Japanese Portobello Pepper Steak


I warned Mike that we were going to be eating more vegetarian and vegan entrees, but I think that what Mr. Carnivore heard was, “We’re going to be eating more *BEEEEEEP* meals!” Oh good, he thought, MEALS were his FAVORITE! It didn’t really sink in.

As the portobellos sat on the counter marinating, he wandered into the kitchen sniffing things and lifting up lids. 
Mike: “Mushrooms?”
Tina: “Yup! Tonight for dinner we’re having Japanese Pepper Steak, but with portobellos instead of, well, steak.”
Mike: “Great, I love Pepper Steak! Are you using flank steak?”
Tina: “Uh, no…I’m using portobellos…..”

Cut to a half hour later when the mushrooms have been pepper crusted, seared, and the juices of the marinade are reducing into a glaze.
Mike: “That smells great! I’m so glad you went with steak tonight!”


Pepper Steak is one of our favorite small plates when we go out for Japanese food.  Unlike Cantonese pepper steak, which is thinly sliced beef sautéed with red and green peppers in a teriyaki sauce, Japanese pepper steak is actually seared beef that was crusted with crushed black peppercorns and served in a sweet and savory sauce.  It is tender, beefy, and often hotter than the fires of Hades from the generous crusting of peppercorn on the meat.  Because portobellos are a dense, juicy mushroom, they work well as a texturally equivalent substitute for the steak when you make a vegan variation of this dish.    

Mike looked at me plaintively when I put the plate in front of him.  

Mike:  “So….that’s really just mushroom?  I mean…there’s no meat at all??”
Tina:  “IT’S VEGETARIAN.  Stop complaining or you’ll get pickles for dinner again”
Mike:  “Okay….so no meat then…..”

However, he then proceeded to polish off his plate in five minutes flat before peering greedily at mine.  
Mike:  “That was great pepper steak!  Good job, babe!”
Tina:  “But it wasn’t— I mean, uh, thanks……”

I’ll take that as a win.

Japanese Portobello Pepper Steak

Serves 2 an an entree over rice

  • 4 portobello mushroom caps
  • 1/2 cup mirin
  • 2.5 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1.5 tbsp oyster flavored sauce *
  • 2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 3 large cloves garlic
  • 1 tbsp fresh ginger (about a 3/4″ chunk)
  • 2 tbsp coarsely ground black pepper 
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 2 green onions (optional garnish)
  • dried roasted garlic flakes (optional garnish)

* Oyster sauce is generally made from -you guessed it! – oysters.  Word on the street is that vegetarians aren’t really down with condensed seafood extracts flavoring their meals, but the good news is that vegetarian oyster sauce is just as common, often somewhat cheaper, and made without the juice of sea creatures.  Mushrooms are often used as the main flavor component in vegetarian oyster sauce, and if you buy a quality sauce from a reputable company there’s a minimal difference in taste.  However, the oyster sauce pictured below IS in fact oyster sauce rather than oyster flavored sauce, because neither Mike or myself are vegetarians.  Such is life…but I prefer not to reflect our short comings in the ingredient list, selfish beast that I am.


If there is any stem still attached to your portobello caps, pop it out and discard it or save it to be repurposed in another dish.  Clean the caps with a barely moist paper towel and set them aside.

In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the sesame oil, soy sauce, mirin, rice vinegar, oyster flavored sauce and sugar.  Using a garlic press or microplane, press or grate the cloves of garlic into the mix.  Grate in the ginger as well, and give everything a final whisk.


Pour the marinade into a large shallow dish, and gently turn the mushroom caps around to make sure that they’re well coated.  Let the mushrooms sit in this marinade for 30 min – 1 hour, turning them over occasionally to make sure that the flavors seep in evenly.  


Spread the coarsely ground pepper onto a plate or in a shallow dish.  Shake any excess marinade off a mushroom cap and gently lay it, gill side up, on the pepper.  The marinade is sticky enough that the pepper will adhere.  Only coat the smooth side of your mushroom cap with the pepper.  Repeat with the remaining mushrooms, setting each one aside as it’s done.  Reserve the marinade as we’ll be using it again soon enough.


If you have a large heavy bottomed skillet that can accommodate all 4 mushroom caps, by all means feel free!  If not, heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a frying pan over high heat.  Lay two of the mushrooms, peppered side down, and let them sear for 2-3 minutes or until the bottoms are brown and crusted.  Don’t push the mushrooms around in the pan while they sear as this will compromise the pepper crust.  Let them just sizzle away undisturbed, and don’t worry about the fact that they aren’t cooked through.  When the first two caps are seared, add the remaining tablespoon of oil and repeat the process with the other two caps.  Turn the heat down slightly to medium but keep the skillet hot.


Slice the seared mushrooms into long fat strips, each about 1/2″ thick, and add them back to the reserved marinade.


Pour the whole kit and caboodle of mushroom and marinade back into the hot skillet, along with 2 tbsp of water.  Let this bubble down for about 5 -6 minutes, or until the mushrooms are fully cooked and the marinade has reduced to a thick saucy glaze.

Serve the mushrooms while they’re still hot, garnished with some freshly sliced scallion and dried roasted garlic chips if you feel the yen.  Or should I say the ‘yin’…..


Serve the mushrooms with a side of rice.  To let the mushrooms take center stage, I went for a steamed glutinous (sticky) rice and a side of undressed greens.  I love how the slightly peppery taste of tender baby arugula complements the flavors in the mushrooms.


The pepper certainly spices this dish up in a not-so-subtle way, but the sweet and savory flavors of the marinade won’t get overwhelmed by the heat.  


As a satisfyingly meaty yet meatless entree, this did the trick just swimmingly!  Now then, it’s been a while since I’ve tried to trick Mike into eating tofu……..

  • erica

    Yum! I want to like portabello mushrooms a lot more than I actually do. I think this recipe might be the trick.
    I’d be interested to try this with tofu or a tofu/mushroom combo, to add more protein to the dinner.

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Choosy Beggar Tina

      That’s a great idea Erica! I’m a sucker for marinated tofu. Mike doesn’t share my enthusiasm, but such is life….

  • erica

    Eh. Keep hitting him over the head and/or getting him slightly drunkish before dinner. He’ll come around eventually.

    I guess I had the upper hand, since I told Keith that I would not, under any circumstances, be cooking meat for him when we moved in together. He learned to love tofu pretty quickly thereafeter. And now when I actually *do* cook chicken or seafood or something, it’s cause for celebration, and who doesn’t like to have a celebration just for cooking dinner? 😉

  • Jan

    This looks delicious! As for the tofu, though it’s not vegetarian one of my favourite tofu dishes is the following:

    tofu “puffs” (like so: http://superiortofu.com/chinese/wp-content/uploads/2008/03/tofu-puff.jpg) stuffed with ground pork and green onion, seasoned with black pepper and soy sauce. You kind of sear the outside meat edge, then steam/stew (not a whole ton of water) the puffs with whatever vegetables you want (you can season the broth you’re steaming/stewing in as you like). Delicious.

  • http://foodhappens.blogspot.com lo

    Now, I’m a gal who loves her steak (esp if it’s grassfed and fresh and wonderful). But, I’ll take that porta-pepper-steak any old day 🙂

    Veg food really needs to be appreciated on its own merit, I think. Portabellas will never BE meat… but taking them in on their own terms is really the only way to start.

    When Peef and I got married, he took part in an agreement. For every food he thought he didn’t like (this included things like asparagus, weird foods like tofu, and a myriad of other items), I got three chances. If I couldn’t win him over with one of the three, I promised he’d never have to eat it again. I’m pleased to say he now eats just about everything… with the possible exception of those “hairy little fish” (anchovies) straight from the jar/tin. In other words, there is definitely hope.

    • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Mike

      I liken Tina’s attempts to convert me to the crash of waves over a rocky shore. Not only is it dramatic and sometimes violent, but we both agree that with time and pressure, eventually I will wear down.

      But I’m allowed to resist in the meantime, as long as I can come up with poetic imagery to excuse my stubbornness.

  • Pingback: Japanese Portobello Pepper Steak « fingers and toes()

  • http://www.meathub.com MeatHub Inc.

    Wow… simply wow. This pepper steak looks totally amazing!!! 🙂