This is one of my favorite go-to dishes during the week. It is relatively easy to make and can be eaten at room temperature so there is less rushing around at the last minute. But more importantly, the ingredients are readily obtainable from my pantry, fridge and local markets. Now, I say this knowing full well that not everyone stocks fish sauce, oyster sauce, fried shallots, rice noodles, and lemongrass. But if you follow my blog, you soon will stock these items too!
2 lbs steak tips, thinly sliced against the grain into bite-size pieces
4 garlic cloves, finely minced
1/2 cup finely minced lemongrass, about 3 stalks using the white and pale green sections
2 teaspoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 16 oz. package rice vermicelli (look for the word “Bun” on the package)
Lettuce and herbs:
8-10 leaves romaine lettuce, sliced thin
1 cup fresh mint leaves, rinsed and dried (Thai basil would also work)
1 1/2 cups cucumbers, julienned
1 cup bean sprout, rinsed and dried
3 scallions, thinly sliced
a couple pinches of salt
4 tablespoons neutral oil, like canola or sunflower
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
one Thai bird chili, minced or sliced if you don’t want too much spiciness
5 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
1 cup water
1/2 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup fried shallots
Beef: Lemongrass is very fibrous and must be minced finely, as in the picture. Combine sliced meat, minced garlic, lemongrass, and 2 teaspoons fish sauce in a large container or bowl. Mix well and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes but no more than 1 hour. When everything else has been completed and the bowls of noodles and veggies are assembled, then the meat is ready to be cooked. First, heat 2 tablespoons oil in a heavy pan or wok (I prefer regular to nonstick), add onions and saute for about 1 minute until they are nearly translucent. Remove onions from pan and add 1 tablespoon oil. Allow oil to heat, then add marinated meat and oyster sauce. Saute for about 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently to ensure that beef cooks evenly. Add onions back into the pan and combine with meat.
Noodles: Make the noodles while the beef marinates. I am including pictures of the package, though the brand is not important. You want to get the variety that comes in a block-shaped package but has several (usually 8) “pieces” inside. Having pieces allows you to control how many servings you want to make at a time; I usually estimate about 3 pieces for 2 large portions. Thin rice vermicelli is very easy to overcook, especially if you follow the instruction on the packaging. As with kung fu movies, the translation on noodle packages is far from accurate so don’t even bother following them. Place 3 quarts of water in a pot (enough to completely cover the noodles, use less if you are making less noodles) and bring to a vigorous boil. Add dried noodle pieces and make sure they are entirely submerged. Bring pot back to a boil and then immediately remove from heat and cover pot. After five minutes, drain noodles and rinse thoroughly under cold water, shaking them to remove excess liquid. Noodles should be room temperature, though not cold, for serving.
Scallion oil: I absolutely love this stuff. Easy to make and keeps for a week in the fridge. Make more if you want to keep some around for use on sandwiches, pasta, scrambled eggs, etc. Heat oil in a small pan until very hot. You can test the oil by dropping in a slice of scallion, if there is sizzling, then you’re good to go. Place scallions in a ramekin or other heat-resistant dish, add a pinch or two of kosher salt and pour hot oil over. Allow mixture to sit for at least 5 minutes for the flavors to mesh.
Nuoc cham: Every Vietnamese family has a jar of this sauce in their home and every one makes it a little bit different. Some like it bit sweeter, spicier, saltier or more tart. Use this recipe as a base and tweak to suit your own taste. To avoid too much spiciness, slice the pepper into 2-3 chunks instead of mincing. Combine minced garlic, chili peppers, lime juice, sugar, water and fish sauce in a small bowl. Stir to make sure sugar dissolves completely. Keeps in fridge for 10 days.
Fried shallots: I buy these ready-made at a Chinese supermarket but you can make your own by thinly slicing shallots and then frying them in oil until crisp. They are also excellent on bagels with cream cheese!
Assembly: Place a small handful of lettuce/cuke/herbs in a bowl, then place roughly 1 to 1 1 1/2 cups noodles on top. Add about 1/2 cup meat atop noodles, garnish with scallion oil, fried shallots, crushed peanuts and a couple spoonfuls of nuoc cham. Makes 4-6 servings.