Stir-Fried Beef with Bitter Gourd and Black Bean Sauce

This dish has been attacked and perverted by my mat salleh spirit. By right there should be lots of bitter gourd and a little beef for flavouring, but I felt like meat, so it’s a half and half affair. Feel free to adjust the quantities to your preference. As long as you stay with a total finished trimmed weight of beef and bitter gourd of some 400g, the quantities given will work. Bitter gourd is also called bitter melon (Momordica charantia, for short) and it is quite popular all over Asia, but can be a bit of a challenge for the Western palate. If you are new to the bitter gourd, I suggest using the bigger, lighter coloured one shown below, as the dark small one packs a lot more bitter punch.

To Stir Fry:

Homemade Black Bean Paste
  • 1 sirloin steak, about 250g
  • 1 medium bitter gourd, about 250g
  • 1 medium brown onion
  • 1 Tbsp Black Bean Paste
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp Chinese rice wine
  • 2 tsp corn starch
  • generous black pepper
  • oil or lard for frying
  • chopped spring onion to garnish

You can easily buy the black bean paste (aka black bean sauce) in a jar at your local grocers, or on Amazon, if you’re nearer the Amazon than the Peope’s Republic of China, but the best thing to do is to make it yourself. And this is how Project: Aromatic Crispy Duck – Part 3: Black Bean Paste

For the Quick Stock & Thickening:

  • 2 tsp oyster sauce
  • 2 tsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • a dash of Maggi seasoning
  • a few drops of sesame oil
  • 100ml water
  • 1 heaped tsp corn starch
  • 1 Tbsp water

Trim the steak of all sinew and as much of the fat as you like, then slice into thin slices, preferably against the grain. Marinate the beef slices in the soy sauce, rice wine, black pepper and corn starch.

Cut the bitter gourd in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and the white pith with a spoon, then slice into ½ cm slices. Take the top and bottom off the onion, peel it and cut it into six wedges. Separate the layers of the onion.

Mix the water with the oyster sauce, soy sauces, Maggi seasoning and sesame oil. Mix the corn starch with a little water to make a slurry.

Heat one tablespoon oil or lard in a wok and fry the beef with all its marinade until it is lightly browned and cooked through. Remove from the wok and keep aside. To get the beef to brown well, you need to leave it to sizzle and move it around all the time. Spread it in one layer at the bottom of the wok and wait 3 minutes, then stir it about. You don’t need all sides to be brown, but a nice little colour on some of the meat will improve your dish tremendously.

Add another tablespoon of oil to your wok. Note that there is no need to clean the wok in between. Add the bitter gourd to the wok and fry for 3 minutes. The degree of doneness of the bitter gourd is up to you. The less you fry it, the more bitter it will be. I personally just give it a minute in the wok, because I like it really bitter.

Now add the black bean paste and the cooked beef and stir through to coat evenly and to lightly fry the paste. Pour in the quick stock, bring to the boil and slowly add the slurry to thicken the sauce to your liking. Adjust the seasoning, sprinkle the chopped spring onions over and serve.


This recipe works just as well with chicken, pork or lamb than with beef. The really interesting one, though is a fish version. Marinate fish fillets in the same marinade, but use white pepper instead of black. Once the fish has marinated for five, ten minutes, dust it with a tablespoon of corn starch, marinade and all and then deep fry the fish until lightly golden. Quickly add a tablespoon of butter and some chopped spring onions and cilantro and take the fish out. Continue as above, but add the fried fish at the very last minute, just before serving.
That’s made me hungry.

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