This Hunan beef is an easy and delicious stir fry made with tender steak strips, crisp vegetables, all in an authentic Hunan sauce. No thickeners or sugar-laden sauces needed, it’s keto friendly but full of flavor!
Stir fries have got to be one of my most made dinners. They take minimal prep and can literally use up leftover vegetables and soon-to-expire protien.
Whenever I make a stir fry, I try to recreate some of my favorite takeout orders. I try not to pick favorites but something I make often is Hunan beef.
What is Hunan beef?
Hunan beef is a flavorful dish that has origins in the Hunan province of China. Their dishes are known to incorporate plenty of hot and spicy flavors and common cooking styles like stir frying and sauteeing.
This particular recipe is one of the most simple yet delicious dishes of them all. It’s a spicy stir fry with hints of sweetness and sourness throughout. The more authentic ones tend to cook the beef until it is drier and has an almost smokey flavor.
Americanized Hunan beef is a little bit different. This is the version you’ll find at most Chinese takeaway shops or restaurants. It’s less spicy and tends to be a little bit sweeter, thanks to the addition of both white and brown sugar.
Today’s recipe has a little bit of a twist to it. It’s been given a keto makeover, swapping out some of the higher carb sauces and seasonings for zero carb ones. Don’t let that hold you back though- This tastes just as delicious and flavorful as you’d expect!
Perfectly tender beef strips sauteed with fresh vegetables and covered in a thick and tasty sauce, this is the kind of stir fry you can impress your friends with. The secret to the perfect Hunan beef is using a good quality and thick chili sauce– It takes the flavor to another level!
Ingredients to make this recipe
For the beef stir fry
- Beef– Flank steak or sirloin steak. Slice your beef into equal slices so they cook evenly.
- Vegetable oil– Any neutral flavored oil can be used. The Hunan sauce will have sesame oil in it to give extra flavor.
- Ginger and garlic– A must for any good stir fry dish.
- Broccoli– Chopped into equal sized florets.
- Bell peppers– Green, red, and yellow bell peppers.
For the Hunan style sauce
- Beef broth– Also known as beef stock. Try to use an organic beef broth as it has a more neutral and rich flavor.
- Sesame oil– A flavorful oil that is often used in Asian dishes. A little goes a very long way, so don’t go overboard with it
- Soy sauce– Tamari can also be used.
- Fish sauce– Gives an extra salty kick to the sauce.
- White vinegar– Apple cider vinegar can also be used.
- Brown sugar substitute– A keto alternative to brown sugar. This balances out the salty and spicy ingredients.
- Chili paste– Any unsweetened chili sauce can be used. I like using Sambal Oelek, which can be found at most grocery stores.
- Xanthan gum– Thickens the sauce.
How do you make Hunan beef?
Start by preparing the Hunan sauce. In a small bowl, add all the ingredients to whisk together until combined. Set it aside and prepare the stir fry.
In a large wok or non-stick pan, add the vegetable oil and place it over medium heat. Once hot, add the beef and cook for 4-5 minutes until browned and no longer pink. Remove the beef from the pan and place it back on the stove. Add the garlic and onion and saute for two minutes, until fragrant. Add the remaining vegetables and cook for 5 minutes, until tender.
Finally, add the beef back into the pan. Pour the Hunan sauce over everything and mix to combine. Let the stir fry cook together for 5-6 minutes, until the sauce has thickened. Serve immediately over cauliflower rice or steamed rice.
Hunan beef VS Szechuan beef
Both beef dishes originate from China from the Hunan province and Sichuan province, respectively. Besides their origin, Hunan beef and Szechuan beef have some key differences.
Szechuan beef tends to use more spicy and sweet flavors and often contains black peppercorns to give it an extra kick. It also often uses whole dried chilis to enhance the spicy flavors. This differs from Hunan beef, which uses chili paste and has a more balanced spicy flavor, instead of an intense one. Furthermore, Szechuan beef often contains fewer vegetables and can include nuts, like cashews and peanuts.
What does Hunan beef taste like?
Hunan beef tastes like any good beef stir fry out there but with a few differences. It’s got more spicy notes, thanks to the chili paste, which is balanced by the sweet (brown sugar substitute) and salty (soy and fish sauce) elements. The sauce is thicker than most, which holds onto the beef and vegetables very nicely.
Tips to make the best Hunan beef
- Slice your beef into equal-sized strips, so that they cook evenly. The same goes for the vegetables, too!
- Feel free to change up the vegetables used, and include other low carb favorites like zucchini, eggplant, and Asian greens.
- If you don’t like spicy food, feel free to use sweet chili sauce or sriracha. You’ll still get a slight kick!
Storing, freezing, and reheating tips
- To store: Leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator, covered, for up to 5 days.
- To freeze: Place the cooked and cooled stir fry in an airtight container and store it in the freezer for up to 6 months. Thaw it out at room temperature.
- Reheating: Microwave the stir fry in 30-second spurts until warm or reheat in a non-stick pan.
More keto dinner recipes to try
Frequently Asked Questions
You should never marinate beef before adding it to a stir fry, as the sauce should be flavorful and thick enough to hold on to the beef slices. Marinating the meat beforehand risks it being extra salty and tough once it is fully cooked.
The best cuts of beef for a stir fry are leaner cuts, like flank steak, skirt steak, or sirloin steak. If you don’t have time to slice your own beef, you can easily find beef stir fry strips at your grocery store, which is more often sliced flank steak.
This recipe makes 4 servings, and each serving is 298 calories. Add some cauliflower rice and you have a well balanced meal for under 350 calories. Compare that to takeout Hunan beef, which clocks in over 800 calories BEFORE you add rice.
For the stir fry
- 1 tbsp oil vegetable, safflower, or peanut oil
- 1 lb flank steak sliced into 1/4 inch strips
- 1 large onion chopped
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 head broccoli chopped into even sized florets
- 1 large bell pepper chopped
- In a small bowl, add all the Hunan sauce ingredients and whisk together until combined. Set aside.
- In a non-stick pan, add the oil and place it over medium heat. Once hot, add the beef strips and cook for 4-5 minutes until no longer pink. Remove the beef from the pan and place it back over medium heat. Add the vegetables and cook for 2-3 minutes, until tender.
- Add the beef back into the pan then pour the Hunan sauce over it. Cook the stir fry for 4-5 minutes, until the sauce has thickened.
- Remove the pan from the heat and serve immediately.