Heirloom Recipes

This Saucy, Speedy Beef & Broccoli Stir-Fry Will Ruin You For All Others

My mother is one of those amazing, self-taught cooks who never uses any recipes or measurements, which is wonderful if you’re eating her food, but frustrating if you’re trying to learn how to cook like her.

One year, I decided to try to document some my favorite recipes of hers. I shadowed her when I was home during Thanksgiving and Christmas, continually asking how many cups of this and how many teaspoons of that she was using. She was happy to teach me, but I could sense that she was a little confused, and even slightly annoyed, at how persistent I was in making sure I recorded every little measurement correctly. What she didn’t know was that I was going to make all these dishes at home and photograph them to create a cookbook to give her.

The week before her birthday, I called her to tell her to expect something in the mail, since the book was being delivered without a card or message. Since my mom hates surprises, she demanded to know what it was, and I finally relented, telling her she could guess.

First, she figured out that it was a book, and then that it was a cookbook, which only made her even more annoyed—she was offended that I thought she’d need a cookbook. Well, the joke was on her. When she finally received the book in the mail, she called me up and was crying so hard I was actually scared that something awful had happened. Eventually she stopped crying long enough to tell me she loved the book and to thank me for it.

Eventually she stopped crying long enough to tell me she loved the book and to thank me for it.

This beef and broccoli recipe is one of my favorite recipes from that book because it uses quite a few of my mom’s Taiwanese cooking techniques. To keep the beef tender and not chewy, it's important to slice the strips against the grain (and another tip from my mom: Stick the steak in the freezer for 15 to 30 minutes to make it easier to cut thin slices). By adding cornstarch and rice wine in the marinade, you'll further improve the texture of the beef. And since the broccoli takes a lot longer to cook than the beef, it is cooked separately while the beef is marinating, then added back in at the end. You'll want to use a large pan with a lid so that you can steam the broccoli after a quick stir-fry.

The best part about this recipe is the beef marinade, which thickens into a flavorful sauce once it's stir-fried with the meat. It's already quite fragrant due to the soy sauce, garlic, and sesame oil, but my mom adds a secret ingredient that really brings it over the top: cinnamon! It's such a tiny amount that you can't really identify it on its own, but the aromatic spice somehow boosts all the other flavors in the sauce in a way you wouldn't expect.

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I always make my friends try to guess what it is when I make this for them for the first time, but so far no one has been able to guess—even after multiple hints. Try and see if your friends can figure it out!

What's the best recipe or cooking technique you learned from your mom (or mother figure)? Tell us in the comments below.

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Christine H. June 11, 2018
Wow I am so glad I stumbled on your blog! I've been living in Taiwan for the last 10 years and am leaving soon for new adventures. I've been frantically trying to enjoy as much food as I can, but I'm desperately trying to collect recipes so I can cook them at home. I love the vegetable side dishes and have been trying to perfect a liang mian recipe using peanut butter instead of sesame paste, but the food is surprisingly complex. Thanks for posting this!
Averill D. July 22, 2020
Surprisingly complex??
Merry July 7, 2017
I love beef and broccoli and as a Greek, I'm all for adding a pinch of cinnamon to meat! What rice wine do you use? Is it the Shao Hsing Rice Cooking Wine with the red label or more like Japanese Sake?
Joy H. July 7, 2017
I use the kind that is more like sake (clear).
Michelle E. July 6, 2017
Is this book available to purchase?
Joy H. July 6, 2017
Alas, I only made enough copies for my mom, my sister-in-law, and myself. But you'll find the majority of the recipes on my blog!
JCCraves July 6, 2017
I want to make this with portobello mushrooms! Great story, too.
Joy H. July 6, 2017
Matilda L. July 6, 2017
Making your Chinese mother cry with happiness is no small feat! Congratulations! Can hardly wait to try this version of beef + broccoli.
Joy H. July 6, 2017
Thank you!