until the bitter melon is a bit soft. Then pour in the sauce and introduce the beef back into the wok. Keep mixing for a minute or 2. You are done.

This is an easy but classic recipe. Every school I went to had this dish on the canteen menu. We normally serve it with white rice. The beef is perfectly cooked – soft and tender. I know some of you will imagine the beef must taste bitter. Nope, not at all. Even though the bitter melon is bitter, it never passes its bitterness to other ingredients that it cooks with. Instead, it gives off a slight refreshing scent which make the beef taste even better. When I was a kid, my parents always use this as an example to teach us to be a nice person – not to pass your negative energy to the people around you. Instead, try to bring in some good enthusiasm into the environment.

1 comment

  • Made this tonight and it was wonderful! We currently have an abundance of asparagus, so used that instead of the bitter melon and it was awesome. Highly recommended!

    Wade B Lawrence on

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