Pepper steak can easily get tough, especially when you use cuts like shank or chuck. These cuts come from the legs and shoulders of the cow, so the muscles are used a bit more than the sirloin and flank, for example. The more a muscle is used, the tougher the meat tends to be. But using certain preparation methods can make these cuts tenderer in almost any pepper steak recipe.
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Marinating the steak before preparing it can often keep the meat from getting tough. For a marinade to tenderize meat, it must contain an acid. Acids help break down long proteins that toughen as you heat the meat. Because most pepper steak recipes call for tomatoes, you already have an acid built right into the recipe. Marinate the steak with a can or two of diced tomatoes for 6 to 12 hours before making the dish.
Cut Against the Grain
Cutting the steak against the grain also helps keep it from getting tough. Even the toughest piece of meat becomes much tenderer when sliced against the grain. By cutting a steak against its grain, you shorten those long muscle fibers, making it much easier to chew. Before ever slicing into the steak, note its grain and make your cuts perpendicular with it.
After marinating and properly cutting the steak, braising can further help keep the meat from getting too tough. To braise the steak, sear the strips in hot oil to seal in their juices. Transfer the meat into a Dutch oven and simmer in a warm oven at 325 F for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, checking every 30 minutes and adding liquid as necessary. Depending on your recipe, the liquid could be a mixture of water, beef stock and tomato juice or water, crushed tomatoes, soy sauce and Worcestershire.
If you don't have time to braise the steak, slow cooking is always an option. With this method, you still need to sear the strips of steak in hot oil to seal in their juices. But instead of transferring to a Dutch oven, put the meat — as well as the peppers, tomatoes, seasonings and liquids — in a slow cooker. Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours.