Ask Chef Phyllis:
I like Thai food and eat out at my favorite restaurant when I can. I live in Louisiana where seafood is abundant. I’m interested in a beef dish that is delicious and tender. Beef is my new favorite meat, but I’m not sure this dish will be easy to duplicate at home even if I have the right ingredients. When I made it at home, the beef was too thick and a bit tough. Can you help with the correct steak or beef to buy and the seasonings?
—Anna Rondeau, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Thai food is enjoying an awakening, and so is beef. Like most foods from Southeast Asia, it’s a taste-and-add affair. From friends who visited Thailand recently, I learned that both classic and peasant cuisine are readily and delightfully available as street food.
If I were to hazard a guess, I’d bet that Thai beef stir fry is a peasant dish because it’s quick and requires little fuel to cook. (I will give a selection of both stir fry and slow cook beef recipes below.) I believe that most Westerners think only of stir fry, but slow-cooked Thai-style beef is also delicious.
Anna, it’s true that those of us in the business know of many restaurant tricks. Here is the “secret” to slicing the beef to the right thickness: flank steak is much easier to slice and handle when you treat it to a little freezer time. Since flank steak is marbled with fat, you should freeze it until fairly stiff (about 20 to 30 minutes) before you slice it.
Another bonus of Thai food is that it keeps well in the refrigerator and in the freezer. Once prepared, you can have a wonderful summertime meal in ten minutes. Now that’s a bonus!
Chef’s note: Both of the dishes below are simply delicious and different in their unique flavors, yet they reflect only two types of spices commonly used in Thai cuisine. The wok is a useful addition to the Western kitchen if you stir fry often. And the slow cooker does the work if you choose the long cooking method. In Thailand, red curry beef is served in brown paper bags with green mango or green apple salad, but that is the makings of another post.
Thai Beef Stir Fry
Make this dish in a wok or a large skillet—this “stir fry” has only three major ingredients.
For the marinade:
3 tablespoons peanut oil
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons each water, fish sauce, tamari (aged soy), and honey or coconut sugar
½–1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons minced garlic
For the beef:
2 lbs. flank steak, chilled well and sliced across the grain into ¼-inch slices
1 medium onion, sliced
1–2 large red peppers, sliced
Scallions, sliced on the diagonal
- Stir together all of the marinade ingredients. In a bowl or a large plastic bag, mix the beef strips into the marinade, swishing it around to coat the meat. (I like to let it marinate in the refrigerator for about 3 hours.)
- Heat oil to rippling in your skillet or wok. Add the beef with all the marinade, cooking and stirring until the strips brown.
- Working quickly, push the beef to the side while adding the onions and red peppers. Cook until slightly tender, then mix the beef back in.
- Serve immediately. Sprinkle cilantro, scallions, and sesame seeds over the beef, if desired.
2–2½ lbs. stew beef, trimmed if necessary and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 cups thick coconut milk
3–4 tablespoons red curry paste
2 cups thin coconut milk
2 stalks lemongrass
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 fresh red chilis, seeded and sliced in half (optional)
- Place cubed beef in slow cooker.
- Mix coconut milk and red curry paste together. Add thin coconut milk, lemongrass, sea salt, fish sauce, and chilies to slow cooker.
- Set slow cooker on high for 1 hour, or until the coconut cream and milk begins to simmer.
- Drop the heat to the low setting and cook for 6 hours.
- Serve in deep bowls.