Xinjiang pepper steak

Xinjiang (新疆, Xīnjīang) is a multiethnic autonomous region in the extreme northwest of China. As I mentioned in a previous post, it shares borders with Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan, India, and Pakistan, with people from many ethnic groups including Uyighur, Mongol, Kazakh, Hui, and Han. As you might guess, the culinary traditions are fascinating.

Xinjiang pepper steak

One export that seems to have made its way all across China is Xinjiang lamb kebobs. Chinese people will buy these by the handful and then walk through the markets eating them leisurely as they stroll and shop. In Beijing last winter, I remember clutching my own handful of skewers, taking them hot off the vendor’s grill and cherishing them because it was below zero outside and these wonderful, spicy kebabs were helping me keep warm. The flank steak in this recipe is seasoned with the same Xinjiang seasoning used for the ubiquitous lamb kebabs, so anyone who enjoys the Chinese lamb-on-a-stick will also love this pepper steak recipe. The flavor here is similar, but be forewarned, it’s significantly spicier.

In Xinjiang this would usually be served with fresh flatbread or thick homemade noodles, but rice is also perfectly fine.


For the Xinjiang dry spices:

  • 1 Tbsp whole cumin
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper (adjust to desired level of heat)
  • 1 tsp Sichuan pepper corns
  • 1 tsp black pepper

For the marinade: 

  • 1 Tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
  • 1/2 tsp potato flour

For the pepper steak:

  • 1 Tbsp peanut oil
  • 1 lb flank steak, thinly sliced diagonally against the grain
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 inch ginger, minced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, cut into bite-sized pieces

For the sauce:

  • Xinjiang dry spices, above
  • 2 tsp dark soy sauce
  • 2 tsp light soy sauce
  • 1/2 tsp potato flour
  • 1 tsp sesame oil


  1. Lightly roast the Xinjiang spices in a dry wok until the color begins to brown, then grind roughly.
  2. Marinate the sliced flank steak for about a half hour in the marinade, above.
  3. Heat a wok over high heat until it barely begins to smoke, then add the peanut oil, and then add the steak.  Spread the steak around so that as many pieces as possible are in contact with the hot surface of the wok.
  4. When the meat starts to brown, stir it up and add the garlic and ginger.  Stir-fry for about 15 seconds until fragrant, then add the red pepper.  Stir-fry until the pepper just begins to soften, about a minute or two.
  5. Add the sauce and stir to incorporate, continue cooking for about 1-2 minutes, then transfer to a serving dish.

Variation: If you would like more sauce in the final dish, increase the peanut oil to 2 Tbsp and add 2 Tbsp of beef broth to the sauce, while also increasing the potato starch to 1 tsp.

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