Shaking Beef (Bo Luc Lac)
OK, here’s the deal. We are having a potluck party for 14 people and we are doing the hosting. The theme is ‘Asian’ and most of the people coming can’t even boil water (sounds a little sassy to say, but they would be the first ones to admit it). What is a host to do? Well, fortunately one of my guests, Ann, is an accomplished cook and Burmese cuisine is one of her specialties (you guessed it, she is the one who decided on the theme). Ann is planning on bringing a Burmese Salad. The recipe calls for special fermented tea leaves that are ‘kinda sorta’ a black market item that she buys in some dark alley somewhere (I’m sure there is a story in there somewhere). The rest of the menu is up to me to either delegate or cook myself. To give the guests that can’t cook something to bring, I have assigned a sushi platter, chow mien, egg rolls, and some Thai prawns…all certified crowd pleasers. The rest is up to me. Because it is a celebration to honor my friend Sue who just retired, it has to be special (I might add that Sue is a chef and the party will be attended by yet another chef, so I really have to be on my toes). I decided to make some Thai Chicken Curry (one of my old standbys) and a Vietnamese dish called Shaking Beef or Bo Luc Lac.
Shaking Beef or ‘Bo Luc Lac’ is one of my favorite Vietnamese dishes. I am using the recipe from The Slanted Door that was published in Charles Phan’s book, “Vietnamese Home Cooking”. We had a look at the book when it came out in 2012 here. The dish consists of seared morsels of filet mignon on a bed of watercress. It’s not just one of my favorites, it is also one of the most popular dishes served at The Slanted Door. I think it will be a perfect main dish for our potluck. There is just one problem…cooking this dish for 14 people would require a lot of time doing last minute work and I didn’t want to miss the party slaving over a hot stove. The recipe from the book calls for one and a half pounds of meat that is cooked in two batches. Even with all the BTU’s I can manage at home, the meat has to be cooked in small batches to get the correct sear (beautifully browned on the outside and perfectly rare on the inside). I figure I will need at least 4-5 pound of meat…are you getting the picture? In addition to that, I would need to clean and pick numerous bunches of watercress. If I really wanted to serve this dish and still have time to socialize with my guests I was going to have to ‘bastardize’ one of the most popular dishes from the 2014 James Beard “Best Restaurant in America”. I am already feeling ashamed of myself.
I am a purist by nature so normally I detest tinkering with a classic. However, I had to come up with a plan to cook all that meat in a single large batch. To solve my dilemma I am going to grill the beef on skewers so that it can be cooked to perfection and all at the same time. The dressing can easily be made ahead of time. The red onion will be roasted in a hot oven until they are browned on the edges, but still crisp. Instead of watercress I am planning on using wild Arugula. The taste is different of course, but it is pre-washed for ease of use and delicious with beef. Paul and Sam will be in charge of BBQ-ing and I will prepare everything ahead of time. When it comes time to serve, all I will have to do is point and direct. Perfect!
As it turns out, the party was a huge hit. As with most pot lucks the people bringing the appetizers were late (but everyone had a drink or two so no one cared). As usual, I made the rice ahead of time so the house would smell like jasmine rice when everyone arrived. The bar was set up in the living room so every one could steer clear of the kitchen. The egg rolls, shrimp and sushi arrived resulting in more standing and pointing from me (I love that part). When it came time to eat, the curry that I made earlier was an easy reheat and Paul and Sam did a great job with timing/barbecuing the beef to perfection. In the end the final preparation turned out to be quick and easy. The party and the meal were a huge success, and yes, The Shaking Beef was a hit!
I should probably come up with another name for the Shaking beef after all the liberties I took with it. However, I think preparing it this way still maintained the character of the dish and I was really pleased with how it came out. I liked it so much that I doubt I will prepare it any other way. Regardless of whether you stir fry or grill it, I hope you will enjoy it as much as we did.
Shaking Beef (Bo Luc Lac)
(adapted from Charles Phan’s “Vietnamese Home Cooking”, and bastardized for the American home kitchen by Tim Gast)