Some pairings work so well together that they span generations and even continents. Romeo and Juliet, Bert and Ernie, and Michael Jordan and Nike are some that come to mind. In the world of food, there are few combinations as fabled as pepper and steak.
In France pan-seared filet mignon is doused in a peppery pan sauce to make Steak au Poivre, while in the US, we like to give our T-bones a generous sprinkling of black pepper before throwing them on the grill. In China, they take the combo to new heights with hei jiao niu liu li (黑椒牛柳粒) which translates to “black pepper beef cubes.”
As the name suggests, the beef is cut into cubes and marinated in a black pepper sauce before being stir-fried with a few vegetables. I love this dish because black pepper is often just an afterthought, or supplementary seasoning at best. In this dish, the beef and black pepper are the stars, while the sweet onions and bell peppers help take some of the edge off the spicy pepper.
It’s important to use whole peppercorns and crack them yourself as the aroma of pepper quickly fades once ground. While it may require a little more effort, I also like the bite that larger pieces of cracked pepper provide, which is why I don’t just run them through a pepper mill.
Lastly, make sure you don’t skimp on the meat, it needs to be tender, otherwise you’ll be gnawing on the cubes far longer than you’ll want to be. I used a well-marbled piece of full-breed Wagyu rib-eye, but since Japanese beef is banned in the US, you’d probably be better off using filet mignon.
Black Pepper Beef
- 2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
- 500 g (18 ounces) beef filet or other tender cut, cut into 1/2" cubes
- 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
- 1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine (or dry sherry)
- 2 teaspoons potato starch
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
- 1 small green bell pepper, cut into 1/2" squares
- 1 onion, cut into 1/2" squares
- Put the peppercorns in a mortar and use a pestle to crush the pepper into large pieces. You don't want any whole peppercorns, but it should be very coarse.
- Put the beef into a bowl and add 3/4 of the black pepper in with it along with the oyster sauce, Shaoxing, potato starch, soy sauce and sesame oil. Mix thoroughly and let this marinate for at least 15 minutes.
- Heat a wok or cast iron skillet over high heat until hot. Add the oil, and then immediately add the beef, leaving any marinade in the bowl for later. Fry one side until browned, and then use a hard spatula to stir-fry until the outside of the beef is cooked and browned. Add the garlic, bell peppers, and onions, and continue stir-frying. Add the remaining marinade and stir-fry until the onions are cooked.
- Transfer immediately to a plate and garnish with the remaining black pepper.
Yield: 4 servings
Marc Matsumoto is a culinary consultant and recipe repairman who shares his passion for good food through his website norecipes.com. For Marc, food is a life long journey of exploration, discovery and experimentation and he shares his escapades through his blog in the hopes that he inspires others to find their own culinary adventures. Marc’s been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and USA Today, and has made multiple appearances on NPR and the Food Network.