Tomato Beef – Old School Chinese-American Food Memories

July 21, 2015

in Cook What You Like, Main Dishes

omato Beef Chow Mein v2I admit it, I miss old school Chinese-American restaurant food.  And some of you probably do, too.   Fried rice, chow mein, sweet and sour.  And Tomato Beef is part of that long-standing culture – over rice, tossed with pan-fried noodles, with or without curry.

Nowadays, egg flower soup seems wimpy next to Hot and Sour Soup.  What happened to ginger beef?  Did sweet and sour pork get kicked off some menus by General Tso’s chicken – who is that guy anyway?

When a couple of  ripe, red tomatoes and a shiny green bell pepper found their way into Gin’s Kitchen, freshly plucked from the garden – our hands and sleeves still covered with the tomato plant aroma – it was an easy decision to make Tomato Beef.

Serve it over rice.  Turn it into a chow mein. Tomato Beef is a lively dish with savory flavors, juicy acid and a touch of sweetness.  Give it a spicy kick with curry powder (photo above is with curry).  The sound and smells of bell peppers, yellow onions, and celery dancing in a hot sauté pan joined by sizzling sweet tomatoes is simply summer (ok, maybe it’s summer a la Chinese-American restaurant).  What a delicious way to treat those tomatoes!

As with most stir-fry dishes, once the heat is on, the ingredients cook fast so mise en place makes all go smooth.  Slice the beef and marinate.  Cut the vegetables.  Mix the sauce ingredients.  When the table’s set and the rice or noodles are ready, sauté the vegetables, remove from the pan, sear beef, add sauce, add back vegetables, mix well – that’s it!

Recipe: Tomato Beef

Before you start the tomato beef, have ready cooked steamed rice or pan-fried noodles.  Half a pound of dry spaghetti and this dish makes 2-3 servings.


Beef and Marinade

  • 1/2 lb. tender beef (flank steak, filet)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 coins fresh ginger
  • 1/2 Tablespoon soy sauce, light or regular
  • 1/2 Tablespoon Chinese cooking wine or dry pale sherry
  • 1/2 Tablespoon corn starch
  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
  • pinch ground black pepper
  • pinch salt

Cut Vegetables

  • 1 small bell pepper
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion
  • 1 small stalk celery
  • 2-3 medium tomatoes
  • 1 scallion


  • 1-2 Tablespoons ketchup
  • 1/2 Tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1/2 Tablespoon corn starch
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder (optional)
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth, tomato juice from tomatoes or water
  • 2-3 Tablespoons vegetable oil


  1. Cut beef and marinate: slice beef across the grain into 1/4″ thick slices.  Place into a small bowl and mix well with marinade ingredients.  Set aside.
  2. Chop vegetables:  cut bell pepper, yellow onion, and celery into bite-size pieces.  Separate the layers of the onion pieces.  Cut tomatoes into larger pieces, about 1 1/2″. Capture juices from tomatoes if any and add to sauce.  Slice scallion into 1 1/4″ pieces lengthwise. Set all aside.
  3. Make sauce:  combine sauce ingredients in a small bowl.  Set aside.
  4. Stir-fry:  in large sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon oil over high heat until shimmering.  Add cut bell pepper, yellow onion and celery and sauté for about 1 minute. Carefully add cut tomatoes (will splatter and sizzle) and sauté for about 30 seconds.  Remove cooked vegetables to a dish.
  5. Wipe out sauté pan, add 1-2 tablespoons oil to coat bottom of pan, heat to shimmering over high heat.  Pour beef with marinade into sauté pan and spread beef out into a single layer.  Sauté beef until the underside is seared, about 20-30 seconds.  Stir beef to flip over slices, throw in sliced scallion and cook shortly until beef is 75% done, about 10-15 seconds. Stir in sauce ingredients; it will quickly start to thicken.  Return vegetables to pan, mix well, adjust taste by adding more sugar, more soy sauce, or curry powder.  If making Tomato Beef Chow Mein, scatter pan-fried noodles over all and toss well.  If serving as Tomato Beef over Rice, plate up.

Serves 2-3 with rice or noodles.


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