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Photograph by Colin Erricson, Copyright 2007.

This recipe comes from my biggest cookbook, 300 Best Stir-Fry Recipes,  published by Robert Rose, Inc., 2007. You could cook it in a heavy skillet, a frying pan, or a wok. While stir-fries often need a large, deep pan with room for tossing and turning all the ingredients, this one needs only a medium-sized pan, because only the beef is cooked. We enjoy this with rice as the centerpiece of an Asian style meal, but it goes wonderfully with baked potatoes, quinoa, couscous, or garlic toast.

Vietnamese-Style  Shaking Beef with Peppery Watercress

Absolutely gorgeous and delicious, this Vietnamese take on steak is a perfect choice when you want a special dish, which can be prepared in advance and sizzled up just before. A simple salad of watercress and red onions serves as the foundation for tender steak. You could use spinach instead of watercress. If it is very tender, no change is needed. If it is beyond the baby-spinach stage, cook it very briefly in the pan after removing the cooked beef. Then toss it with the dressing and red onions and serve with the beef. 

12 ounces thick-cut tender beef steak (rib-eye, New York strip, tri-tip)

1 tablespoon fish sauce

2 teaspoons soy sauce

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar, divided

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided

3/4 teaspoon salt, divided

2 tablespoons white or cider vinegar

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

1/2 cup very thinly sliced red onion

2 cups very coarsely chopped watercress (bite-sized pieces)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons chopped garlic

To prepare the beef, cut the steak into chunks, about 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter. In a bowl, combine fish sauce, soy sauce, ½ tsp sugar, ½ tsp pepper, and ¼ tsp salt and stir well. Add steak and stir to coat well. Set aside for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine vinegar, 1 tsp oil, and remaining sugar, pepper, and salt. Add onion and toss well to separate into thin strips and mix evenly with dressing. Add watercress but leave it on top of onions and dressing (you will toss it just before serving).

Heat a wok or a large deep skillet over high heat. Add 2 tbsp oil and swirl to coat pan. Add steak mixture and spread into a single Layer. Cook, undisturbed, until nicely browned, for 1 to 2 minutes .   Shake pan to turn meat and start browning on other side; use a spatula or slotted spoon if needed

Add garlic, scattering over beef and cook, undisturbed, for 1 minute more. Shake pan again. Cook, shaking, and scooping as needed, until meat is brown and cooked to desired doneness, 1 to 2 minutes more.

Remove pan from heat and set aside while you finish salad. Toss watercress well to dress it and mix with onions.  Spread salad on a serving plate. Place beef on top. Serve hot or warm.

Serves 4

Note: If you can’t find watercress, use spinach leaves or a mix of salad greens instead.

Copyright: Nancie McDermott,  2011. All rights reserved. 

About the Author
Nancie McDermott is a food writer and cooking teacher, and the author of ten cookbooks. Her passion is researching and celebrating traditional food in its cultural context, and her beloved subjects are two seemingly different places with much in common: the cuisines of Asia and of the American South. Nancie gained her Southern kitchen wisdom as a Piedmont North Carolina native,and her Asian culinary research commenced soon after college, when she was sent to northeastern Thailand as a Peace Corps volunteer.
  1. Jamie Reply

    Living in France, we have so many Vietnamese restaurants and one particularly fabulous one nearby. We love Vietnamese food and yes I should really learn to make it myself. I know this is one dish we’ll all love. I’ll let you know how it turns out 🙂

  2. Christine Reply

    Nancie, this does not seem difficult and looks so tasty and healthy. I will try it! Thanks for sharing your book’ s recipes. Cheers.

  3. Karriann Graf Reply

    This looks amazing Nancie….My mouth is watering just looking at your photo!

    • Nancie McDermott Reply

      Thanks, Karriann. I adore this picture — it really catches this dish, which is an unusual one within the repertoire of Vietnamese food. I neglected to credit the photographer, who did all the excellent images in this book: His name is Colin Erricson, and he works in Toronto, where my publisher, Robert Rose, Inc., is based. Looks like y’all have great things cooking on your website, can’t wait to see what’s up.

      • Karriann Graf Reply

        ooops looks like I posted twice…sorry wasn’t paying attention! But didn’t want to miss this great post!

  4. bunkycooks Reply

    I have just bookmarked this recipe! It looks fabulous and we love Vietnamese dishes. I like that it’s quick and perfect for a weeknight’s dinner. 🙂

    • Nancie McDermott Reply

      High praise indeed from a food writer and brilliant cook like you! Made my day, yes indeed.

  5. Diane Reply

    This sounds so yummy and easy. Sending to my foodie offspring on are now cooking on there own. Time goes so fast! Thanks Nancie!

    • Nancie McDermott Reply

      Thank you, Diane, for your kind words. I think that your foodie offspring will feel compelled to make this and then invite you over for supper to check it out. Clever planner, that’s you! Appreciate your visit to my blog, and all good wishes…

  6. Belinda Smith-Sullivan Reply

    Nancie, this looks too good to eat! However, having said that, I can’t wait to try it.

    • Nancie McDermott Reply

      High praise from Chef Belinda! It’s wonderful and simple. Love it with spinach as well as with watercress. We’ll have to cook it and visit while we feast; long overdue! Thank you for checking in to my blog…

  7. Karriann Graf Reply

    Looks great! I will definitely try this recipe.

    “Spice it Up”

    • Nancie McDermott Reply

      So glad you like it. It works fine with or without rice — steak and salad is what you got here, only snazzier with a Vietnamese flourish. I love the red onions wilting in a bit of dressing, and then tossing it just before eating — that works with grilled anything, boiled shrimp, omelets…

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