Bistek, the Filipino version of Spanish steak and onions, won’t ask you how you like your steak: it’s always served well-done. If you’re lucky, you’ll get pliant, seared beef steak in a moat of crisp onion rings and soy-calamansi sauce. But nine times out of ten, the sirloin ends up more rubbery than a car tire, turning dinner into a dental hazard.
Why is my bistek dry and tough?
Like tapa and salpicao, bistek favors sirloin for its price point and beefy flavor. But all that flavor comes from lean muscle, making it a tough cut to cook with.
Sure, thinly slicing the sirloin helps soften the beef. So does hammering it down with a meat tenderizer. Both methods break down the sirloin’s muscle fibers, making it easier to chew on. But because sirloin lacks fat to keep it moist, it can still dry out and turn tough with too much heat.
Velveting = soft, tender sirloin
Velveting, the Chinese technique we use in our beef and broccoli, tenderizes tough cuts for fast-cooking dishes—perfect for pan-seared bistek. And all you need to do is add cornstarch and baking soda to your marinade. Here’s how it works:
- Baking soda alkalizes the marinade, weakening the protein bonds in your sirloin.
- Cornstarch acts like a weatherproof jacket against overcooking, trapping the moisture in your beef while insulating it from too much external heat.
Once you start velveting your sirloin, you'll taste the results immediately: supple, tender bites of steak that offer little to no resistance.
For crisp onions, cook them last
Crisp, thick onion rings provide a satisfying contrast to the tender beef. When you add them last, you get more control over their final texture. Steam your onions for 1–2 minutes until slightly softened but firm enough to hold their shape. If you like them on the squishy and soft side, cook them a bit longer.
- 250–300g beef sirloin
- ½–1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp canola oil
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- ½ tbsp calamansi juice
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ⅓–½ cup water
- ¼ cup calamansi juice
- 3–4 tbsp soy sauce
- ¾ tbsp grated garlic
- pinch of cracked black pepper
- 3–4 tbsp oil
- 2 small white onions, sliced into rings
Prepare sirloin: Clean sirloin and remove silverskin (the thin, silvery membrane). Slice meat against the grain into thin strips. Working one piece at a time, pound each slice with a meat tenderizer until almost translucent.
Marinate sirloin: Combine soy sauce, canola oil, cornstarch, calamansi juice, and baking soda in a bowl. Add sliced sirloin and let marinate for 35 minutes.
Prepare sauce: While marinating the beef, make the bistek sauce. Add water, calamansi juice, soy sauce, grated garlic, and black pepper in a separate bowl. Mix until well combined, and set aside.
Sear beef: Heat 3–4 tablespoons oil in a pan over high heat. Once oil is hot, add marinated beef and sear until well-browned on both sides and a slight crust forms. Remove seared beef from pan and set aside.
Cook sauce: Add sauce to the pan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low to maintain a steady simmer, and let the sauce reduce for a few minutes to cook the garlic. Toss beef back into the sauce and cook briefly, 1–2 minutes.
Cook onions and serve: Add onion rings, cover the pan, and cook until slightly tender but still crisp, 1–2 minutes. Uncover and transfer bistek to a serving plate, spooning extra sauce over the beef and onions. Serve with hot rice.