The Only Beef with Broccoli Recipe You’ll Ever Need
True confession: I’ve never been much of a fan of beef with broccoli.
Maybe it’s because I’ve dug into too many dishes of it at Chinese lunch buffets or banquet gatherings that were just so mundane and mediocre, with gloppy, over-cornstarched sauce glueing everything together.
There’s never been a version that’s been memorable and exciting.
And of course, it would be created by food scientist, cooking savant, and James Beard Award-winning cookbook author, J. Kenji Lopez-Alt.
If you are an avid stir-fry enthusiast already or a beginner picking up a wok for the very first time, you owe it to yourself to get a copy of his new The Wok: Recipes and Techniques” (W.W. Norton & Company), of which I received a review copy.
It will change how you stir-fry. It will change your life.
If you already know Lopez-Alt’s recipes, then you know they are meticulous. These more than 200 recipes for stir-frying, deep frying, steaming, simmering and braising are no exception.
Right out of the gate, Lopez-Alt acknowledges that almost none of us have the incendiary BTUs of a wok station at a Chinese restaurant in our homes. So, he has come up with genius workarounds.
How to get the char in “Beef Chow Fun on A Home Burner”? Use a blowtorch on the chewy noodles to achieve wok hei, “breath of a wok,” that smoky flavor we all covet. How to make XO sauce or “Umami Oil” when you don’t have dried scallops or are allergic to them? Use pepperoni or Spanish dry-cured chorizo instead. How to make the best “Egg Drop Soup” with silky ribbons of egg, not rubbery ones? Just add a bit of cornstarch to the scrambled eggs before drizzling into the soup, as the starch impedes the protein connections, preventing them from toughening up.
So what makes his “Beef with Broccoli” so outstanding?
First, it’s all about how you handle the beef. I’ve stir-fried plenty of flank steak in my life, but none that turned out this incredibly tender. I will give it to Chinese restaurants that the beef in their beef with broccoli is definitely far more supple than most of us ever make.
Lopez-Alt explains why: We handle our beef too gently, whereas a Chinese restaurant cook will turn all his might on it. To mimic that, Lopez-Alt instructs you to put your flank steak pieces, sliced against the grain, into a bowl of cool water and swirl them around forcefully until saturated, then drain the meat and press out as much water as you can — kind of like soaking a towel, then wringing it out. Next, you add a pinch of baking soda, then seasonings, and pummel the meat mightily — as if giving it a major deep-tissue massage. This is the key to making the meat supremely tender.
Second, blanch your broccoli for a minute in boiling water, which will leave it bright green and at a stage where it will only take a minute to stir-fry for that perfect al dente texture.
Third, when you are ready to stir-fry, make sure all your prepped ingredients are nearby and ready to go. This dish cooks fast, so you don’t want to be fumbling around in the fridge or pantry to find things or else your meat or veggies may overcook.
Fourth, you make a cornstarch slurry in a small bowl separate from your stir-frying sauce, which allows you to add a little slurry at a time until you achieve your desired sauce consistency. I used only a portion of mine, as this slurry will make your sauce tighten up quickly.
Dare I say you will end up with the best beef and broccoli you have ever had? One with supple beef, bright and crunchy broccoli, and a deeply savory sauce that’s not too thin or too gummy.
It’s beef with broccoli that’s been redeemed.
Beef with Broccoli
For the beef:
1 pound beef skirt, flank, hanger, or flap, cut into long strips with the grain, then sliced at a shallow angle against the grain into thin, bite-size strips for stir-fries
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon light soy sauce or shoyu
1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon roasted sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
For the sauce:
1 tablespoon light soy sauce or shoyu
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
For the cornstarch slurry:
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon water
For the broccoli:
12 ounces broccoli or broccolini, heads cut into bite-sized florets, stems peeled and cut on a bias into 1 1/2- to 2-inch segments
For the stir-fry:
1/4 cup peanut, rice bran, or other neutral oil
2 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 2 teaspoons)
2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger (about 1/2-inch segment)
For the beef: Place the beef in a medium bowl, cover with cold water, and vigorously agitate it. Drain through a fine-mesh strainer set in the sink and press on the beef with your hands to remove excess water. Return the beef to the bowl, add the baking soda, and vigorously massage the baking soda into the meat, lifting the meat, throwing it down, and squeezing it about for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the salt, soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, sugar, sesame oil, and cornstarch and roughly work the marinade into the meat for at least 30 seconds. Set aside to marinate for at least 15 minutes and up to overnight.
For the sauce: Combine the soy sauces, oyster sauce, sugar, and wine in a small bowl. Stir with a fork until the sugar is dissolved and no lumps remain. Combine the cornstarch and water in a separate small bowl and stir with a fork until the cornstarch is dissolved.
For the broccoli: Bring 1 quart of lightly salted water to a boil in your work. Add the broccoli, stir well, cover, and boil, shaking the pan occasionally, until bright green but still quite firm, about 1 minute. Drain the broccoli and spread in
to a single layer on a sheet tray or large plate.
Before you stir-fry, get your bowls ready: Marinated beef, blanched broccoli, garlic and ginger, sauce, cornstarch slurry, empty bowl for cooked ingredients, and serving platter.
For the stir-fry: Rub a thin film of oil into a wok and set it over high heat until smoking. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil and swirl to coat. Add half of the beef and stir-fry until mostly cooked through and lightly browned in spots, about 1 minute. Transfer to a large bowl. Wipe out the wok and repeat with another tablespoon of oil and the remaining beef. (You may need a quick rinse under the sink if any excess beef marinade threatens to burn the wok.)
Wipe out the wok and return it to high heat until lightly smoking. Add 1 tablespoon of the remaining oil and swirl to coat. Add half of the broccoli and stir-fry until tender-crisp, about 1 minute. Transfer to the bowl with the beef.
Wipe out the wok and return it to high heat until lightly smoking. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and swirl to coat. Add the remaining half of the broccoli and stir-fry until tender-crisp, about 1 minute. Return all the beef and broccoli to the wok along with the garlic and ginger. Stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Stir the sauce and add to the wok, pouring it in around the edges. Stir the cornstarch slurry and add a splash. Cook, tossing, until the sauce thickens and the beef is cooked through, about 30 seconds longer. Adjust the sauce consistency with more cornstarch slurry if it is too thin or a splash of water if it is too thick. Transfer to a serving platter and serve immediately with steamed white rice.
From “The Wok: Recipes and Techniques” by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt
Another J. Kenji Lopez-Alt Recipe to Enjoy: Green Risotto with Mushrooms
Mr. López-Alt is, I think, the best recipe writer going at the moment. And probably has been for the last decade, at least. Thorough without being obsessive, he nevertheless writes clear and direct recipes. Anyway, this looks superb! I’m always up for trying one of his recipes. I’m getting rid of cookbooks these days, not adding new ones, but I should probably make an exception in this case and get it. Thanks!
Hi John: I think I like Kenji’s “The Wok” book even more than his “Food Lab” one, and that’s saying a lot! It definitely deserves a place of honor on the bookshelf.
Just got my copy, I now know what I am going to make first!
Hi Reuel: I love this book, and can’t wait to try more recipes from it. You’ll have to let me know what you think of the beef with broccoli. Enjoy!
I love Kenji. I have his cookbooks. I follow him on IG. He’s my go to… I made this tonight and all I could taste was the baking soda. Is it me?
Hi Kelly: Did you use just the 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda? I wonder if you’re a super taster? That is so interesting that you tasted the baking soda so strongly. I didn’t have that issue. Next time you make this dish, try using only 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda. With the vigorous soaking, massaging, and wringing out of the beef, I’m thinking it will still end up being very tender.