If you think Mongolian beef is Mongolian cuisine, think again.
You won’t find Mongolian beef in Mongolia. The local will dumbfound and not knowing what do you mean.
There is an array of world cuisine bear the name of a country since people want to associate the flavor and cooking style to the country of origin.
But Mongolian beef goes beyond that.
Chefs and food writers have a mix of opinion on the origin of the name Mongolian beef. Mongolia is a remote region. Many American have the faintest idea how Mongolian cuisine tastes like. The American Chinese chefs thought that a dish with an exotic name would sell well in the restaurant. Furthermore, the name Mongolian is associated with China by most people. Once the name was created, it stuck with it forever until today.
Closely related to stir-fry beef with ginger and scallion
There isn’t any standard method to prepare Mongolian beef. It is futile to look for an authentic recipe. I have gone through a series of tests searching for the best way to prepare this dish, by tweaking and improvising well-accepted methods with my interpretation.
Non-Chinese may not know the difference between four common Chinese dishes. These are stir fry beef with ginger and scallion （薑葱牛肉）, Mongolian beef (蒙古牛肉), General Tso’s chicken (左宗棠雞) and Sweet and sour chicken (咕嚕肉). They are all stir-frying dishes. In a nutshell, Mongolian beef is sweeter than stir-fry beef with ginger and scallion, without the super crispy coating like General Tso’s chicken and does not include tomato ketchup as in sweet and sour chicken.
The following notes explain clearly how to prepare Mongolian beef. It provides a clear understanding and the rationale behind each step and saves you time to interpret the recipe and getting nowhere.
Six simple steps to cook the perfect Mongolian beef
1. Use the right cut of beef
Mongolian beef is prepared with a quick frying process. Therefore, the suitable cuts of beef should be tender. Certainly, it should also be without too much fat, and no bone attached. You can use tenderloin or sirloin for the best result. Beef chuck and flank are the suitable cheaper alternatives.
Many Chinese restaurants in Malaysia used chuck tender to prepare stir-fried and deep-fried dishes. It is tender and not as expensive as sirloin or tenderloin.
Cut the beef into very thin slices since this is a very quick cooking process. The meat will contract and become thicker when you cook them. It is easy to slice partially frozen beef thinly. I normally froze the beef the night before, and let it defrost at room temperature the next morning. Once the beef is soft enough for cutting, slice it immediately, and you will have the thinnest pieces of beef possible. Some recipes suggest to cut the beef into quarter inch thick, but since the beef will contract and become thicker eventually after cooking, I prefer to pre-empt this from happening by making it thin.
2. Marinate the beef for deeper flavor
It is common to marinate the beef with soy sauce, cornflour, and occasionally with wine. Some recipes include eggs to make the beef taste velvety.
I prefer to marinate the beef in some oil, cornflour and light soy sauce. The gravy of Mongolian beef is both salty and sweet, which will provide strong flavor the dish eventually.
Marinate the beef for twenty minutes should be sufficient as the slices of beef are thin and small.
3. Coat the beef with cornflour (but how much?)
How much cornflour should be used to marinate the beef?
Again, there is no consensus. There are recipes suggest to coat with beef with cornflour lightly. In contrast, some instructed to cover the beef fully with flour.
I am providing the explanation so you can decide which way you want to follow. As I said, there is no authentic Mongolian beef recipe and here is where you can let your creativity juice flows and inject your new idea and imagination.
If you just use a small amount of cornflour to marinate the beef. The result will end up like the traditional stir fry beef with ginger and scallion. It is more suitable for stir-frying without going through a brief deep-frying process. The beef will turn out to be smooth and tender, without the feeling of having a crispy crust like Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Two way to prepare Mongolian beef
If you like the crunchy texture of fried chicken, then you can coat the marinated beef with more flour right before deep-frying. After deep-frying, just mix the crispy beef with the sauce that you prepare for the next step. No more stir-frying as the beef is cooked and stir-frying will soften the crispy coating. The result will resemble the General Tso’s chicken. In fact, it is so close that I would say it is the beef version of General Tso’s chicken.
If you prefer a soft and tender version, coat it with the flour sparingly. Stir fry it until the beef slices are just about to cook through, move it from the oil and stir fry with the sauce. I am using this method in my recipe. All I want is to let it earn an identity and not living in the shadow of General Tso’s chicken.
The traditional way to deep-fried the beef is to do it in a wok. Once the beef is cooked, the chef will pour the beef and the oil into a container through a colander, which will then hold the beef and drain the excess oil. He or she will retain some oil in the wok and continue to stir-fried the ginger and garlic in the next step.
Cooks in the modern kitchen uses a dedicated deep-fryer for this purpose. You can also deep-fry it in a deep saucepan if you are cooking in a small western kitchen.
The Magical Flour Mix For For Thick Coating
I had tested some dry coating for deep frying when I developed the General’s Tso chicken recipe. It is an adaptation of Kenji Lopez’s formula which can keep the meat crispy and crunchy even after coated with a thick sauce. It is amazing because it is crunchy and not hard like the biscuit, even after half an hour after deep-frying.
The magical balance of the four simple ingredients in the flour mix is perfectly suitable for Mongolian beef. It is used in this formula and proudly to say it turns out better than many similar dry coating from cookbooks and chefs, thanks to the effort of Kenji.
The formula: 60g of cake flour, 40g of cornstarch, 4g of baking powder, 1g of salt.
4. The best formula for the sauce
Soy sauce and sugar are the two key ingredients for the sauce, which I would like to explain further.
Some Mongolian beef recipes do not specify the type of soy sauce is required. There was once I had to use my judgment to choose the soy sauce for the recipe. One of the recipes stated that it requires 1/4 cups of soy sauce for 8oz of beef, and I misinterpreted it by using solely Chinese light soy sauce which turned out extremely salty.
There are two types of soy sauce in my recipe. Chinese light soy sauce tends to be salty, while the Chinese dark soy sauce is less salty, thicker and sweeter. Japanese soy sauce and the Indonesian sweet soy sauce (kicap manis) are not suitable for this recipe.
The amount of sugar of Mongolian beef is higher than many other authentic Chinese dishes. The American prefer sweeter Chinese food, which most of the Chinese restaurants in America realize it and have made the adaptation. The larger quantity of sugar will caramelize and form a thick sauce.
The larger quantity of sugar help to caramelize and thicken the sauce, which means less cornflour slurry is required for thickening
Four closely related sauces
The following is the summary of the sauce for the common Chinese dishes.Please refer to the respective posts on this blog for more details.
The simple formula that works, and easy to remember
4 tablespoons (60ml) of water
3 tablespoons (45ml) of light soy sauce
1 tablespoon (15ml) of dark soy sauce
1 tablespoons (15g) of sugar
2 tablespoon of Shaoxing wine
You can add a few red dry chili to it if you want it spicier. I would suggest you do that since red chili adds flavor and complexity to the overall taste of the dish.
General Tso's chicken
1½ tablespoons of dark soy sauce
1½ tablespoons of light soy sauce
2 tablespoons (30ml) Shaoxing wine
2 tablespoons (30ml) of rice vinegar
3 tablespoons (45ml) of water
4 tablespoons (60g) of sugar
1 teaspoon of sesame seed oil
2 teaspoons (10g) of tomato paste
1 tablespoon of cornstarch
Sweet and sour chicken:
Tomato ketchup 60g
Chili sauce 40g
Plum sauce 35g
Lemon juice 2 teaspoons
Beef Stir Fry With Ginger And Scallion:
2 tbsp oyster sauce
2 tsp light soy sauce
2 tsp sugar
5 g salt
½ tsp white pepper
Note: The above recipe for the sauces are for 500g of beef or chicken.
5. Mix with the sauce and stir fry
The final step is to combine the sauce and the beef together. Stir-fry quickly for half a minute and add some cornflour slurry if necessary.
One common mistake of making this dish is adding too much cornflour slurry. You need to take into consideration that there is cornflour in the beef that will thicken the sauce.
Add the cornflour slurry sparingly, just enough to let the sauce clings on to the beef. Too much cornflour can turn the gravy into a gooey mass.
Here are my final thought and summary before I conclude this post on how to dish out the toothsome Mongolian beef.
Simple tips for cooking the best Mongolian beef
1. Use the tender cut of the beef.
2. Marinate to get let the soy sauce and cornflour to absorb.
3. There is an option to lightly coat the beef and deep-fry briefly (much like stir-fry beef with ginger and scallion) or heavily coat it and deep-fry until it is crispy (very much like General Tso's chicken).
4. Use minced ginger or ginger juice. I use ginger in the following recipe because I use quite a fair bit of ginger.
5. The sauce should be thick enough to cling on to the surface.
6. Do not use too much sugar in the recipe. I find that most of the recipes tend to be too sweet. I have reduced the amount in my recipe accordingly.
7. Use plenty of scallions. Scallions will never be too much for Mongolian beef!
8. Be prudent when you add cornflour slurry. Since the sauce contains sugar and dark soy sauce which acts as the thickener, you may not need cornflour slurry unless you add too much water to the sauce.
How to cook Mongolian beef video demonstration (6.06 minutes)
- 2 stalks scallion , cut to 3cm long on the diagonal
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch slurry , constitute with 1 tsp of cornstarch with 1 tbsp of water
- vegetable oil for deep-frying
- Cut the beef into thin slices. Marinate with the rest of the ingredient A for 10 minutes.
- Stir fry the beef in oil until it is just cooked. Remove it and set aside.
- Remove the excess oil in the wok. Use two tablespoons of oil to saute the rest of the ingredients in B until they turn fragrant.
- Add ingredients in C and wait until it returns to boil.
Add the scallion. Return the beef to the wok and combine with the thick gravy. Add the cornflour slurry if it is not thick enough. Serve.
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