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Project Nam Noms

One of the most inspirational people in my mind once said, “you learn a lot about someone when you share a meal together.”

Too Long ; Didn’t Read: I’m providing context to this project because I need you to know that I wasn’t always curious about cooking, and I never paid attention. BUT I started to read more, write down recipes, and forc—encourage my mom to cook, to let me watch and to tell me measurements (because AZN moms/gmas don’t do that, ever). It’s never too late and it’s scary but JUST DO IT, OK? It will be worth it.
(Scroll down if you’d like to get to the recipe.)

Both sides of my family love food. They love eating food, and more importantly, they love cooking food (especially my mom + aunts). I have a lot of memories of my grandma pounding pork with a mortar and pestle to make ruoc, my brother shaping banh bao (with photo evidence somewhere), and big crawfish boils (or is it broils, tell me guys!!!). But honestly, I never paid attention. Step-by-step visuals are vague, but I can tell you exactly how certain dishes should taste (or not taste). I know what pho should taste like or thit kho or mi xao don…but I can’t tell you exactly how to make it. Are you still with me? 

So, the time is college, the place is Austin, Texas — as an Asian American kid, I think when you’re away from your mom’s cooking and Asian food…you develop withdrawals. I wanted some com bo luc lac (aka shaking beef), some pho ap chao (pan fried rice noodle with veg and protein), some banh mi thit nuong…but I had never made it by myself. Of course buying/going out was an option, but sometimes it’s not enough.

Fast forward to present time, the place is San Antonio, Texas. I’ve thankfully had a handful (or two) of people who have encouraged me, inspired me to learn how to cook Vietnamese food…including/especially my mom. My stomach inspires me. Strangers’ comments about how much they love Viet food inspires me. Seeing and eating Viet food inspires me. I hope it inspires you, especially my AZN friends out there. We’re missing out on so much when we walk away from the kitchen while our parents are cooking. Like I mentioned above, you learn a lot about someone when you share a meal and I believe that includes the preparation of the meal.

If you’re reached this part of my post, thanks for sticking around.

Enter “Project Nam Noms,” the beginning of posts like stories from growing up as a Vietnamese American kid, my mom’s voodoo and ultimately recipes that I’ve tried/tested out/loved/maybe hated.

There are a lot of recipes I wanted to start with, but I’m basing this purely on the fact that I have a picture of it. I made this for the first time…a little over a year ago. It’s easy, balanced and a crowd-pleaser. You’ve definitely seen this on a Vietnamese Restaurant menu and I’m picky about how it tastes.

vietnamese shaking beef com bo luc lac

Recipe: Com Bo Luc Lac (AKA Shaking Beef)

Adapted from The Ravenous Couple (which is a GREAT food blog btw!!)

Feeds: 2 people generously, but 4 people realistically
Prep Time: 1 to 2 hours (including marinade time)
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Family style meal, but what Vietnamese dish isn’t?

Note: Please bear with my recipe writing skills…I try to be as thorough as possible but it’s friggin’ hard!

Main Ingredients:

  • 1.5 lbs beef sirloin (or skirt steak), cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 small to medium red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 bunch of watercress, keep stems but cut into bite size
  • 2 tomatoes, halved & thinly sliced
  • Cooked white rice

Marinade Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp minced garlic (Note: I guess and use 2 to 3 cloves)
  • 1 ½ tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce (Note: the Red Boat brand is pretty solid, but I grew up with squid one. AZN FRIENDS: tell me what you use!!)
  • 1 tbsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp thick soy sauce
    • To make thick soy sauce (which is essentially a sweet, thick soy sauce and great for many things such as fried rice):
      ¼ cup of water, 1 cup of dark brown sugar, ½ cup of soy sauce
      Bring water to a boil, add your ingredients and stir. Then, stop stirring completely — cook on medium to low heat. Watch it bubble until it gets dark and thick. Then, you done!

Vinaigrette Ingredients:

  • ½ cup of rice vinegar
  • 1 ½ tbsp sugar
  • ½ tbsp salt

Dipping Sauce(s):
Option 1: Juice of lime, ½ tsp kosher salt, ½ tsp fresh cracked pepper
Option 2 (my personal preference): Leftover vinaigrette in a dipping sauce dish + cracked pepper

Directions:

  1. Prepare by combining your marinade ingredients – garlic, sugar, oyster sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, thick soy sauce with beef.
  2. Let marinate for ½ hour to 2 hours.
  3. Prepare quick red onion pickle for salad — thinly slice red onion and 3 to 4 tbsp of vinaigrette, set aside for at least 10 minutes.
  4. Cook rice. I advise you to get a rice cooker.
  5. Prepare your bed of salad — watercress, thinly sliced tomatoes (red onion pickle comes in later) — on a serving platter.
  6. IT’S GONNA GET SMOKY. Heat your pan (we use a large cast iron) over high heat. Add 2 tbsp of cooking oil and when it begins to smoke (KEY: IT’S HOT), add an even layer of beef — allow to sear for ~2 minutes before “shaking” or turning/flipping to cook the other sides. This may take an additional 1 to 2 minutes, it goes pretty fast. Do this in batches if necessary, overcrowding is a no-no.
  7. Transfer beef to bed your salad of watercress and tomatoes. Drizzle 3 to 4 tbsp of your vinaigrette and add your pickled red onions!
  8. Lastly, make your dipping sauce of choice.
  9. La table: serving platter + bowl of rice + dipping sauce = voilà!
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