Not Your Typical Beef Stir-Fry, and That’s a Good Thing

Traditionally, Crispy Tangerine Beef is made by frying multiple batches of lightly battered beef in about 8 cups of oil. Yikes! You can simplify by replacing the batter with a coating of cornstarch and freezing the dredged pieces of beef for easier handling as well as decreasing the oil to 3 cups.


Cook’s Illustrated’s version didn’t initially thrill me with the vast quantities of oil. The most common misconception (mine included) about deep-frying battered foods is that the results are always greasy. But this doesn’t have to be the case at all.

When battered foods are deep-fried in hot oil, water in the batter and near the exterior of the meat turns to vapor and exits. Once the water exits, there is space for a small amount of oil to take its place. The amount of oil absorbed is directly proportional to the amount of water lost. The more water out the more oil in.

But the Crispy Tangerine Beef takes in even less oil than expected, only two tablespoons overall, yeah! Since cornstarch has virtually no moisture to lose on its own, this means that all the moisture lost during frying comes from the beef alone.

The sauce uses tangerine peel—you could incorporate zest as well—to add complex bitter notes. Make sure your strips contain some pith. By caramelizing the citrus peel before building the sauce, it mimics the flavor of dried tangerine peels that are typically used. Next time we’re thinking about buying the dried peels directly from an Asian market ahead of time. Beware, the ingredients call for juice from two fruits to make a 1/2 cup liquid, but it took three tangerines to generate that amount.

In Step 7, the sauce is supposed to thicken in about 45 seconds. Ours didn’t start to firm up until 4 minutes! In the future, we’ll increase the sauce ingredients by 50 percent because we prefer more volume. However, that being said, it may be that the sauce thickened even more once we added back the meat which had been coated in corn starch, itself a thickener.

No matter, we loved the dish! Although it was passable when I reheated the next day for lunch, it’s best eaten right away.



  • 1 ½ pounds beef flap meat, trimmed
  • tablespoons soy sauce
  • tablespoons cornstarch
  • 10 (3-inch) strips tangerine or orange peel, sliced thin lengthwise (¼ cup), plus ¼ cup juice (2 oranges)
  • tablespoons molasses
  • tablespoons dry sherry
  • tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • cups vegetable oil
  • jalapeño chile, stemmed, seeded, and sliced thin lengthwise
  • garlic cloves, minced
  • tablespoons grated fresh ginger
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • scallions, sliced thin on bias

The coated beef strips after being in the freezer for 45 minutes.

Russ checks the oil to see if it has reached 375 degrees.

In thirds, the beef strips are stir-fried for about 1 1/2 minutes in the hot oil.

After stir-frying, the beef is transferred to a paper towel-lined rimmed baking sheet.


  1. Cut beef along grain into 2½- to 3-inch-wide lengths. Slice each piece against grain into ½-inch-thick slices. Cut each slice lengthwise into ½-inch-wide strips. Toss beef with 1 tablespoon soy sauce in bowl. Add cornstarch and toss until evenly coated.
  2. Spread beef in single layer on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet. Transfer sheet to freezer until meat is very firm but not completely frozen, about 45 minutes.
  3. Whisk remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce, orange juice, molasses, sherry, vinegar, and sesame oil together in bowl.
  4. Line second rimmed baking sheet with triple layer of paper towels. Heat vegetable oil in large Dutch oven (we used a wok) over medium heat until oil registers 375 degrees. Carefully add one-third of beef and fry, stirring occasionally to keep beef from sticking together, until golden brown, about 1½ minutes.
  5. Using spider, transfer meat to paper towel–lined sheet. Return oil to 375 degrees and repeat twice more with remaining beef. After frying, reserve 2 tablespoons frying oil.
  6. Heat reserved oil in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add orange peel and jalapeño and cook, stirring occasionally, until about half of orange peel is golden brown, 1½ to 2 minutes.
  7. Add garlic, ginger, and ­pepper flakes; cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is beginning to brown, about 45 seconds. Add soy sauce mixture and cook, scraping up any browned bits, until slightly thickened, about 45 seconds (or longer as the case may be.)
  8. Add beef and scallions and toss. Transfer to platter and serve immediately over hot steamed rice.

In a separate skillet, cook the tangerine peel and jalapeño strips until partially golden brown.

Next add the garlic, ginger, and ­pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add the soy sauce mixture and cook, scraping up any browned bits, until slightly thickened.

Finally, add in beef and scallions and toss to coat.

Ladle over steamed rice.

Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated


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