Bo Luc Lac: Shaking Beef

Cubed BeefThe Good, the Bad and the Slanted

Our cookbook club has gone a little off the reservation for this month’s cookbook selection. At our last meeting/dinner we chose Charles Phan’s Vietnamese Home Cooking with the idea that we would cook out of the book and then go en masse to The Slanted Door in San Francisco for dinner. Last Friday night we did just that.

As expected, the food was tasty (especially the green papaya salad) and we had a fantastic time. We made certain to order dishes which we would have a hard time replicating ourselves (Lemongrass Cotton Candy, anyone?), as well as the cookbook recipes that we had prepared at home. And you know what? Our versions were just as good.

The more I cook, the more I realize, while I may not be able to recreate the menu at The French Laundry, I can still do pretty well, all things considered. It gives me a sense of pride to know I could hang in there with the big boys, sort of. However, there is definitely something to be said about going out to dinner, laughing with friends and not having to do the dishes.

The one recipe, that the group agrees is fabulous, is the Shaking Beef. We’ve all made it and we all loved it. We even like our versions of the dish more than what we ate Friday night (but don’t tell Charles that). It’s easy, and very tasty, and definitely worth a try…  

Bo Luc Lac: Shaking Beef
From Vietnamese Home Cooking by Charles Phan
Serves 3 or 4 as part of a multi-course meal.

“This dish has been on the menu at the Slanted Door since it opened in 1995. Although I was born in Vietnam, I grew up in Northern California just as the farmers’ market revolution was beginning, around the time that the legendary Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse was really hitting its stride. When I began to think about opening a restaurant, I knew that I wanted to serve Vietnamese food but made with the same great ingredients that the other top restaurants were using.

“Although I had eaten shaking beef in Vietnam, the versions that I had tried were usually made with tough beef cuts that were overcooked. But the flavors-caramelized cubes of beef and a dipping sauce of salt, pepper, and fresh lime juice-were so good that I knew it would be exceptional if I made it with better ingredients. I started making the dish with cubes of filet mignon and cooked them to a rosy medium rare. Later, I began using exclusively grass-fed beef, which we now get from Estancia, a US-based company that raises its beef on ranches in the States, Uruguay, and Argentina, the only place we can source the quantity we need. We use about eight hundred pounds of beef each week at The Slanted Door.”

l 1/2 pounds filet mignon, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon canola oil
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup mirin
1/4 cup light soy sauce
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1 cup thinly sliced red onion
3 whole scallions, trimmed and cut into 1-inch lengths
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 bunch watercress, tough stems removed

Dipping Sauce
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

To marinate the beef, in a bowl, combine the beef, 1 teaspoon of the sugar, salt, pepper, and 1 tablespoon of the oil and stir to mix well. Let marinate at room temperature for 2 hours.

In a bowl, whisk together the vinegar, the remaining tablespoon sugar, mirin, light and dark soy sauces, and fish sauce until the sugar has dissolved. Set aside.

Divide the meat into 2 equal portions. Heat a wok over high heat until hot; the metal will have a matte appearance and a drop or two of water flicked onto its surface should evaporate on contact. Add 1/4 cup of oil and heat until shimmering but not smoking. Add half of the beef in a single layer and sear for about 5 minutes, until a brown crust forms on the first side. Flip the cubes and cook for 1 minute on the second side.

Add half each of the red onion and scallions and cook, stirring, about 30 seconds. Add half of the soy sauce mixture and shake the pan to coat the cubes of beef. Add half each of the garlic and butter and shake the pan to distribute evenly. Transfer to a dish and keep warm.

Wipe the wok clean and return to high heat. Repeat steps 3 and 4 with the remaining 1/4 cup of the oil, beef, red onion, scallions, garlic, and butter.

Arrange the watercress on a platter and top with the beef. To make the dipping sauce, in a small bowl, stir together the salt and pepper and squeeze in the lime juice. Place alongside the platter for dipping the beef cubes as you eat.

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