I’ve been fortunate enough to eat at The Slanted Door in San Francisco twice now, and both experiences have nothing short of transcendent. I love almost nothing more in life than really, really good Vietnamese food, and The Slanted Door is (in my opinion) absolutely outstanding. It also happens to be located at the far end of The Ferry Building, which is the perfect venue for waddling around after you’ve just stuffed yourself to the gills with things like honey-hoisin spareribs and shrimp springrolls.
Once you’ve eaten there, it’s obvious why even for lunch they are booked out weeks in advance and the wait time for a bar seat can be upwards of two hours. Even on a weekday, as the scent of toasty ginger and garlic spills out into the wide hallways of the adjacent enclosed building throngs of people mob the hostess stand to proffer their firstborn for a table. Every item on the menu is well thought out and crafted using extremely fresh, local ingredients, and the portions are always perfectly generous. As many days in San Fran can be, both times I have dined there the weather has been, well — less than desirable: cold, wet, and foggy (hate to admit it…but it is). Although those three descriptors are none that I normally wish any day to be, they are however the perfect conditions for big brothy bowls of noodles and steaming seafood claypots; that is, the perfect day for a cozy hot meal of The Slanted Door’s grub.
When I first saw Shaking Beef on the lunch menu, I wrinkled my nose and quickly returned my attention to nursing my sriracha spiked bloody mary (which by the way is fantastic, if you’re curious). Shaking beef? To me, those words conjured up a scene whereupon a platter of wiggling and jiggling beef would come bursting through the double doors of the kitchen and careen towards me, held high above the waiter’s shoulder, while the other patrons stared in both curiosity and disgust and then I would realize – horrifyingly enough – that the offensive dish in question was actually, my lunch. I’d immediately passed over it and not given it much thought, until months later when I read that it was one of their signature, and most popular, dishes.
After a bit of investigation, I realized my fears had been totally unfounded; descriptor be damned in this case, as the beef in Shaking Beef is decidedly inanimate from start to finish. ‘Shaking’ refers to the way that the hot wok is maneuvered after the cubed beef has formed a crisp crust from resting on the blistering metal; the wok is jerked in a back and forth motion to release the beef, and then tossed back and forth to incorporate it and all it’s juicy goodness with the other ingredients. Ah-ha!
This is so easy to make, and even though at first glance the ingredient list looks fussy, it really isn’t. Ex the salt, pepper, sugar, canola oil, and soy sauce (which you probably already have on hand), you’ll just need to scoop a few fresh ingredients, and stock up on a couple others that after using here, you will surely use again. The combination of these – the rice wine vinegar and fish sauce – gives that delicious salty-sweet edge to the dish and transforms it from run of the mill stirfry to knock-your-socks-off good. They key here is getting the wok searingly hot before tossing in the beef to let it brown and crust up; you have to work quickly after that to avoid overcooking the beef, but if you have everything in place, chopped and ready to go, it’s totally easy.
The salty marinated meat is perfect with the lightly crunchy vegetables and the slight bitterness of the watercress. The noodles, while not included in the original recipe, are soft and slippery and just the thing needed to sop up the extra delicious sauce. Served with a crisp white wine or a bottle of unfiltered sake (the option we went with, which I highly recommend), this is an absolute home run. In spite of the beef, it’s not heavy or overly greasy, and the butter added in boils down to only ½ tablespoon per serving – totally negligible in my book.
Disclaimer: Before anyone points it out, I am very aware that the font on the paper background is not written in Thai, and hope that my being extremely generic in using paper with an Asian language (admittedly, I’m not sure which it is) for this Southeast Asian dish doesn’t offend anyone. I simply loved the paper and thought it would look nice with a bowl of noodles, though I did realize after the fact that it could be offensive to some. I am sorry.
Adapted from Charles Phan from the Slanted Door Restaurant, San Francisco
I added and changed a few things here that I think added to the dish overall. Instead of the filet mignon that Phan calls for (which is a really pricey cut for a stir-fry), I used a good quality grass-fed top sirloin, and it was perfect at medium rare – juicy, tender, and very flavorful. I suspect that you could use any flavorful cut that benefits from a quick cooking time over very high heat (but go for the filet if you want to be extra fancy). I also added in one thinly sliced red bell pepper (for some color and crunch) and 2 green thai chilies, for a bit of heat. Finally, I served this in a big bowl over glass noodles (aka bean thread noodles) and the watercress, to make it less of a salad, and more of a noodle-salad dinner. I’m so glad I did that as I did not feel the need for anything other than this bowl for dinner (no additional sides or the usual side salad). Refer to the link for the original recipe without my edits. If you are unfamiliar with glass noodles, you can read more about them here: glass noodles
Cooking this in 2 – or even 4 – separate batches is absolutely necessary. If you try to cram too much in the wok, the meat will not brown, and that is the whole point of Shaking Beef. If you are making this for 2 people, I still suggest halving the recipe and still cooking it in two batches.
This is really, really delicious. It’s a great way to change things up from just your average steak night, and since you are using little bites of it, you tend to eat less than you would just sitting down to a big t-bone. The veggies are fresh and vibrant, and you’re left feeling full but not uncomfortably so since the glass noodles are so light.
1 1/2 to 2 pounds top sirloin, trimmed of excess fat and cut into 1” cubes*
5 garlic cloves, chopped (about 2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/4 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
5 tablespoons canola oil
1/4 cup rice-wine vinegar
1/4 cup rice wine or white wine (I used white wine – the savignon blanc I was already drinking)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon fish sauce*
Juice of 1 medium lime + 1 extra lime cut into wedges for serving
2 bunches watercress (or 1 small head red leaf lettuce, separated into leaves – try to use watercress)
1 red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
2 thai green chilis, minced (optional)
3 scallions, chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 package glass noodles
sriracha sauce (optional, for serving)
tools – large wok
In large bowl or ziplock bag, place the meat, garlic, 1 tablespoon sugar, 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, and 1 tablespoon oil. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours and no more than 12.
When your meat is marinated and you are ready to cook, whisk together rice-wine vinegar, wine, soy sauce, fish sauce, and 1 tablespoon sugar. In a small ramekin, whisk together lime juice, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon pepper – this is a lime sauce you will pass around with the finished dish.
Prepare the glass noodles according to the package instructions; generally glass noodles only require a quick boil, about 4 minutes. When they are cooked (they will be tender with a tiny bit of bite), reserve them to the side, and place just a tiny splash of canola oil in them (and then toss them with your hands) to keep them from sticking together.
Divide the glass noodles between the four bowls, and top each with a fourth of the watercress.
Divide the meat into 2 portions. In a wok or large skillet over high heat, heat 2 tablespoons oil until smoking, then add 1 portion meat in one layer (be careful – it will spatter). Sear until a brown crust forms on the underside of the beef, about 2 minutes, then flip to brown on the other side, another 2 minutes; your meat will be just about medium rare at this point. Add half of the red onion, red pepper, diced chili, and scallions, and sauté, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add 1/3 cup of the vinegar mixture and shake pan to release beef, stirring if necessary. Finally, add 1 tablespoon butter, shaking the pan until the butter melts.
Remove the mixture and divide between two of the prepared bowls. Repeat with remaining portion of meat and remaining onions, red pepper, chilis, scallions, vinegar mixture, and butter, and divide between the remaining 2 bowls.
Serve with lime dipping sauce to pass around, and extra lime wedges for squeezing. Pass a bottle of sriracha sauce if you wish for extra heat.
*Very important! Fish sauce adds this incredible flavor that you really can’t put your finger on. It is not at all fishy and will really elevate the whole dish. Pick up a bottle at a grocery store that has a well-stocked asian section, in any Asian grocery, or as a last resort find it online – I prefer the Golden Boy brand.