Easy Beef & Broccoli Stir Fry

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The savory brown sauce that makes this Chinese takeout dish a favorite is simple to make at home thanks to one key (and easy to find) ingredient.

The savory brown sauce that makes this Chinese takeout dish a favorite is simple to make at home thanks to one key (and easy to find) ingredient. Worthy substitutes are noted for a variety of common allergies or ingredients you prefer to avoid.

 

 

 

Have you ever wondered why it’s so difficult to replicate your favorite Chinese takeout menu item at home?

What exactly is in the thick brown sauce that envelopes those tender slices of beef and crisp spears of broccoli and tastes so good? In the case of many takeout options, it can be more appealing to simply enjoy and not think too much about it!

I spent years trying to replicate what was always my top pick at our favorite Chinese restaurant. The bar was set especially high because this dish was also my younger son’s favorite meal, and since ever since he was a little boy, I’ve been unable to fool his sensitive tastebuds. He recognizes an imposter when he tastes it!

After many attempts, ranging from fair to pretty good, I finally cracked the code. Everyone raved, my younger son requested it for every birthday, and all was well.

The savory brown sauce that makes this Chinese takeout dish a favorite is simple to make at home thanks to one key (and easy to find) ingredient.

Then two things happened that, for a time, removed the dish from the regular meal lineup. My family worked its way up to three family members who couldn’t eat gluten-although that obstacle proved to be relatively easy to work around.

The bigger hurdle was that I developed a severe allergy to bivalves, which means that I have to steer clear of any mollusk that has a hinged shell, like oysters, clams, mussels and scallops.

In case you’re wondering, besides bivalves, other types of mollusks include cephalopods (like octopus and squid) and gastropods (like snails and slugs). Interestingly, I can still eat calamari, and I’ve had octopus and escargot on occasion with no adverse effects. Though it often strikes people as an odd allergy, apparently it’s not that uncommon.

Luckily, I can enjoy shrimp, crab, lobster and all the flat fishes, but the adult-onset allergy to bivalves suddenly meant no oyster sauce-the ingredient I relied on to create the signature flavor in this stir fry sauce.

Interestingly enough, oyster sauce usually contains gluten and MSG, ingredients which also put the Asian condiment off limits to many people. It’s increasingly more common, however, to find alternatives that omit these two ingredients.

But oyster-less oyster sauce?

Ultimately, I was truly happy to occasionally cook what was most definitely a family favorite meal (and my younger son’s all-time favorite meal) and simply eat something else.

Realistically, however, oyster sauce doesn’t even taste like oysters. It’s salty and a little sweet-but the flavor goes further than that. The sweetness isn’t one-noted; it’s more developed, like caramel, and the saltiness is less like table salt and more like briny ocean water. Plus there’s that “special something” we all know as umami.

Was there a way to mimic the flavor using other ingredients?

Happily, there was.

Vegetarian oyster sauce was the answer. And do you know what vegetarian oyster sauce is made out of? Mushrooms!

The funny thing is that the vegetarian option doesn’t taste like mushrooms either. In either alternative, the main ingredient is fermented, and it is during this process that they acquire the complex flavors I described above.

The savory brown sauce that makes this Chinese takeout dish a favorite is simple to make at home thanks to one key (and easy to find) ingredient.
Tips for making this meal extra easy:
  • All of the prep work-from chopping the veggies to mixing the sauce and the marinade-can be done well in advance so that the actual cooking process takes mere minutes.
  • For easy slicing, freeze the flank steak for 15 to 20 minutes.
Serving options:
  •  Although rice is traditional for serving, noodles are a great alternative. We sometimes enjoy this with black bean pasta, which is protein- and fiber-rich and surprisingly delicious…even the kids think so.
  • Optional garnishes provide added texture, crunch and flavor and include peanuts, cashews, sesame seeds, chopped fresh cilantro, sliced scallions and/or jalapeños.
A few more things:
  • If you like a thicker sauce, you may wish to add an extra teaspoon of cornstarch to the sauce mixture.
  • If you serve your stir fry with rice and like extra sauce for the rice, you may wish to double the sauce recipe.
  • Sometimes I add half a red bell pepper, thinly sliced, for added color.
  • For variety, I’ve incorporated the sauce into a chicken and assorted veggie stir-fry, using one pound of sliced chicken (thigh or breast meat) and approximately five cups of chopped vegetables.
The savory brown sauce that makes this Chinese takeout dish a favorite is simple to make at home thanks to one key (and easy to find) ingredient.

Easy Beef & Broccoli Stir Fry
Yield: 4 servings
The savory brown sauce that makes this Chinese takeout dish a favorite is easy to make at home thanks to one key ingredient. Advance prep options provide added ease at mealtime.
For the stir fry:
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound flank steak, sliced against the grain into thin 3-inch strips*
  • 5 cups bite-size broccoli florets
  • Optional for serving: cooked rice or noodles, toasted sesame seeds, cashews, peanuts, chopped fresh cilantro, and/or sliced green onions
For the sauce:
  • 3 tablespoons (45 ml) reduced sodium soy sauce or tamari
  • 2 tablespoons (30 ml) oyster sauce (vegetarian and GF options are available**)
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar or honey
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (may substitute ½ teaspoon garlic powder)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger (may substitute ¼ teaspoon powdered ginger)
  • 1 teaspoon Sriracha sauce
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil, optional
  • 1½ teaspoons cornstarch
Instructions

In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, oyster sauce, rice vinegar, brown sugar or honey, garlic, ginger, Sriracha, optional sesame oil, and cornstarch; set aside.  Prep-ahead tips: The sauce can be mixed up to two days in advance and stored at room temperature for up to 2 hours or covered and refrigerated beyond that. Stir before using. You may also chop the broccoli and slice the meat in advance for added convenience at mealtime.

Heat the oil in a 12- to 14-inch nonstick skillet or wok set over medium-high heat.  Add the beef and cook until it is just below your preferred degree of doneness. (I like to see a little pink in the center at this point.) Remove to a plate.

Add the broccoli, and cook, stirring frequently, until crisp-tender.  (Tip: To more quickly and evenly cook the broccoli without scorching the pan or relying on extra oil, I like to add 3 tablespoons of water to the pan, and then cover and cook for 2-3 minutes or until the broccoli is cooked to desired tenderness.  Uncover the pan and make sure all the water is cooked off before proceeding.)

Add the steak back to the pan, and then immediately add the sauce, and stir to incorporate. Continue to cook until the sauce has slightly thickened, about 2-3 minutes more.

Serve as is, or over rice, with a sprinkle of desired garnishes.

Notes:

*Hanger and flat iron steak work well for this stir fry, too. For easier slicing, you may wish to freeze the steak for 15-20 minutes first. (Set a timer so you don’t forget about it!)

**Gluten-free and vegetarian oyster sauce options are available. The latter is sometimes referred to as mushroom sauce; both can be found in the Asian/international aisle of the grocery store. Wegmans sells a sauce that is vegetarian and gluten-free with no added MSG.

A few more things:
If you like to serve your stir fry on a bed of rice, you may wish to double the sauce recipe. Sometimes I add half of a red bell pepper, thinly sliced, for added color. If you like a thicker sauce, you may wish to add an extra teaspoon of cornstarch to the sauce mixture.

The Fountain Avenue Kitchen https://fountainavenuekitchen.com/

A few more details on vegetarian “oyster” sauce:

Vegetarian “oyster” sauce is made from mushrooms and offers a fantastic option for those who are allergic to oysters and/or require a gluten-free alternative to the condiment that provides the signature flavor in many Asian brown sauces. Most recently, I’ve been purchasing the Wegmans brand. Their vegetarian substitute is very good, albeit slightly less punchy than traditional oyster sauce, I think predominantly because the sodium count is lower. This may offer added appeal to some: one tablespoon of the Wegmans’ vegetarian oyster-style sauce contains 340mg of sodium, while two popular brands of regular oyster sauce contain 980 and 860mg per tablespoon.

The savory brown sauce that makes this Chinese takeout dish a favorite is simple to make at home thanks to one key (and easy to find) ingredient.

 

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