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You can thank my husband for this quick and easy Chinese Hunan beef recipe. He inspired me to make it!
My husband’s birthday last week reminded me about this recipe. I actually made him a special birthday dinner consisting of filet mignon and roasted brussels sprouts, just like our favorite steakhouse. (I can’t wait to share the recipe with you guys later in June!)
But, his birthday made me think about this Chinese dish I made for him a while back. I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as he did.
Low Carb Chinese Food Choices
Spicy food has really grown on me over the years, thanks to my husband. He adores it. I grew up without much exposure to heat in food, but as it turns out, you learn to like it more as you eat it more.
These days, I’m always excited to try something spicy! And, this Hunan beef has plenty of heat, so feel free to reduce the amount of Thai chile peppers if you’d like.
Chinese food has definitely been an acquired taste, too. Since I was never a fan of rice (even before low carb!), that aspect always turned me off. Fortunately, once I realized that Chinese could be plenty filling and delicious without the rice, I became a big fan.
Now, I’m thrilled whenever I get the chance to try a new Chinese dish. Especially because I’m instantly thinking about ways to make it healthier and low carb!
The only problem is, low carb Chinese food choices are very limited.
Ordering food at Chinese restaurants can be challenging, because often it’s hard to tell what has hidden carbs. Meats are often lightly coated in cornstarch prior to frying, but don’t come out looking breaded.
Many Chinese sauces contain sugar, starch, or both. You’ll usually want to avoid duck sauce, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, plum sauce, and sweet and sour sauce. As long as you ask for a preparation without starch, most stir fry dishes are a great option.
Fortunately, it’s actually very easy to make low carb Chinese food at home. Hunan beef is a great example, and has become one of my favorites.
What is Hunan Beef?
Hunan beef is a Chinese stir fry dish similar to Szechuan beef. The main difference is the spices, because the two originated from different regions of China.
Both use garlic and chili peppers generously as the primary flavors, but Hunan beef is more spicy and less sweet. It’s also a more purely spicy taste with less complexity. Since I try to limit sugar and didn’t want to use a sweetener, I opted to make Hunan style beef over Szechuan style. It was easier to make a healthy version of it.
Having never been to China, I’ll admit I’ve never had the real thing. But I did try Hunan style beef at several local restaurants, some of them claiming to be authentic. My recipe is based on those, along with some general research about the spices that are prevalent in the region.
Hunan beef recipes are usually made with flank steak, so that’s what I used. I really like this lean, tender cut of meat. Marinating it and cooking over high heat is the key to maximizing its tenderness.
How To Make Hunan Beef (and Other Chinese Food) Low Carb & Paleo
You can actually make a low carb stir fry very easily. Meat and veggies are already naturally low carb, so it’s just the sauces and marinades that need adjustments.
The key is to find alternatives for the flour, cornstarch, and soy sauce often used in Chinese cooking. The method for getting around this will vary depending on the food you want to recreate.
For this Chinese beef recipe, I made a few easy swaps to make it paleo – and generally healthier, even if you’re not eating paleo. Arrowroot powder makes good substitute for cornstarch, and coconut aminos replace the soy sauce.
Both of these do add a small amount of carbs, but when you factor in the number of servings, it’s very minimal. From a nutrient stance, I still much prefer them over cornstarch and soy sauce. The end result comes out to just 4 grams of net carbs per serving, which is definitely reasonable.
I used sherry cooking wine in the marinade. Part of the reason was to make it paleo, but I’ll admit the more prevalent reason was that it’s easier to find. If those things don’t matter, you can use the more traditional Shaoxing cooking wine (which is fermented in rice) instead.
The combination of the flavorful marinade and quick, high-heat cooking method makes the Hunan beef ultra tender. It’s just perfect served with some oven roasted broccoli! (I skipped the Parmesan from the broccoli recipe, since it doesn’t pair too well with the Chinese flavors.)
I think I will try it with cauliflower rice next time. That’s the one kind of “rice” that I do like! And, it’s an easy way to convert recipes into paleo, low carb Chinese food.
Wok Choices for Making Hunan Beef
There are several good options for the type of wok to use when making this Hunan beef. I used this ceremic wok, mostly because I’ve had it for such a long time and didn’t want to purchase another one. I love that it’s light, versatile, and non-stick (without Teflon!), and it still got hot enough to sear the beef nicely.
Purists will recommend using a carbon steel wok or cast iron wok for their ability to maintain higher temperatures. This aspect is important for any stir fry. I would definitely consider those if I was shopping around for a wok.
No matter what kind of wok you use, you’ll be good to go as long as you get your wok ultra hot before adding the meat. Make sure you slice the beef ultra thinly against the grain, marinate it, and after that the actual cook time literally takes two minutes.
Who needs takeout when you have an easy, fifteen-minute Hunan beef recipe?
Hunan Beef Recipe in 15 Minutes (Paleo Low Carb Chinese Food):
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Want more low carb, gluten-free stir-fry recipes? Try these: