Pan Seared Steak with Sweet and Sour Tomato Onion Sauce

Pan Seared Steak with Sweet and Sour Tomato Onion Sauce

Last week was my good friend’s birthday and like me, she popped out kids back to back, 16 months apart, which meant we both had the same momentary lapse of judgment. Date nights are rare events, not because we’re lame, married, boring people, but that trustworthy sitters are really hard to come by. The good ones, i.e. kids with no arrest record, know that they’re in high demand, thus can play the game of extortion and can charge as much as a car payment and require a 20% tip.

Even a bigger deal is when we want to double-date with my friend and her husband. The planning started 2 weeks ago, going back and forth on a suitable date, scoring a sitter each, keeping our children quarantined in a bubble so that they wouldn’t catch any dreadful diseases, and of course collecting every bit of loose change into a jar just so we could afford a good night out without having to turn dish-washing tricks in a restaurant kitchen to pay for our meal.

We chose a fancy steakhouse in Sarasota, because when you go through that much of an ordeal to prepare for the big night, you really want to make sure that odds are you’ll eat better than at Steak β€˜n Shake.

I ordered the surf and turf hold-the-bernaise-hold-the-bacon 6 ounce fresh lobster with 2 superb, prime grade, filet mignons. Drumroll…please….the filets arrived flaccid, with a lowercase f.

The waiter even bragged about their 1,600 degree broiler that could sear an entire herd of buffalos in 4.6 seconds. Sadly, that signature steakhouse charred crust did not come with my turf. But the filet was buttah tender, cooked spot-on medium rare, so I would have felt silly sending it back. Plus, having the chef put the crusty sear on the filets would have cooked them too done for my tastes.

Unfortunately, the service was even worse, having lost our waiter for 25 minutes between courses. He was probably couldn’t resist but grab the busboy and go out on a joyride in our smoky blue, sexy Hyundai minivan.

Let’s look at this from an economic standpoint. Just for our portion, $200 for dinner + $5 parking + $5 gas + $50 babysitter = $260. And, if you remember high school econ, it’s only fair that I calculate opportunity cost too. For $260, I could have gotten new floor mats and a Disney antenna danglebobber for my minivan.


Pan Seared Steak with Sweet and Sour Tomato Sauc

I would love to have a stovetop hot enough to produce that expensive steakhouse quality sear on my steaks. With just a home stovetop and prime going for $24 a pound (eeek!), I’m perfectly happy with the choice grade on sale at the supermarket. With a lush sweet and sour tomato onion sauce topping, eating at home tonight felt even better for the pocketbook and my stomach.

Pan Seared Steak with Sweet and Sour Tomato Onion Sauce is an oldie favorite that I’ve had many times in western style Hong Kong cafes in the U.S. The steak usually comes on a sizzling platter with a sweet and tangy tomato and onion sauce.

Pan Seared Steak with Sweet and Sour Tomato and Onion Sauce

2 tablespoons cooking oil (peanut, canola or vegetable)
Four 1 1/4 inch thick steaks, cut your choice, at room temperature
salt and pepper to season steaks
1 whole onion, sliced
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 whole tomatoes, cut into 8 wedges each

Sauce (whisk in small bowl)
1 tablespoons ketchup
1 1/2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar (or white vinegar)
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon soy sauce

Heat a large skillet over high heat until a bead of water sizzles upon contact and immediately evaporates. You want that pan super hot to get the best sear on the steaks as possible. Add just 1 tablespoon of cooking oil to the pan and let the oil heat up.

While the pan is heating, brush the remaining 1 tablespoon of cooking oil on each side of the steaks. Season with salt and pepper and carefully lay them in the hot pan, not touching. Cook for 3-4 minutes per side or until you reach your desired level of doneness. Instant read thermometer should read 120F at the center of the steak for medium-rare.

Remove steaks to a plate and tent loosely with tin foil. Return the skillet to medium heat. You should still have some oil left in the pan. Add the garlic and onions to the pan and cook for 2 minutes. Push the garlic/onions to one side of the pan and add the tomato wedges. Cook the tomatoes 1 minute.

Add the sauce mixture and simmer until slightly thickened and the tomatoes and onions are nicely coated with the sauce.

Now you’ll have to taste and adjust – how sweet and how sour is a personal preference, plus your tomato may be juicy sweet or a bit acidic. (Make sure you taste a bit of the tomato too)

  • Too puckery acidic? Add 1/2 teaspoon of sugar
  • Not sour enough? Add 1/4 teaspoon of rice vinegar
  • Need a little more salt? Add 1/4 teaspoon of soy sauce
  • Sweet and Sour too strong? Add 1 tablespoon water

Pour the sweet and sour tomato onion sauce on top of steaks.

Yields 4 servings


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Comments 35

  1. Lynn

    I find it’s much easier to get out with the hub for a date if you have teenagers before you have babies. This can be logistically challenging for some, but it’s great to be able to leave the kids with someone who won’t turn out to be a drug-addicted axe murderer who invites friends over for an orgy and fixes boxed mac and cheese for your kids to eat.

  2. Mike

    That is a beautiful looking steak (and I really like the sauce) and I’m glad the birthday went well! Too bad on the less than ideal surf and turf though. Speaking of fancy schmany steak houses, one that I like that I think is in your neck of the woods: Burns (in the Tampa area). They’re a bit much with their overly large menu and the dinner restaurant being separate from the dessert restaurant, but the one time I ate there, it was really something. Its another bargain of a dinner, of course πŸ˜‰

  3. Judy in SATX

    Oooh, what a great looking recipe. I’ll definitely try it this week! Sorry your steakhouse experience fell flat – date nights are expensive aren’t they? I’ve been to Burns as well – wonderful Chateaubriand, and the dessert restaurant is fun. The place is decorated like an Old West bordello though!

  4. Carmen

    I make the same dish with pork chops or chicken thighs all the time – simple and quick!

    We don’t have kids yet, so we save on the babysitting costs – but going out to eat is expensive. We only do it once or twice a month these days. Hope you still had fun hanging out with friends though! πŸ™‚

  5. wonders

    I remember my first shake from steak n shake a couple of years ago in Tampa. It was the best shake ever! But I went back a few weeks ago while we were down in t-town again, and it didnt seem as good. Maybe it’s the first time effects lols

    Your steak looks delicious!! It reminds me of a chinese dish. I dont know what it’s called but it was tomato based, made into a thick soupy dish with sliced beef and fried eggs were added at the end. I would pour it over my rice and devour it!

  6. finsbigfan

    Trying the sweet & sour sauce tonight! Datenights rock and when the kids are older you don’t have to leave the house—they go out.

  7. Sowjanya Yinti

    Ok since I see you used tomatoes I have to ask you something. I have heard from my ex-office manager few years ago that chinese don’t use tomatoes in their cooking. Is that really true?

  8. Cakebrain

    Geez, that’s an expensive date! I hope whoever paid got “lucky” later!
    That steak looks so good! I love beef and tomatoes (my favourite home-cooking type dish) and this kind of kicks it up a few notches! I’m making this ’cause it looks so yummy! You wouldn’t happen to have a “Baked Pork Chop on (fried)Rice” recipe kicking around anywhere, hm? I always order that at the HK Cafes…and am on a sort of quest for the best one. I suspect Campbell’s condensed tomato soup is in there somewhere.

  9. RecipeGirl

    You’re too funny. Oh, but I can COMPLETELY relate. There is nothing worse than paying a boatload for a babysitter and then having to pay up the ying yang for dinner that you could probably make better at home (for a bunch less). I’ve gotten so sick of the babysitters (who are like 15) charging $10-12/hour for their ‘services,’ which include laying on the couch watching TV and texting their friends. We actually called a babysitter once (age 13) and left a message to see if she would babysit. She inquired about the rate- we told her- and then she actually COUNTER-OFFERED. We declined her counter offer and she then had the gall to decline the job. Mind you… we have one kid who can pretty much entertain himself!! Sorry for the rant. The food looks great πŸ™‚

  10. Hillary

    Jaden, that looks so good! I’ve never had a sweet and sour sauce from tomatoes or onions but it looks pretty darn delicious!

  11. Kaykat

    Mmm … those tomatoes look deeelish! No steak for me, but I can totally see this happening with some marinated tofu or maybe some salmon steaks – yesss, I can do that! πŸ™‚

    Hey, your pear chutney will eventually get there πŸ™‚ – my life has been consumed with taking care of Vodka. I’ll send the stuff your way once he gets better.

  12. keropokman

    I was laughing when I read the term “sister-in-blog”. That’s the newest word I heard this week!

    Oh, the high heat searing sounds so fascinating. But I am one who don’t like to clean the kitchen after. Or have lingering smell. LOL. I should do this outdoor eh? πŸ™‚

  13. alexis

    Holy cow, $260 for dinner? If I lived anywhere nearby, I would have come over, cooked you dinner, served it up, babysat and THEN cleaned up for that sort of money. Plus, I’m not a criminal.

    The tomato sauce looks beautiful. I wonder how it would go over deep fried fish?

  14. Jebediah Webb

    Looks awesome! I always use a cast-iron skillet to get that steakhouse seared crust. Just pop it in a 500 degree oven for a bit and once its good and hot put on the stove on high heat. Works like a charm.

  15. sam

    Made the recipe today (with ny sirloin) for a luncheon with friends and it was well received! Thank you for posting it.

  16. jude hunter

    Yes! the sweet and sour sauce on steak was great and husband loved it. We have always had s&s sauce on chicken before… re. the spatter with searing the steak: thoughts were floating through my mind as I made this recipe for dinner that since I was cooking the steak in an iron skillet, why couldn’t I cook this on the gas grill and avoid all that grease spatter in the kitchen? I’ll do that next time and see what happens. I know, I’ll keep a spritzer bottle of water handy : )

    Thanks for the recipe, jude

  17. Monica

    Thank you! Great Recipe. I made it last night and it came together so quickly and easy. It was possibly done in 20 minutes.

    Next time I’m going to toss in more tomatoes and red or green peppers.


  18. Billie

    I made this last night and we were absolutley blown away with the ease of creating this dish and the flavor! I will be making this often!

  19. Joe OConnell

    Great story and pics.

    But fyi, ignore the “1600F temperature” hype. It’s intentionally misleading. The temperature of the Montague at the oven walls may be 1600F, but the actual temperature at the grill (i.e. meat) level will be 750F plus/minus 10%. That’s the same temperature as a hot grill with live coals.


  20. Brian DC

    I made this recipe last night. It was really tasty! The sauce infused the tomatoes and gave them a nice bit of kick. I used a top sirloin from Omaha Steaks, which was not the greatest cut of beef. I would rather choose my own steaks from the grocery store! I think thin pork chops or chicken breasts would also taste good with this sauce.

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