Stir frying for good: Black Pepper Beef with Kampot pepper from the Pepper Project

by Terry B on April 17, 2013

Black Pepper Beef is a weeknight-quick classic Chinese stir fry. Onion, fresh ginger, red bell pepper, celery, garlic and lots of black pepper offer plenty of flavor. And the Pepper Project helps Cambodian pepper farmers and communities. Recipe below.


One simple ingredient can often make all the difference when you’re cooking. And now that’s more true than ever. The ingredient in this case is black pepper—freshly ground, of course,  instead of pre-ground and packed in a tin. Freshly ground peppercorns pop with flavor and fragrance, becoming a true flavor, not just background noise, and you can control the grind, from fine to coarsely cracked.

And in Cambodia, the Pepper Project is making a difference, with pepper. Run by the husband and wife team Tom Gordon and Cris Peterson, the Pepper Project is a not-for-profit enterprise devoted to introducing products of Cambodia to the United States. Through the sales of these products, primarily pepper, they support fair trade for farmers as well as organizations that protect street children, disabled children and victims of sex trafficking.

The Pepper Project imports organic peppercorns from areas in Cambodia that are approved with the UN Geographic Indicator designation. They purchase only from farmers who pay fair labor wages, and and donate 100% of their profits to Cambodian charities and projects. You can find out more about the Pepper Project and the work it does—and purchase Kampot pepper—at its website.


Pepper from the Kampot region of southwestern Cambodia has long been prized for its delicate, bright, fruity aroma and flavor by European chefs and restaurateurs. Pepper Project’s goal is to make it readily available throughout the U.S. It’s already getting some attention. Anthony Bourdain says, “It’s got a floral dimension that’s really something special.” And at Le Bernardin in New York, executive pastry chef Michael Laiskonis has used it to flavor everything from ice cream to goat-cheese mousse. It also packs a subtle bit of heat that sneaks up on you.

The sample we received from the Pepper Project showed us what all the fuss was about. We’ve long been proponents of freshly ground pepper, but this was something more. I ground some of our go-to peppercorns into one ramekin and Kampot peppercorns into another. The fragrance alone told the story—the Kampot peppercorns were markedly more fragrant, brighter, bolder. We couldn’t wait to cook with them.

My first choice to test drive Kampot pepper would have been Spaghetti with Pecorino Romano and Pepper, a four-ingredient dish in which pepper is the star. Unfortunately, I’d already written about it here. My next thought was Black Pepper Beef, a classic Chinese stir fry. It’s a weeknight quick Cantonese dish from the Guangdong province. Besides beef and black pepper, it features bell pepper, ginger, onion, garlic and, in my version, celery. The marinade/sauce includes soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil and Chinese wine (or sherry).


Black Pepper Beef
Serves 2 as a main course or 4 as part of a multi-course meal

8 ounces flank steak
1-1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1-1/2 tablespoons oyster sauce (available in Asian markets and some supermarkets)
1-1/2 tablespoons Chinese wine or dry sherry
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon corn starch
1-1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, divided

2 tablespoons (or more) canola oil
1/2 large onion, sliced into thin half moons
1 medium red bell pepper, cut into bite-sized chinks
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and sliced thin
1 celery rib, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced

cooked white rice
extra soy sauce, for passing at the table

Slice the flank steak across the grain into 1/3-inch thick slices. Cut the slices into bite-sized pieces. Mix soy sauce, oyster sauce, Chinese wine, sesame oil, sugar, corn starch and 1 teaspoon of pepper in a large bowl. Add beef and toss to coat. Set aside and marinate for at least 15 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer beef to another bowl, reserving excess marinade.

Heat canola oil in a wok or large nonstick skillet over medium-high flame. Add beef to skillet and stir fry for about 2 minutes, tossing frequently. Transfer back to bowl with slotted spoon.

Add onion, bell pepper, ginger, celery and garlic to pan. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 1-1/2 minutes. Return beef to pan along with reserved marinade and cook about 1 minute longer. Transfer to serving dish and top with remaining ground pepper. Serve with rice. Pass soy sauce at table. Also, be sure to tell diners to avoid the ginger slices. Seriously.


{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

kitchenriffs April 17, 2013 at 3:13 pm

The Pepper Project sounds like good stuff. And this dish certainly qualifies as good stuff too! I’ve been hankering for a stir fry lately but haven’t gotten around to making one — I think you’ve pushed me over the edge! For some reason I rarely use beef in stir fry (pork and chicken, usually) but it works so well. This has terrific flavor! My favorite recipe to showcase black pepper is an Indian potato dish. Just take cubes of cooked, diced potatoes, heat in hot oil in a frying pan, season with salt, and add loads of black pepper – enough to lightly coat the sides of the potato cubes. You can serve as a side dish, or stick toothpicks in the potato cubes and serve as an appetizer. Anyway, good post — thanks.

Karen April 17, 2013 at 5:06 pm

I’ve tried to go to their website and order pepper and it’s not working.

Terry B April 17, 2013 at 5:20 pm

Thanks, Kitchenriffs. And thanks for the great potato idea. We’re totally going to have to steal, um, borrow that.

Karen, I just went to their site and the online store seems to be functioning. I didn’t go all the way to making a purchase, though—how far did you get in the process before it didn’t work?

Valentina April 18, 2013 at 5:49 am

I didn’t even get to writing this comment before I jumped on The Pepper Project site and ordered my black Kampot pepper. So happy to learn about this. And your stir fry looks divine!

Bruce P April 18, 2013 at 1:35 pm

Why do you (seriously) recommend that diners avoid eating the ginger slices?

Terry B April 18, 2013 at 3:48 pm

Valentina, I admire your enthusiasm. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it!

Bruce, ginger is a wonderful flavoring device, but it is potent. One could use maybe half the ginger in the recipe and mince it and then it would be okay to eat. I went with the sliced version because it is more traditional for this classic Chinese dish.

Thanks for your question—it gives me the opportunity to share an amusing family story. We were in a Chinese restaurant with our daughter Laurel, then about ten, and a friend of hers. Laurel was already a Chinese food veteran, eating with chopsticks and everything. She picked up a flat, pale rectangle from her plate and asked if we thought it was bamboo shoot. We did. She popped it in her mouth and her eyes went wide. “Omigod, it’s ginger,” she said. “Arrrrgh, ginger! This ginger is the worst thing ever…!” As she continued her distressed rant, I quoted a Kliban cartoon about what we say to our dogs and what they hear. A person is scolding his dog: “Okay, Ginger! I’ve had it! You stay out of the garbage! Understand, Ginger?…” What the dog hears is: “Blah blah GINGER blah blah blah GINGER…”

So I said, “Blah blah blah GINGER.” Despite her culinary agony, Laurel stopped her complaint to explain the back story of my comment to her friend. Crisis averted.

Bruce P April 18, 2013 at 4:05 pm

Thanks for the chuckle, Terry. Good story.

altadenahiker April 20, 2013 at 7:02 pm

I remember that cartoon. And what a cat hears is, “Blah blah blah blah.”

Terry B April 20, 2013 at 9:50 pm

Exactly, Altadenahiker. And there’s more than a grain of truth to that.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: