Midwest Pepper Steak
Pepper Steak, updated with a sweet and spicy gravy and served over mashed potatoes, becomes the ultimate comfort food when it’s made in the Midwest.
Midwest Pepper Steak represents what I love about Midwestern cuisine: the ability to turn any food into comfort food.
In most of the country, Pepper Steak is found on Chinese restaurant menus. These recipes and any Home Cook Copycats are Asian-themed and served over rice.
But in the Midwest, Pepper Steak is one of my grandma’s most famous meals (she’s from Wisconsin). My sister-in-law Erin has a version (she’s from Iowa). My sister Meredith has a version (also from Wisconsin). And millions of church and school fundraising cookbooks have similar versions of this dish in their pages.
But are these Asian takeout copycats? No!
In the Midwest, Pepper Steak is the ultimate Meat & Potatoes dinner solution.
That’s right: Potatoes. Pepper Steak in the Midwest is served over potatoes. With gravy. A sweet and spicy gravy.
Doesn’t that sound like a splendid idea?
What I love about Midwest Pepper Steak (just Pepper Steak to the natives) is that it takes a slightly exotic dish (or something that was exotic at some point in the past) and makes it friendly and familiar.
When I think of Minnesota farmers coming in from the fields as the sun is setting, I imagine them sitting down to a hearty platter of flank steak and mashed potatoes with vegetables and gravy all mixed together.
To be fair, though, I have no idea what the history of this dish is. I just know that in all corners of the Midwest, happy home cooks are making their own versions of Chinese takeout, and they all seem to like mashed potatoes and gravy with it.
On to the recipe.
I made Pepper Steak a bunch of different times in all different ways. While my grandma uses a pressure cooker for hers (with meltingly tender results, I might add), I prefer a more modern stir-fry approach (seeing as how I lack a pressure cooker).
I start with a short marinade (saving half the marinade for the gravy later on), then stir-fry the steak in batches and set it aside. Next, I fry the bell peppers and onions in a clean skillet until just tender-crisp. Mash in some garlic and red pepper flakes, add back in the steak, and toss with the reserved sauce. It’s that easy!
And of course, pile it all on to mashed potatoes and devour.
Seriously, it’s just the best idea ever.
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Midwest Pepper Steak
- 1 ½ pounds flank steak trimmed
- 1 cup honey
- 1 cup red wine vinegar
- 1 cup soy sauce
- 1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
- 3 Tablespoons olive oil
- 2 green bell peppers stemmed, seeded, and thinly sliced
- 1 onion halved and thinly sliced
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- ¼ teaspoon to ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 teaspoon cornstarch
- Mashed potatoes for serving
- Freeze steak for 15 to 20 minutes, just until the outside is chilled but the steak is not frozen solid. This will make it easier to slice the steak thinly.
- Meanwhile, combine honey, vinegar, soy sauce, and Worcestershire sauce in a medium bowl. Measure out 1/4 cup of this sauce and pour it into a large zipper-top plastic bag or glass bowl for marinating the meat. Reserve the remaining sauce for the stir-fry.
- Remove the steak from the freezer and slice thinly against the grain. Add the steak to the large plastic bag with the marinade and refrigerate at least 10 minutes or up to 1 hour.
- Remove the steak from the refrigerator, discarding the marinade. Heat 1 Tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add half the meat in a single layer and cook for one minute without stirring, until browned on one side.
- Stir the meat and continue to cook for 2 minutes longer, until browned all over. Transfer to a clean bowl. Wipe out the skillet, add another Tablespoon of olive oil, and repeat with remaining steak.
- When the meat has been cooked and set aside, wash and dry the skillet well. Add the last Tablespoon of olive oil and heat until shimmering. Add the peppers and onions and stir-fry until tender-crisp and still bright green, about 3 to 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, stir the cornstarch into the reserved stir-fry sauce. Clear a space in the middle of the vegetables. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and mash together, then mix in to the vegetables.
- Add back the steak and any accumulated juices to the skillet. Pour in the reserved stir-fry sauce and cook over medium-high heat until the sauce boils and thickens slightly, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and serve over mashed potatoes.
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