A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from April 25, 2008
Chinese Pepper Steak

"Pepper steak” (sometimes called “Chinese pepper steak” to distinguish it from other steak-and-pepper dishes) is a Canton-style dish that has been popular in New York City’s Chinatown restaurants since at least 1903. Thin strips of steak are paired with green peppers, and also onions, celery, and tomatoes. The dish is seasoned with soy sauce, thickened with cornstarch.

Pepper steak became popular in American Chinese restaurants by the 1940s and 1950s, but has faded in popularity since that time.


Wikipedia: Pepper steak
Pepper steak (Chinese: 青椒牛 or 青椒牛肉, pinyin: qīngjiāo niúròu; Japanese: 青椒肉絲, chinjao ro su; also called green pepper steak) is a stir-fried Chinese American dish consisting of sliced beef steak (often flank, sirloin, or round) cooked with sliced green and/or red bell peppers and other seasonings such as soy sauce and ginger, and usually thickened with cornstarch. Sliced onions and bean sprouts are also frequent additions to the recipe.

Evidence for the dish’s existence in the United States dates from at least 1948.

(Oxford English Dictionary)
pepper steak n. a beef steak rubbed or pounded with black pepper before cooking.
1939 L. H. CHU Chinese Restaurants in N.Y. City 48v (caption) *Pepper Steak.
1989 Texas Monthly Oct. 24/3 Old standbys like lemon chicken and pepper steak are best sampled on the combination plates.

22 March 1903, The World (New York, NY), metropolitan section, pg. 4:
Three O’Clock in the Morning at a Chinese Restaurant Uptown.
(...) (Col. 4—ed.)
The bill of fare is not very extensive. Its items are:
Cents
Chop suey.............................................25
Chop suey, with mushrooms...................35
Chicken chop suey.................................50
Yei go main............................................20
Chaw main.............................................75
Pepper steak.........................................25
(...) (Col.5—ed.)
Chaw main, which costs 75 cents, is chicken chop suey, served on a bed of crisp vermicella that has been first steamed and then fried—all in the iron bowl.

If Saratoga chips could be fixed in strings it would be just about the same as the chaw main foundation. Yet go main is simply noodle soup with a hard boiled egg in it.

All these stews are enriched with stock from the pot of simmering chickens.

Pepper steak is simply chopped beefsteak cooked with chopped-up green peppers, a little onion and celery. It’s darn good.

17 May 1903, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “Chop Suey Fad Spreading,” pg. 32:
Chinese Restaurants Open in New
York’s Most Fashionable Sec-
tions to Meet Taste.

(...)
Pepper steak is chopped beefsteak cooked with cut-up green peppers, onion and celery. The whole secret of the Chinese dishes is the sauce, which can be bought cheaply from the Chinese vendors.

Feeding America
Chinese-Japanese Cook Book
By Sara Bosse And Onoto Watanna [pseud.]
Chicago,IL: Rand McNally
1914
Pg. 37:
PEPPER STEAK
One and one half pounds of beef; two tablespoonfuls of beef suet; three tablespoonfuls of syou; six green peppers; one onion.

Take the upper cut of the round of beef and cut into strips about two inches long. Fry in the beef suet for about four minutes, then add one onion, cut fine. Have the green peppers washed and the seeds removed, and cut in small pieces. Turn in with the beef, and add three tablespoonfuls of syou and some salt. Cover tight, and let simmer for ten minutes.

22 February 1929, Southtown Economist (Chicago, IL), pg. 11, col. 6 ad:
The Peony
Chinese and American Restaurant

(...)
CHINESE DINNER
(...)
PEPPER STEAK WITH TOMATO, CANTON STYLE, RICE

27 June 1929, Ogden (UT) Standard-Examiner, “New York Day By Day” by O. O. McIntyre, pg. 12, col. 4:
The Far East is represented by Skiaki, the Bamboo Forest, the Ceylon, India Inn and a dozen other fiery dishes—including the red hot Singhalese pepper steak. All are prepared on glowing charcoals before your eyes.

28 March 1932, Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, WI), “Chinese Dish Adds Variety to Luncheon” by Helen Cretney, pg. 6, col. 3:
Pepper Steak
One pound of tender, round steak, sliced one half inch thick, three green peppers, one an one half cups of meat stock, one tablespoon of flour, three fourths teaspoon of salt, three tablespoons of butter and cooked rice.

Cube the steak. With the peppers, remove the seeds and cores, and dice. Brown the meat and peppers in a frying pan in which the butter has been melted and cook for about seven minutes. Stir in the flour and seasonings and gradually the meat stock (water may be substituted). Boil for three minutes and serve on top of rice.

3 July 1934, Oshkosh (WI) Daily Northwestern, “My New York” by James Aswell,” pg. 7, col. 7:
TOWARDS CHINATOWN.
(...)
Munching pepper steak in a walk-down Chinese restaurant on Pell Street, I began to wonder over a matter that had never struck me before.None of the genuine Chinese restaurants of the type patronized by Chinamen sell liquor.

8 October 1934, Fitchburg (MA) Sentinel, pg. 8, col. 6 ad:
PEPPER STEAK
Original Chinese Style
29c pt.
(Brockelman Bros.—ed.)

28 June 1935, Fitchburg (MA) Sentinel, pg. 9, col. 3 ad:
Pepper Steak—Chinese style,
pint...25c
(Brockelman’s Food—ed.)

Google Books
Chinatown Inside Out
by Gor Yun Leong
New York, NY: Robert Mussey
1936
Pg. 245:
Pepper steak with tomato (Fan-kia-lod-jew-...)

America Guide Series
U. S. One
Maine to Florida

Compiled and written by the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration
Sponsored by the U.S. No. 1 Highway Asssociation
New York, NY: Modern Age Books
1938
Pg. XIX:
NEW HAMPSHIRE:
BLANC MANGE
Pg. XX:
LOBSTER ROLL
PEPPER STEAK SANDWICHES
FRIED CLAMS
FISH AND CLAM CHOWDER

The Chinese Restaurants in New York City
by Louis H. Chu
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts at New York University
February 1939
MENU BEFORE PAGE 48 (Figure 16)
Chicken Chow Mein…
Pepper Steak…
Pork Chop Suey…
Roast Pork Fried Rice…
Fried Egg Rolls…
Subgum Chop Suey With Water Chestnut…

19 August 1947, Council Bluffs (Iowa) Nonpareil, “What’s Cooking Today?” by Charlotte Adams, pg. 3, col. 2:
Chinese Pepper Steak
1 pound beef steak (chuck round or flank)
Flour
Salt
Freshly ground pepper
2 green peppers
2 large onions
4 tablespoons butter or margarine
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon tumeric
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
Juice of half a lemon
1 cup boiling water

Cut meat into strips. Salt, pepper and dredge in flour. Brown in butter or margarine. Add peppers and onions cut in strips. Combine rest of ingredients in saucepan and simmer together for five minutes. Pour over meat and continue cooking until tender.

17 August 1948, Waukesha (WI) Daily Freeman, “A Chinese Sub-Gum Dinner,” pg. 4, col. 3:
Pepper Steak
Wash and remove the seeds and cores from 6 good-sized sweet green peppers. Cut peppers into large bite-sized pieces, and boil 4 min.in water to cover, then drain. Meantime cut 3/4 lb. flank or skirt steak into very small, thin strips. Next in a skillet measure 2 tbsp. vegetable oil. Saute the steak and peppers in this for 2 min. Then add 1 tbsp. sugar, 1 1/4 c. soup stock or water and 1/3 tsp. pepper. Cover and simmer about 10 min. Thicken with 1/2 tbsp. cornstarch blended with a little cold water. Cook and stir 2 min.; season with a little soy sauce.

2 March 1950, New York (NY) Times, “Thrifty Dinner Centered Around a Favorite Chinese Dish,” pg. 41:
CHINESE PEPPER STEAK WITH RICE
2 tablespoons lard or drippings
1 pound beef chuck cut into thin strips
2 tablespoons minced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
2 large green peppers, cut into strips
1/2 cup celery, sliced crosswise
2 tablespoons chopped pimento, if desired
1/2 cup consomme—or stock
Salt and pepper
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon soy sauce
3 cups boiled rice.

1. Melt lard or drippings. Add beef and brown slowly over low flame.
2. Add onion, garlic, peppers, celery and pimento. Add consomme or stock. Season with salt and pepper.
3. Cover and simmer twenty minutes. Thicken with cornstarch blended with water and soy sauce. Simmer five minutes. Serve hot with freshly boiled rice. Yield: four servings.

9 August 1951, Newark (OH) Advocate, pg. 23, col. 2:
Chinese Pepper Steak with Rice.
1 pound beef chuck cut into thin strips, 2 tablespoons lard or drippings, 2 tablespoons minced onion, 1 clove garlic, minced, 1 large green peppers, cut into strips, 1/2 cup celery, sliced crosswise, 2 tablespoons chopped pimiento, if desired, 1/2 cup consomme or stock; salt, pepper, 2 teaspoons cornstarch, 1 teaspoon soy sauce, 3 cups cooked rice.

Melt lard or drippings. Add beef and brown slowly over a low heat. Add the onion, garlic, green peppers, celery and pimiento. Add consomme or stock. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer 20 minutes. Thicken with cornstarch blended with water and soy sauce. Simmer 5 minutes. Serve hot with freshly cooked rice. 4 servings.

22 January 1959, Oakland (CA) , pg. 26, col. 3:
CHINESE PEPPER STEAK
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1 package onion soup mix
4 tablespoons oil
1 lb. green peppers, cut in eighths
1 lb. flank steak, sliced thin crosswise
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoons sherry
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons cold water
Hot cooked rice

Combine water and onion soup mix; let stand until ready to use. Heat two tablespoons oil in skillet and saute green peppers one minute; remove. Add remaining oil and saute garlic one minute; remove. Stir in meat and brown quickly over high heat, turning while browning. Pour onion soup mixture, soy sauce, and sherry over meat; stir in green peppers. Thicken with cornstarch mixed with cold water. Serve over hot cooked rice. Makes four servings.

4 June 1959, Lima (OH) News, pg. 7, cols. 5-6:
Chinese Pepper Steak
1 pound beef chuck, cut into thin strips
2 tablespoons lard or drippings
2 tablespoons minced onion
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup sliced celery
2 large green peppers, cut into strips
2 tablespoons chopped pimiento
1/2 cup consomme or stock
Salt
Pepper
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon soy sauce
3 cups cooked rice

Melt lard or drippings. Add beef and brown slowly. Add onion, garlic, celery, green pepper and pimiento. Add consomme or stock. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer 20 minutes. Thicken with cornstarch blended with water and soy sauce. Simmer 5 minutes. Serve hot with cooked rice. 4 servings.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityFood/Drink • (0) Comments • Friday, April 25, 2008 • Permalink