If you read this blog, you already know I have a real problem when it comes to Vietnamese food. The problem is I can’t stop ordering it. It doesn’t matter if I’m in Spain or France or home and in sweatpants, I will order the crap out of it if I can get it. I don’t have this problem with any other food. I can say no to pizza, pasta, tacos, burgers any other kind of takeout because, really, I’m not a take-out kind of girl. But Vietnamese food? Forget it! It’s my nutritional Achilles’ heel. So, in order to remedy this, I’m learning to cook it myself. You’ve seen some of my past efforts but today it’s all about this Vietnamese Shaking Beef.
Before I get into this, I need to point out some minor adjustments I made to the ingredients typically included in Vietnamese Shaking Beef. The first is dark soy sauce. Now, this omission is due to pure laziness on my part. I know where to find dark soy sauce in my hood, I just didn’t have the time/didn’t want to make a special trip to pick it up. The second item is watercress, though I’m still unsure of how legit this ingredient is. I found numerous recipes that called for it and just as many that listed lettuce instead. So, I’m not sure if I screwed up here or not. If you know please tell me in the comments below. Anyway, I used butter lettuce in the place of watercress because I could not locate the seemingly allusive green.
Yes, this dish is not necessarily authentic Vietnamese Shaking Beef. But I do want to point out that a lot of people who read this blog don’t live in large multicultural cities stocked with specialty items from around the globe. I’m lucky that I do, but I think there is something inclusive about creating a dish that people can easily make with the items they have close to home. The bliss of this dish is how quick and simple it is. Vietnamese Shaking Beef really is the ultimate light, express meal. And special trips to pick up specific ingredients fall far outside the framework of “express”. Ok, that does it with the disclaimers, I’ll stop being overly defensive and press on.
The name Shaking Beef is a reference to how the dish is cooked. Essentially, a good cut of beef is cut into cubes and marinated before being tossed in a hot wok where it is “shaken.” I’m sort of in love with the name because it gives you an idea of the technique and timing involved without ever seeing a recipe. It’s a remarkably descriptive name. I mean, what does Chicken Piccata tell you if you had no idea what piccata is? Piccata means “annoyed” in Italian. How do you make an annoyed chicken? I mean, other than chasing it relentlessly around the yard.
So, you know why I like the name, but what else constitutes Vietnamese Shaking Beef? Well, from what I can discern from the numerous recipes I’ve read, Vietnamese Shaking Beef is comprised of wok-seared marinated beef on a bed of greens decked out with slices of cucumber and tomatoes. I tried my best to stay true to this basic layout but the numerous variations I encountered left me a touch confused and may have hindered me somewhat. So, if this Vietnamese Shaking Beef is not close to your Vietnamese Shaking Beef, I apologize.
I came across quite a few shaking beef recipes that called for pickled red onions, so they were definitely in. I love pickled red onions, I put them on everything. Cilantro was added to the lettuce because one of my favorite things about Vietnamese cuisine is the heavy use of fresh herbs. From big chunky ribbons of Thai basil to coarsely torn culantro, I love how full-on and pure the flavors are. Vietnamese food is about contrast. Raw sits next to cooked, umami next to sweet, clean, and refreshing next to bold and punchy. It’s what makes the cuisine so irresistible to me. Cilantro is not often used in Vietnamese food, though. In fact, they have their own strain of the herb called persicaria odorata. I’ve never come across it IRL, but I hope to someday.
A rainbow of radishes was added to this dish for extra crunch and color. Also, they were taking up too much space in my crisper. I stayed fairly true to the rest of the dish. Tomatoes slices, cucumber slices, and all the good stuff finished my masterpiece off. I’m very pleased with how this dish turned out. I very rarely post recipes that could be classified as quick or even easy. But this Vietnamese Shaking Beef is truly quick and easy and very weeknight-friendly.
So, that’s the lowdown on this Vietnamese Shaking Beef. My education in Vietnamese cuisine will certainly continue because there is still heaps to know, but at the moment I’m pretty dang proud of this dish. Now, if you know anything about Vietnamese food, please feel free to leave me some tips or tell me what I’m doing horribly wrong. I’m all ears!
Vietnamese Shaking Beef (Bò lúc lắc)
- large wok
Pickled Red Onions
- 1 red onion halved and thinly sliced
- ½ cup rice wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt
Vietnamese Shaking Beef
- 2 sirloin steaks cut into 1 1/2" chunks
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp granulated sugar
- fresh ground pepper
- 2 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1 lime juiced
- 6 scallions whites thinly sliced, greens cut into thirds
- 2 tbsp canola oil
- ¼ cup fresh cilantro coarsely chopped
- 1 head butter lettuce torn
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes halved
- 2 mini cucumbers sliced
- 1 batch pickled red onions see above
For the Onions
- Place the red onions in a medium-sized bowl and set aside. In a small bowl whisk the vinegar, salt, and sugar together until the sugar dissolves. Pour the vinegar mixture over the red onions and cover. Transfer the onions to the fridge. Let pickle for at least 3 hours or overnight.
For the Shaking Beef
- Place the steaks in a large mixing bowl and set aside. In a small bowl stir the salt, sugar, and pepper together. Sprinkle the salt mixture over the beef and toss to coat. Set aside.
- In a small bowl whisk the soy sauce, fish sauce, honey, and lime juice together. Pour the mixture over the seasoned beef and toss to coat. Transfer the beef to the fridge and let marinate for at least 1 hour or up to 3.
- When you're ready to cook, take the scallions and remove the white ends from the green. Slice the white ends thin and slice the green sections into larger chunks and set aside.
- Add the oil to a wok and place over medium-high heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add the beef and white scallions to the wok. Stir-fry the beef until browned and caramelized but still tender. About 3 minutes. Stir in the green scallions and saute until just wilted, about 2 minutes more.
- Place the cilantro and lettuce in a large bowl. Pour 1/4 cup of the pickling liquid from the red onions over the greens and toss to coat. Transfer the greens to a large platter and decorate with cucumber slices, tomato wedges and radishes. Spoon the hot beef over top of the lettuce and sprinkle with pickled red onions. Decorate the platter with additional lime wedges and serve immediately with rice, if desired.