Vietnamese Shaking Beef

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I often crave the tangy, salty, sweet flavors of Shaking Beef so I order it often in Vietnamese restaurants. I never thought about cooking it at home until recently I became intrigued by a  recipe in Milk Street magazine. They said "Built from only 8 ingredients, this steak salad outstripped any we'd ever had." That is quite an endorsement. Did the recipe live up to this hype? You bet. 

Milk Street is the magazine started by Christopher Kimball when he acrimoniously separated from America's Test Kitchen and Cook's Illustrated. It is named after the street in Boston where the magazine is published

Shaking Beef, known as Bò Lúc Lắc in Viet Nam, is so named because the pan it cooks in is constantly shaken. Milk Street, however, suggests not shaking the pan and turning the beef only once, so the meat gets a nice brown sear on the bottom. Rather than cutting the beef into small pieces, they cut it into larger cubes so you can cook it medium rare, if desired..

Made from salted fermented fish, fish sauce is a staple ingredient for seasoning in many Southeast Asian cuisines, most commonly Vietnamese and Thai. Known as nuoc mam in Vietnamese and nam pla in Thai, the name means fish sauce, or fish water.  Fish sauce is amber in color, and is typically produced using small ocean fish, mostly anchovies, but depending on the brand, it may also include sardines, mackerel, herring, or carp, as well as other ingredients like sugar or preservatives. All brands differ slightly, but the 2 are most likely to find in Asian or American markets are A Taste of Thai and Three Crabs. Other highly rated brands are Red Boat, Tiparos and Shrimp and Crab. Any of them work well in this recipe. Do not purchase small bottles, because it is said that they are not the same quality. 

I like to use either filet mignon, beef sirloin tips or tri-tip. (The same cut is called sirloin tip on the east coast and tri-tip on the west.) The key to success is to cut the meat into 1" to 1 1/2" cubes and not much smaller. This size minimizes the chance of overcooking the meat. For best results, do not move the beef while it is browning. You want to get a good sear on it before turning..

This recipe, like all stir fries, is amazingly quick once you have assembled the ingredients. And the list of ingredients is so short and easy to prep that making it is really quick. Peppery watercress pairs well with the tangy, slightly salty beef and a nice squeeze of lime over all brightens the flavors.   

Vietnamese Shaking Beef

1½ pounds beef filet, sirloin tips or tri tip
3 tablespoons soy sauce, divided
5 tablespoons lime juice, divided, plus wine wedges for serving
3 tablespoons fish sauce (Vietnamese Phu Quoc brand preferred)
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoons vegetable oil
8 medium garlic cloves, minced (2 tablespoons)
1 small red onion, halved and sliced ¼ inch thick
1 bunch watercress, stemmed or 4 oz. baby watercress, for serving

  1. In a medium bowl, toss the beef with 2 tablespoons of the soy sauce and ½ teaspoon black pepper. Set aside while assembling remaining ingredients. 
  2.  In a small bowl, stir together 4 tablespoons of lime juice, fish sauce, sugar and remaining 1 tablespoon soy sauce. 
  3. In a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil until beginning to smoke. Swirl to coat the pan, then add the beef in a single layer. Cook undisturbed until browned, about 1½ minutes. Turn pieces over with tongs and cook until browned on the other side 1½ minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Reduce heat to low. 
  4. To the same skillet, add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil, garlic and 1 teaspoon pepper. Cook over low, stirring constantly, until fragrant and the garlic is no longer raw, about 30 seconds. Pour in the lime juice mixture and any accumulated meat juices (don't add the meat). Increase to medium-high and cook, stirring constantly, until a spoon leaves a trail when dragged across the skillet, 2 to 4 minutes.
  5. Add the beef and cook, stirring and scraping up any browned bits until the sauce clings lightly to meat, about 2 minutes. Add the onion and stir until slightly softened, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat. 
  6. In a bowl, toss the watercress with the remaining 1 tablespoon lime juice and ½ teaspoon salt. Transfer to a platter. Top with beef and its juices. Serve with lime wedges.

Makes 4 servings. 

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