Spicy Szechuan Beef Recipe

If you prefer your food on the spicy side, chances are you're a fan of Szechuan cuisine. While not every dish that originates from China's southwestern Sichuan province is guaranteed to set your tongue on fire, the tongue-numbing spicy flavor is definitely the region's preferred flavor profile. There's no saying why this specific flavor is so common in the region, but it may be due to the fact that the area tends to be very hot and humid. Eating spicy foods can actually help your body cool down, making this spicy Szechuan dish a perfect dinner for a hot summer night.

Recipe developer Susan Olayinka, who blogs at The Flexible Fridge, tells us "I love spicy food!" but admits, "I never used to until I met my husband." She brings the heat with this spicy Szechuan beef in three different ways: with chili oil, crushed red pepper, and Szechuan peppercorns. This dish is hot enough to make you sit up and take notice, but the heat isn't so powerful that it overwhelms the flavors from the meat and veggies. 

Shop for the ingredients to make this spicy Szechuan beef

This Szechuan beef is a pretty economical dish. Although it makes three servings, all you need is just half a pound of sirloin, which tends to be the cheapest cut of steak. You're also going to need cornstarch, soy sauce, mirin, chili oil, brown sugar, salt, and Szechuan peppercorns for seasoning, as well as a red bell pepper and a carrot for the veggies. For serving, you may want to have some rice on hand as well as a spring onion and some sesame seeds to use as a garnish.

If you prepare the Szechuan beef according to this recipe, Olayinka says, "This is a three out of five for spice." If you want it less spicy, she says you could use vegetable oil in place of the chili oil, but if you want to make it hotter, just add more crushed red pepper. She also advises that the recipe will work with any other protein you like, such as pork, chicken, or tofu.

These DIY ingredient substitutes may work in a pinch

A couple of the ingredients on the list may not be all that easy to come by if you don't live in a major metropolitan area, but that doesn't mean you'll need to pass on the recipe altogether or even have to pay a premium to order the necessary items online. Instead, you can try a few simple ingredient swaps. No mirin on hand? Dry sherry or marsala could work. If you don't have these, try dry white wine, or you could even use rice vinegar for an alcohol-free version. If you use either of the latter two substitutes, you might need to add a quarter to half a teaspoon of sugar.

The Szechuan peppercorns are what makes this recipe so true to the flavors of Sichuan, and Olayinka tells us, "Most westernized versions do not include these." If you can't get hold of them, Tellicherry peppercorns or grains of paradise can be used in their stead, though you'll need to double the amount of the latter. As neither of these two ingredients is all that easy to come by, though, you might prefer a third alternative: half freshly ground black pepper, half coriander seeds. If you can't locate coriander either, you can always just make do with black pepper, although the flavor won't be quite the same.

Prepare the meat for the spicy Szechuan beef ahead of time

If you've just bought the beef, you'll need to put the package in the freezer overnight before preparing the Szechuan beef. According to Olayinka, "This is so that it's easier to slice the steak thinly." Remove the steak from the freezer an hour before you plan to start cooking it, place it on a cutting board, and slice it into thin strips. Place these strips in a bowl and add the cornstarch, the soy sauce, a teaspoon of the mirin, a tablespoon of the chili oil, the brown sugar, and the salt. Mix all of these ingredients well, and let the steak marinate for 15 minutes.

Slice and cook the veggies for the spicy Szechuan beef

Slice up the red pepper and the carrot into matchstick-sized pieces. Although you don't have to peel the carrots before you slice them, you might want to do so since the peel can add a slightly bitter taste. Once the veggies are prepped, set them aside for a minute and pour a tablespoon of chili oil into a large pan. Turn the heat to medium-high, and once the oil is starting to sizzle, add the veggies to the pan. Cook the pepper and carrots for three to four minutes, then set the cooked veggies to one side.

Finish cooking the spicy Szechuan beef

Add another tablespoon of chili oil to the pan, then stir-fry the steak strips for three to four minutes. You may need to fry them in batches since they won't cook evenly if the pan is too crowded. Once the final batch is done, turn the heat down to medium-low and return all of the steak to the pan along with the veggies. Add the beef broth, a teaspoon of the mirin, the crushed red pepper, and the Szechuan peppercorns to the pan. Cook the mixture for about five minutes until the sauce has thickened slightly.

Serve the spicy Szechuan beef

Olayinka suggests serving the Szechuan beef over rice, and she also says you can garnish the dish with sliced spring onions and sesame seeds to make it look pretty in case you're inclined to snap a few pics of your dinner before you dig in. The rice doesn't need to be the traditional steamed white rice, however, since you can use brown rice or even cauliflower "rice" if you prefer. You could also swap out the rice for noodles or even zoodles for a delicious, nutritious meal you can have on the table in under a half an hour.

According to Olayinka, any leftovers will keep for three to four days in the fridge. "Put it in the microwave to reheat," she says, adding "or you could put it on the stove for a couple of minutes."

Spicy Szechuan Beef Recipe
5 from 26 ratings
This dish is hot enough to make you sit up and take notice, but the heat isn't so powerful that it overwhelms the flavors from the meat and veggies.
Prep Time
Cook Time
Szechuan beef on plate
Total time: 21 minutes
  • 8-ounce sirloin steak
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons mirin, divided
  • 3 tablespoons of chili oil, divided
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 carrot
  • ½ cup beef broth
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Szechuan peppercorns
Optional Ingredients
  • 1 spring onion, thinly sliced, for garnish
  • Sesame seeds for garnish
  1. Freeze the steak in the freezer overnight to make for easier slicing.
  2. Take the steak out of the freezer 1 hour before you plan to cook it, and slice it into thin strips.
  3. Place the steak strips into a large bowl along with the cornstarch, soy sauce, 1 teaspoon of mirin, 1 tablespoon of chili oil, brown sugar, and salt. Mix well and let the steak marinate for 15 minutes.
  4. Slice the red pepper and carrots into thin matchsticks.
  5. In a large pan, add 1 tablespoon chili oil and turn the heat to medium-high.
  6. Cook the sliced red pepper and carrots for 3 to 4 minutes, then set aside.
  7. Cook the marinated steak in 1 tablespoon of chili oil (in batches, if need be) for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring constantly.
  8. Turn down the heat to medium-low and add the cooked vegetables, mix these together with all of the cooked steak strips.
  9. Add the beef broth, 1 teaspoon mirin, the crushed red pepper, and the Szechuan peppercorns to the pan. Cook for 5 minutes until slightly thickened.
  10. Serve the Szechuan beef over rice. If desired, garnish with spring onions and sesame seeds.
Calories per Serving 339
Total Fat 25.2 g
Saturated Fat 5.5 g
Trans Fat 0.1 g
Cholesterol 59.0 mg
Total Carbohydrates 9.9 g
Dietary Fiber 1.9 g
Total Sugars 3.9 g
Sodium 720.3 mg
Protein 17.5 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
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