Don’t be shy. To get this week’s ingredients to work for you, to come alive, it’s necessary to keep that wok moving. Make the contents jump. That’s the whole idea behind Shaking Beef, a workable translation of the original Vietnamese Bo Luc Lac. “Diced Beef” also fits, though it doesn’t tantalize the imagination in the same way, thus “Shaking Beef” it stays.
Beef, particularly the best kind, is expensive, and thus it’s reserved for special occasions. This inspired Vietnamese cooks’ ingenuity, producing bite-sized steak cubes deeply seasoned and seared quickly to seal in the flavor To accomplish this, it’s necessary to keep the beef in motion while it cooks, each leap exposing another facet to the heat. It gives the tender ribeye a thin crispy crust and sends the seasoning inward to mingle with the juicy beef.
This is one of the techniques Food & Wine explored in its February 2019 issue. Flipping the meat as it cooks produces a beautiful texture and a deep flavor, true. Thus, it’s a necessary reflection of East Asian philosophy to find balance. Fortunately, the garden vegetables served beneath do just that. The peppery watercress or arugula (the latter, today’s choice) the juicy tomatoes and the crispy cucumbers provide textural contrast to the meltingly tender steak.
The flavors vary too, yet the sweet and sour vinegar-honey dressing unifies them and interacts with all the elements. It builds a bridge connecting the savory beef, the tangy tomatoes and the cool cucumbers, all islands in a flavorful river.
Not for the first time, steak salad of a sort makes the cut this week. Broadly speaking, it is a wonderfully satisfying meal, perfect for summer, yet it bears an encore throughout the year. Specifically, every effort, and especially this one, is distinct. Here, the flavorings and the cooking method are unique, promising a whole new experience. Just be sure to keep the wok moving!
Bo Luc Lac
(Vietnamese “Shaking Beef”)
For the beef:
- 1 and 1/2 tablespoons oyster suace
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground pepper
- 2 garlic cloves, smashed
- 1 and 1/2 pounds boneless ribeye steak, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces (*1)
For the salad:
- 1/4 cup thinly-sliced shallots
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 and 1/2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons honey (*2)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
- 4 cups arugula (*3)
- 1/2 seedless cucumber, sliced thinly
- 6 halved cherry tomatoes (*4)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
In a large sealable bag, combine the oyster sauce, soy sauce, sugar, corn starch, fish sauce, pepper and garlic. Add beef, force out as much air as possible and seal the top. Toss beef to coat and let sit at room temperature for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the salad. In a medium bowl whisk together 2 tablespoons water, vinegar, honey, salt and pepper, for about ten seconds, until the honey dissolves. Arrange the arugula on plates, then lay the tomatoes and cucumbers on top. Divide half the dressing you made among the plates, but don’t toss (yet). Reserve the rest for individual serving.
Place a wok over a high flame and pour in the vegetable oil. When the oil shimmers, carefully add the beef in a single layer. Cook, shaking every 30 to 60 seconds, until the meat is seared on all sides and is cooked through, about four minutes. Remove from the heat.
Toss the salads, and pile on some of the meat and its juices, then serve.
1 – Strip steaks, or even filets, work too, but the ribeye is the best cut for the job.
2 – You can substitute a similar quantity of granulated sugar, but honey tastes better.
3 – Watercress is fine too, though i’s much more difficult to find.
4 – If you can’t locate cherry tomatoes, radicchio is a good fill-in. However, cherry tomatoes are available, and usually are quite good, year-round.