What Is Orange Beef?

Eugene P.

Orange beef is an Asian-style dish that uses beef and an orange sauce as its primary ingredients. The beef usually is cut very thin and can be fried in a wok, sometimes while coated in cornstarch to create a crisp surface. The orange flavor that defines the dish can be introduced as a thick, sweet sauce that coats the beef; as a marinade for the meat; or from heating slices of oranges or orange zest in the pan near the end of cooking. The resulting orange beef can be paired with vegetables such as broccoli, snow peas and carrots, served over rice, and garnished with cilantro and orange peel.

Orange peel is often used to flavor orange beef.
Orange peel is often used to flavor orange beef.

There is no one single recipe for orange beef, and the level of orange flavor in the final dish can easily be adjusted by the chef. Some recipes use orange juice in a marinade for the beef along with soy sauce, garlic, rice wine vinegar and sesame oil. Many recipes instead make a sauce from different orange products. One popular choice is an orange marmalade that adds sweetness and makes a thick sauce that coats the ingredients. Whichever method is used, one common ingredient that is either cooked in the pan with the beef or used as garnish at the end is thin strips or shreds of orange zest, which release essential oils when heated.

Orange slices can be heated in a pan to create the sauce for orange beef.
Orange slices can be heated in a pan to create the sauce for orange beef.

The beef in orange beef can be any cut that does not need a long cooking time; sirloin and skirt steak are popular choices. It usually is cut into thin strips before being used. To create a crispy orange beef, the meat is dried, coated in cornstarch and refrigerated for some time before cooking. Alternately, the beef can be marinated in orange juice or orange marmalade for anywhere from 30 minutes to overnight, although the acidity of the orange juice might start to affect the meat if left to soak too long, resulting in an undesirable texture when cooked.

To assemble orange beef, the meat usually is stir-fried by itself in some oil until it cooked. It then is removed from the pan and liquids such as soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and sesame oil are added to the pan. Ginger and garlic are added along with any hot chili peppers or pepper flakes being used to add contrasting heat to the dish. Any orange-flavored ingredients, such as marmalade or orange juice, also are added and reduced until thick. At this point, the beef and any other cooked vegetables are added back to the pan and cooked for a minute so the sauce coats everything and all of the ingredients are heated through.

Orange beef can be served directly over white rice. Alternately, it can be served on a bed of leafy greens. Garnish options include orange zest, scallions, cilantro and whole sections of an orange.

High-quality beef is not necessary for orange beef.
High-quality beef is not necessary for orange beef.

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Discussion Comments


@Cageybird- When I first saw orange beef and orange chicken on a menu, I didn't know what to expect. I thought it might be an odd fruit and meat combination, like pork and apples. It was surprisingly good.


Whenever I see it on a Chinese take-out menu, I always order the orange beef. It's a flavor combination that I won't find in any other kind of ethnic cuisine in town. I really like the sweetness of the orange juice balanced with the bitterness of the orange zest and peel. The savory qualities of the steak and stir-fried vegetables work well, too.

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