When I first moved to Alberta in the early 1990s, I worked in a Chinese restaurant in Lethbridge. One day I had a customer come into the restaurant and order ginger beef. When I asked how the meal was she said, "Well, it's not "Calgary Ginger Beef."
At the time, I simply wrote her off as a 'big city snob.' At that point, I hadn't yet tried Calgary ginger beef and had no idea there was even a difference. However, that completely changed once I tried it. I was in LOVE and knew exactly what she meant! Calgary is the birthplace of ginger beef, after all. And this Ginger Beef Recipe is my copycat version (based on the Ginger Beef restaurant's recipe.)
Now I would be considered that snotty Calgarian. If I walked into a restaurant anywhere that served ginger beef, I would also be comparing it to Calgary's ginger beef standards. And since I only lived in Lethbridge for 1 year and have lived in Calgary for 29 years, I'm pretty familiar with Calgary ginger beef.
I also consider myself a bit of an authority when it comes to the stuff (haha.) Geez, I only watched the cooks make it a zillion times when I worked at the Mandarin. So what's the difference between Calgary ginger beef and Lethbridge ginger beef (or ginger beef from anywhere else) you might be wondering? Well, I'd say Calgary ginger beef is sweeter. It's the perfect balance of sweet and savory.
Ginger beef is made up of beef, of course, a batter, and a sauce, with veggies. For this recipe, you'll need the following:
- flank steak or sirloin
- corn starch
- vegetable oil for deep frying
- green bell pepper
- olive oil
- fresh ginger
- fresh garlic
- soy sauce
- Chinese red vinegar (red rice vinegar)
- Chinese cooking wine or dry sherry
- white granulated sugar
- crushed chilies (red pepper flakes)
- plum sauce
*See recipe card for quantities
📖VARIATIONS & SUBSTITUTIONS
- Beef -you could also use skirt steak or beef tenderloin instead
- Addins - you can add in snow peas, broccoli florets, or hoisin sauce
💭History of Calgary Ginger Beef
Calgary is the home of ginger beef; it's where this westernized ginger beef story began. Because Peking-style food wasn't always so popular in Cowtown, as a way to make it more appealing to Westerners, back in the 1970's Chef Wong (from the Silver Inn in Calgary's Chinatown) started playing with a recipe from Northern China. Inspired by British pub grub, he deep-fried shredded beef and then simmered the crispy strips in a spicy chili sauce.
He dubbed the dish “Deep fried shredded beef in chili sauce” and began serving it to customers. The name 'ginger beef' eventually caught on. You read more about the history of ginger beef HERE. In Calgary, there are a lot of Chinese restaurants that serve ginger beef, but my first ginger beef experience was from the original Ginger Beef restaurant in Brentwood and I have always ordered from there (or Ginger Beef Express); it's my favorite restaurant for ginger beef!
🥟Chinese New Year Dishes
If you're looking for Chinese New Year Dishes, although ginger beef may not be a symbolic Chinese New Year dish, it will make a great addition to your meal. But if you're looking for symbolic Lunar New Year dishes, you might also like my Chinese Potstickers (Dumplings).
Chinese dumplings symbolize wealth because their shape is similar to ancient gold. However, this dumpling recipe is not a copycat. I was taught to make them by the cooks when I worked the Mandarin. However, the dipping sauce IS a copycat of my very favorite potsticker dipping sauce from, you guessed it, The Ginger Beef Restaurant!
🥗 Side Dishes
This Ginger beef recipe pairs perfectly with a simple steamed white rice, brown rice, or even minute rice!
- Slice beef (against the grain- see VIDEO in notes for instructions on how to do this) into thin slices
- Combine all batter ingredients and coat beef strips in batter.
- Add oil to a deep large skillet and heat on medium heat. *NOTE: I prefer to use a deep fryer for safety, but for some reason, I couldn't get it to work with this recipe! Even when I sprayed the basket with Pam, the pieces still stuck. Deep-fry coated beef, about 6 pieces at a time, until crispy, about seven to ten minutes *
- Remove meat with a slotted spoon. Set meat aside on paper towel to drain. Repeat with remaining meat, frying in small batches of 6-8 pieces (depending on the size of your frying pan.) Add sauce ingredients (except plum sauce) in a bowl and whisk together. Set aside. Julienne carrots and thinly slice green peppers.
- In a wok, over medium-low heat, stir fry garlic, carrots, green pepper, sesame seeds and half the ginger in oil for about 3 minutes. Add sauce. Bring to boil over high heat for 1 to 2 minutes and then reduce heat to medium-high heat and cook until reduced for 5- 7 minutes. Add plum sauce, whisk, and cook for 1 additional minute. Add beef to sauce; stir to coat with sauce.
- Sprinkle with additional sesame seeds and serve over white or basmati rice. Add additional plum sauce for extra sweetness, if desired. Garnish with green onions (optional)
🎥 Video: How to slice beef against the grain
💭 How to get crispy ginger beef
I'm not sure how many people know this, but the way most restaurants get crispy ginger beef is by deep frying it twice! They prep a lot of deep-fried ginger beef in advance, keep it in the fridge, then when a customer orders it, they give it a quick 2nd deep fry, sautee it in some sauce and serve it. I'll be honest, by the time I did it once I was not doing it again. I'm not gonna lie, this recipe is a lot of work! Of course, unlike a home kitchen, it's different in a restaurant where they have systems in place to manage that process.
👪 Serving size
This ginger beef stir fry recipe serves 8, if you serve it with rice. You can half, double, or triple the recipe by clicking on the serving size (it's in blue) on the recipe card and selecting the number of servings you'd like. The ingredient amounts will automatically adjust.
- This ginger beef can be stored with the sauce in the fridge in an airtight container for 2-3 days. If you make rice to go with this recipe, keep the rice stored in a separate container in the fridge.
- This recipe freezes well for up to 3 months.
It takes a lot to impress me at a restaurant so if I'm going to make a restaurant copycat recipe (you can see my other copycat recipes at the bottom of the recipe card), you know it's gotta be worth my time! I've said it before, but creating a copycat recipe is a hell of a lot more work than simply creating a recipe from scratch.
Not to brag or anything, but I usually like my copycat recipes better than the original and so does my family. I have even had readers write and tell me they like my copycat version better than the restaurant's original recipe. My teenage son also said he prefers this ginger beef ‘fake-out’ version over the original take-out! So if you're looking for a delicious recipe for ginger beef, you'll love this one.
Since I still live in Calgary and can get my hands on Calgary ginger beef anytime I want, I obviously had other motives for committing to the amount of work that went into the development of this recipe. I guess it was a labor of love and a bit of a personal recipe creation challenge. But now it exists, just in case. Just in case I can't get my hands on Calgary Ginger beef because well, you just never know...
One of my favorite restaurants, the Joshua Tree, closed down and I had to create a copycat of their Joshua Tree restaurant "Tree Burger” (shown below) from memory.
And this recipe is for all of you out there who perhaps used to live here and can't get your hands on it and miss Calgary Ginger Beef. Or those of you who tried it when you visited Calgary, loved it, and would love to make it at home. I hope you enjoy it!
📋 Calgary Ginger Beef Recipe
- 2 pounds flank steak or sirloin, approximately sliced thinly against the grain
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup water
- 1 cup corn starch
- 2-3 cups oil for deep frying
- 1 large carrot finely julienned
- ½ green bell pepper finely sliced
- 2 tablespoon cooking oil * I use olive oil
- 2 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- ⅓ cup soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons red Chinese vinegar (red rice vinegar)
- 2 tablespoons Chinese cooking wine or dry sherry
- ½ cup water
- ⅓ cup white granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon crushed chilies (red chile flakes)
- ¼ cup plum sauce *add more for additional sweetness
- sesame seeds
- green onions (optional)
- Slice beef (against the grain- see VIDEO in notes for instructions on how to do this) into thin strips
- Combine all batter ingredients and coat beef in batter.
- Add oil to a deep frying pan and heat on medium. *NOTE: I prefer to use a deep fryer for safety, but for some reason, I couldn't get it to work with this recipe! Even when I sprayed the basket with Pam, the pieces still stuck.
- Deep-fry coated beef, about 6 pieces at a time, until crispy, about seven to ten minutes.
- Remove meat with a slotted spoon. Set meat aside on paper towel to drain. Repeat with remaining meat, frying in small batches of 6-8 pieces (depending on the size of your frying pan.)
- Add sauce ingredients (except plum sauce) in a bowl and whisk together. Set aside
- Julienne carrots and thinly slice green peppers.
- In a wok, over medium - low heat, stir fry garlic, carrots, green pepper, sesame seeds and ginger in oil for about 3 minutes.
- Add sauce. Bring to boil for 1 to 2 minutes and cook until reduced for 5- 7 minutes on medium heat. Add plum sauce, whisk and cook for 1 additional minute.
- Add beef to sauce; stir to coat with sauce.
- Sprinkle with additional sesame seeds and serve over white or basmati rice. Add additional plum sauce for extra sweetness, if desired.
- Garnish with green onions (optional)