Thu Sep 22, 2016
When I arrived in New York for college, my diet pretty much consisted of various forms of fried chicken and pizza. To say I was a picky, not adventurous eater is a bit of an understatement, and, more-or-less, I was able to keep my horizons from expanding during my tenure as a student. The one big exception was when my Vietnamese roommate wanted to head to Chinatown for some of his own comfort food. Me being who I was, I gravitated to the one thing on the menu that sounded familiar and non-threatening—barbecue beef over white rice—and that's what I ordered year after year every time we ended up at this spot. Since then I've obviously expanded my palate and other items have replaced this once mainstay for me, but I recently had a hankering for it and since I'm no longer located in New York, it was up to me to recreate it the best I could.
I'm sure there are Vietnamese restaurants here in Durham or around that serve a decent barbecue beef, but based on what I've encountered elsewhere, this one place in New York makes the dish a bit differently. Instead of just marinating and grilling thinly sliced beef—which tends to be the norm—they stuff what tastes like ginger and garlic inside and roll it up before grilling.
So to get myself started in a facsimile of this, I chose flank steak, which comes in the ideal size for cutting beef to make rolls such as these. To create the strips, I cut the flank on a bias, against the grain, into pieces about 1/8-inch thick.
Then I whisked together the ingredient for a standard Vietnamese marinade—fish sauce, sugar, water, garlic, and black pepper. I've used this exact marinade on beef, pork, and shrimp in the past, and each time my meats have come out with the ideal Vietnamese flavor, so I saw no need to change this up at all.
I then place all my sliced steak in a Ziploc bag, poured in the marinade, and tossed it a bit for even distribution. I let the meat marinate in the fridge for about four hours, but with such thin steak and an intensely flavored sauce, you could probably get away with just marinating for a couple hours and have a pretty fully flavored end result.
While the steak marinated, I whipped up a batch of nuoc cham—a Vietnamese dipping sauce. This is a combination of water, sugar, lime juice, fish sauce, and garlic. I personally like to add a chopped birds eye chili in there for a little contrast to the sweetness, and this time around I also threw in some shredded carrot since that's what this restaurant in New York does.
Up to this point, all of the element of this recipe were all familiar to me and tested previously. What I wasn't so sure of was what is really stuffed inside these tiny beef rolls. It certainly tastes like garlic and ginger, but it could be just one or the other if memory isn't serving me well. I also was unsure if it's precooked or not. My guess would be not, but I worried that the sharpness of the raw ginger and garlic I had prepped would be too strong and overpowering, so to take the edge of, I sautéed it for a couple minutes prior to use.
Once the ginger and garlic had some time to cool off, I took the beef out of the fridge and began roll creation. I started by placing a pinch of the ginger and garlic mixture at the edge of one strip of meat, then rolled it shut.
I repeated that with the remaining beef until I had a cutting board filled with these little rolls. I wondered if they may need assistance in staying closed on the grill, but they seemed pretty securely shut, so I left them as is.
Luckily any issues with unraveling were minimal—only a couple unrolled, and those were the ones that I knew were sliced too thick to begin with. For the most part they grilled up beautifully, developing some attractive browning on the exterior without totally overcooking the interior to death.
All that was left was to plate this is the same manner I'm used to getting it—the beef is placed on a pile of white rice, sprinkled with sliced scallions, and some vegetable are added as garnish on the side. What I had look pretty spot on, and that trend continued in flavor as well. I still think the inspiration likely uses raw garlic and/or ginger in the rolls, but you definitely got the entire flavor here against the meat whose marinade left it with the perfect Vietnamese touch. As I dunked each piece of beef in the nuoc cham, then dabbed it on my rice prior to consumption (how I've always eaten this barbecue beef from day one), I was brought back to the first time I ever tried this dish and found some humor in my old self that led me to get it in the first place—there was probably not one other thing at the time I felt comfortable ordering, and if anyone had told me I was consuming fish sauce, I may have never even tried it. Luckily no one pointed out I was eating something I would have consider off putting back then, and this incarnation of Vietnamese barbecue beef has found a comforting place in my life.
Vietnamese Barbecue Beef
- Prep Time:
- 40 Minutes
- Inactive Time:
- 4 Hours
- Cook Time:
- 5 Minutes
- Total Time:
- 4 Hours 45 Minutes
- 4 servings
- For the Nuoc Cham
- 1/2 cup hot water
- 1/4 cup white sugar
- 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
- 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons Vietnamese fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons thinly shredded carrots (optional)
- 1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon small bird%u2019s eye chili, minced (optional)
- For the Marinade
- 3 tablespoons Vietnamese fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 tablespoon freshly minced garlic, about 3 medium cloves
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1lb flank steak, sliced on a bias against the grain into 1/8-inch strips
- 1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
- 2 tablespoons finely minced garlic, about 6 medium cloves
- 2 tablespoons finely minced ginger
- 4-6 cups cooked white rice, for serving
- 2 scallions thinly sliced, for garnish
- To make the nuoc cham: In a small bowl, whisk together water and sugar until sugar dissolves. Add in lime juice, fish sauce, carrots (if using), garlic, and chili (if using) and whisk to combine. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- To make the marinade: In a small bowl, whisk together fish sauce, sugar, water, garlic, and black pepper. Place steak in a large resealable bag and pour in marinade. Seal bag, removing as much air as possible, and place in refrigerator and let marinate 4 hours to overnight.
- Heat oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat until just shimmering. Add in garlic and ginger and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant and softened, but not browned, about 2 minutes. Transfer garlic and ginger to a paper towel lined plate and let cook for 5 minutes.
- Remove a strip of steak from the marinade and lay out flat. Place a pinch of the garlic and ginger mixture on one end of steak and roll strip closed starting from that end. Repeat with all remaining pieces of steak.
- Light one chimney full of charcoal. When all the charcoal is lit and covered with gray ash, pour out and spread the coals evenly over entire surface of coal grate. Set cooking grate in place, cover grill and allow to preheat for 5 minutes. Clean and oil the grilling grate. Grill steak rolls over high heat, turning occasionally, until well seared all over, about 5 minutes total. Transfer steak rolls to platter and let rest for up to 5 minutes.
- Place a generous portion of rice on 4 plates. Place beef rolls on top of rice and garnish with scallions. Serve immediately with nuoc cham for dipping.