Cumin beef (孜然牛肉)

This is twice-cooked cumin beef (孜然牛肉, zīrán níuròu), another very comforting and simple recipe. And here at TastyAsia, of course, “simple” always means that it’s done in the time it takes to cook rice. The taste of beef goes very well with the chiles and dry spices, which call to mind the far-west Muslim regions of China. Sizzling the beef twice in the wok creates a wonderful texture, soft and juicy inside with a hint of crispiness around the edges.

Cumin beef with fresh red and green chiles and Xinjiang dry spices

Cumin beef with fresh red and green chiles and Xinjiang dry spices

Start by cutting beef into small thin bite-sized slices.

Make bite-sized slices of beef

Make bite-sized slices of beef

Then marinate the beef for a half hour in wine and soy sauce.

Beef slices, marinating

Beef slices, sitting in the marinade just before stirring everything together

Mince together fresh red and green chiles, garlic, and ginger.

Red jalapeño, green serrano chile, garlic, and ginger

Red jalapeño, green serrano chile, garlic, and ginger

Fry the beef and then drain off the oil. Then stir-fry the aromatics in the wok with the dry spices. Add the beef back to the wok, toss with sesame oil and scallions, and that’s it. Many thanks and much credit go to Fuscia Dunlop for inspiring this recipe. Buy her Hunanese cookbook; no well-stocked kitchen should be without it.


  1. 1 lb beef (round steak, sirloin, or flank steak) sliced into bite-sized pieces about 2″ long, 1″ wide, and 1/8″ thick; marinated for about 30 minutes in a mixture of 1 Tbsp Shaoxing rice wine, 1 tsp regular soy sauce, 4 tsp dark soy sauce, and 1 Tbsp potato flour
  2. 3 cloves garlic, 1/4″ ginger, one fresh green chili pepper and one fresh red chili pepper (seeds removed); all minced finely together
  3. 1 Tbsp ground cumin, 1 Tbsp ground mild red pepper (such as paprika or ancho chili powder)
  4. 1 tsp sesame oil
  5. 3 scallions, green parts only; sliced very thinly


  • Pour peanut oil in your wok to make a pool about 1″ deep. Heat the oil until hot but not smoking, perhaps about 300°F. Add the beef (#1) and fry until no longer red, about 1 minute, stirring gently. Remove the beef with a slotted spoon drain on paper towels or in a colander. Pour off all but 2 Tbsp oil from the wok.
  • Heat the remaining 2 Tbsp peanut oil in your wok until barely smoking. Then add the garlic, ginger, and chiles (#2) and stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  • Add the dry spices (#3) and stir-fry for an additional 30 seconds.
  • Add the beef back to the wok and stir-fry until cooked through and hot, perhaps 1-2 minutes. Stir in the sesame oil (#4). Turn off the heat. Just before serving, gently stir in the scallions (#5). Serve with rice and contrasting dishes.

VARIATIONS: Consider substituting pork for the beef. If you’re going to serve this as a one-dish meal, add vegetable pieces (such as bell pepper, blanched cauliflower, or bok choi) to the wok in the final step. Using smoked paprika as the mild red chili powder (in #3) adds an additional dimension of flavor. You can also use dried chiles (cut into 1/2″ pieces) instead of chili power. For a cumin beef recipe with a different look and feel, try this recipe.

This entry was posted in Beef, Frying, Meat, Recipes and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Cumin beef (孜然牛肉)

  1. daisy says:

    What an easy, yet delicious-looking recipe. Bookmarking it to make soon.


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