Mongolian Beef: Ingredients, Origins, and How to Make It

Mongolian beef is a popular Chinese-American dish consisting of tender slices of beef coated in a sweet, savory brown sauce. With its crispy seared beef contrasting with the sticky, gingery glaze, it’s easy to see why this takeout classic has become so beloved.

But what exactly goes into making authentic-tasting Mongolian beef? Read on to learn more about the origins, key ingredients, and step-by-step cooking methods for making restaurant-quality Mongolian beef at home.

The Origins of Mongolian Beef

Despite its name, Mongolian beef actually has no connection to the cuisine of Mongolia. The term was coined by Chinese restaurants in America sometime in the 1970s. In Mongolia itself, beef is more often boiled or fried simply, without complex sauces.

The dish likely originated from ethnic Chinese chefs in Taiwan who adapted traditional Chinese cooking techniques into dishes suited to American tastes. Its sweet sauce was influenced by other popular Chinese-American dishes like orange chicken and General Tso’s chicken. The name “Mongolian” may refer to Mongolian barbecue, where diners create their own stir-fry dishes.

So while not authentically Mongolian, Mongolian beef has become an iconic part of the American Chinese food experience.

Mongolian Beef Ingredients

While recipes can vary slightly, the essential components of Mongolian beef are:

  • Beef – Flank, sirloin tip, or other quick-cooking beef cut sliced very thin against the grain.

  • Cornstarch – Used to coat the beef and create a crispy exterior.

  • Neutral oil – For frying the beef. Canola, vegetable, peanut, or avocado oil work well.

  • Ginger and garlic – Key aromatics. Minced very finely.

  • Scallions – For flavor and texture. Chopped into 1-inch pieces.

  • Soy sauce – For umami depth. Light and dark soy sauce provide richness.

  • Brown sugar – The primary sweetener used. Also adds caramelization.

  • Water or stock – Thins out the sauce so it coats the beef.

  • Cornstarch slurry – Thickens and binds the sauce so it glazes the beef.

Additional ingredients like sesame oil, rice vinegar, chili peppers, or hoisin sauce can tweak the flavor, but the items above are essential for achieving the classic Mongolian beef flavor.

Step-By-Step Mongolian Beef Cooking Instructions

Making restaurant-worthy Mongolian beef requires a specific cooking process to get the right texture and flavor. Here’s an overview of the key steps:

1. Marinate the beef

  • Slice flank steak or other beef cut against the grain into thin strips.

  • Toss beef with soy sauce, oil, cornstarch, and baking soda and let sit for 1 hour. This tenderizes meat.

2. Make the sauce

  • Combine brown sugar, soy sauce, garlic, ginger and water or stock. Mix well and set aside.

3. Coat beef in cornstarch

  • Dredge marinated beef strips in cornstarch to coat evenly. Shake off excess.

4. Deep fry the beef

  • Heat 1-2 inches oil in wok until very hot. Fry beef in batches until crispy, about 1 minute per side. Drain on paper towels.

5. Sear aromatics

  • Heat small amount of oil in wok. Cook garlic, ginger, chili peppers and scallion whites.

6. Add sauce and return beef

  • Add prepared sauce to wok. Let bubble and add beef back to wok, heating through.

7. Thicken sauce

  • Stir cornstarch slurry into wok to thicken sauce until it coats beef.

8. Toss with scallion greens

  • Add scallion greens and toss everything together.

9. Serve over rice

  • Spoon piping hot Mongolian beef over steamed white rice. Enjoy!

Following these steps will allow you to achieve the characteristic crispy, caramelized beef napped in a clingy, savory-sweet sauce that makes Mongolian beef so addictive.

Tips for Making the Best Mongolian Beef

Here are some top tips from Chinese cooking experts to help make sure your homemade Mongolian beef rivals the takeout version:

  • Use a very hot wok – This ensures the beef browns and crisps properly. Use a burner at highest heat.

  • Cut beef thin and against grain – This keeps the beef tender and easy to chew. Slice flank steak thinly across the grain.

  • Fry beef in batches – Avoid crowding to allow even crisping. Fry just a handful of strips at a time.

  • Let sauce reduce – Simmering allows sauce to thicken up properly. Don’t add beef back in too early.

  • Use both light and dark soy sauce – The duo provides rich umami depth without overpowering saltiness.

  • Mix slurry well – Properly-mixed slurry blends smoothly into the sauce to provide perfect thickness and sheen.

Mongolian Beef Recipe Variations

Once you master the classic recipe, try these easy variations:

  • Use chicken, pork, shrimp, or tofu instead of beef

  • Swap different vegetables like carrots, broccoli, snap peas, or bell peppers

  • Add spices like chili garlic paste, five-spice powder, or Sichuan peppercorns

  • Use orange juice or pineapple juice for extra sweetness

  • Mix in a spoonful of hoisin or oyster sauce for more body

  • Garnish with toasted sesame seeds, scallions, or cilantro

  • Serve over crispy chow mein noodles instead of rice

So while Mongolian beef may not actually have Mongolian origins, it has absolutely earned its place as a beloved Asian-American comfort food. With flavorful, crispy beef cloaked in a sweet-savory sauce, it’s a dish guaranteed to disappear quickly from the dinner table. Once you learn the fundamentals, you can even customize it to your tastes. So gather your ingredients, fire up your wok, and enjoy restaurant-caliber Mongolian beef from the comfort of your own home.

Jet Tila’s Mongolian Beef | In the Kitchen with Jet Tila | Food Network


What is Mongolian beef made of?

What is Mongolian Beef? It’s a simple stir fry with thin slices of beef simmered in a sauce of soy, brown sugar, garlic, and ginger. The brown sugar caramelizes in the soy to make a slightly sticky sauce that coats the beef.

What is Mongolian sauce made of?

Ingredients. Organic Sugar, Tamari Soy Sauce (Water, Soybeans, Salt, Alcohol), Sake (Water, Rice, Salt), Water, Rice Vinegar, Garlic Puree, Garlic Powder, Arrowroot, Ginger Puree, Apple Cider Vinegar.

Does Mongolian beef taste sweet?

When done just right, it’s perfectly sweet and savory, slightly spicy, and loaded with lots of delicious aromatics such as ginger, garlic, green onions and even a few dried red chilis, all combined to bring a nice pop of deep, fragrant flavor.

Why is Mongolian beef chewy?

Like many stir fry dishes, it is important to thinly slice the meat, which means stir-frying will obviously overcook the meat, which in turn will make it tough and chewy.

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