Grilled Lemongrass Beef Skewers (Thit Bo Nuong Xa)

From Andrena Nyugen’s Into the Vietnamese Kitchen

Makes 24 to 30 skewers, to serve 6 to 8

Marinade:

  • 1 shallot, chopped (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons fine shrimp sauce
  • 2 teaspoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons canola or other neutral oil
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, trimmed and minced (about 3 tablespoons)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
  • 1 1/4 pounds tri-tip or flap steak, well trimmed (about 1 pound after trimming)
  • 1 1/2 cups Spicy Hoisin-Garlic Sauce  {This is basically a doctored hoisin sauce, augmented by chicken livers, or, in my case—since there were to be vegetarians at the party who would want a beefless sandwich—peanut butter; it’s not complicated, but keep in mind that each of these little sauces or marinades takes up time, and dishes.}

1. To make the marinade, combine the shallot, brown sugar, salt, and pepper in a mortar and pound into a rough paste. (Or, use an electric mini-chopper.) {I don’t know about you, but ever since my pestle broke, I haven’t found any urgent need to replace it. I used my ancient full-sized food processor: The resulting mix might have been a little rougher than Nguyen intended, but I thought it was just fine.} Transfer to a bowl, add the shrimp sauce, fish sauce, oil, lemongrass, and sesame seeds, and stir to mix. Set aside.

2. If you have time, place the beef in the freezer for about 15 minutes. It will firm up, making it easier to cut. {This is true, although next time I’d take advantage of all the precut beef strips that are sold at my local Asian grocery—they’re intended for sukiyaki.} Slice the beef across the grain into thin strips a scant 1/4 inch thick, about 1 inch wide, and 2 to 3 inches long. (You may need to angle the knife to yield strips that are wide enough.)

3. Add the beef to the marinade and use your fingers to combine, making sure that each strip is coated on both sides. {Most recipe writers would probably write, “Mix the beef strips with the marinade.” It’s these little details that make Nguyen’s recipes a little bit tedious, but also kind of sweetly thorough.} Cover with plastic wrap and marinate at room temperature for 1 hour. (For more tender meat, marinate in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours. Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes prior to skewering.) Meanwhile, soak 24 to 30 bamboo skewers, each 8 to 10 inches long, in water to cover for at least 45 minutes.

4. To grill the beef, prepare a medium-low charcoal fire (you can hold your hand over the rack for no more than 5 or 6 seconds) or preheat a gas grill to medium-low. {I fired up the big green egg for this, but if I had my druthers, next time I’d cook the beef in a grill where the grate is closer to the fire, for a bit more flame-kissed character.} To broil the beef, position a rack about 4 inches from the heat source and preheat the oven for 20 minutes so it is nice and hot.

5. While the grill or broiler heats, drain the skewers and thread the beef onto them, putting 1 or 2 strips on each skewer. If you are broiling, put the skewers on an aluminum foil–lined baking sheet. Place the skewers on the grill rack or slip the baking sheet under the broiler. Grill or broil, turning the skewers once, for 3 to 4 minutes on each side, or until the beef is browned and a little charred at the edge.

6. Arrange the skewers on a platter and serve at once with the sauce on the side. Diners can dip the skewers in the sauce or spoon the sauce onto the skewers.

Note: These grilled beef strips are wonderful stuffed into a sandwich {That’s what I did, and it made for fantastic banh mi; remember that I also had to sliver jalapeños and cucumbers, as well as prepare a simple relish of matchstick carrots and daikon radishes, and if I hadn’t made my guests assemble the whole number, I would have had to spread bread with mayo and Maggi Seasoning Sauce and layer in all the other elements. Again, easy work, but lots of little steps—the kind of thing where several extra hands in the kitchen might make the work more fun.} (page 34) or featured in a salad roll (page 32). They may also be used in place of the stir-fried beef in a rice-noodle bowl (page 224). Or, roll them up with lettuce, mint, and cilantro in fresh rice-noodle sheets; cut each roll into 2- to 3-inch lengths and serve with the hoisin-garlic sauce.