when i was young there was a restaurant near me called viet chalet. they served the most amazing vietnamese food, and frankly, i was addicted. i’d grown accustomed to the perfect spring rolls, and to vietnamese coffee (i loved watching it filter and the sticky sweet taste of the condensed milk). most of all i was addicted to one dish in particular, hanoi beef. it was a simple dish of beef that had been marinated and skewered and grilled, and it was served with delicate rice noodles, vegetables, herbs, and the consummate vietnamese fish dipping sauce nuoc cham. i ate it at least once a week, and it got to the point where they stopped asking me what i wanted when i came in, they just started cooking it for me.
when the restaurant closed my mother and i set out on a mission to find a suitable replacement for my vietnamese food fix, which is how we discovered the taste of saigon an amazing restaurant located in rockville. though they don’t have hanoi beef on their menu, my favorite was replaced by mama tu’s pepper shrimp, a secret recipe that i long to recreate. in the mean time, i’ve been trying to master the hanoi beef, and i think i finally got it.
1 pound skirt steak, silver skin and copious fat removed
3 serrano peppers, seeded, ribs removed, and sliced
1 stalk of lemongrass, outer leaves removed, then minced
2 tablespoons fish sauce
juice of three limes (with pulp)
2 tablespoons of sugar
2 tablespoons cilantro, cleaned, stemmed, and chopped
1 english cucumber, peeled, seeds removed, and cut into matchsticks
3 carrots, peeled, and cut into matchsticks
¼ cup mint, cleaned and minced
¼ cup cilantro, cleaned and minced
¼ cup basil, cleaned and minced
vietnamese fish dipping sauce, recipe here
rice noodles, cooked per the package instructions.
mix the peppers, lemongrass, fish sauce, limes, sugar, and cilantro in a bowl. thinly slice the steak on the diagonal (it helps if you refrigerate or slightly freeze it before you slice so that you can get the pieces thinner). add the steak and the contents of the bowl to a ziploc bad and marinate in the refrigerator for at least two hours.
if you are cooking on a grill you can skewer the beef onto metal skewers (or bamboo skewers that have soaked in water while the beef marinates) and then grill them until browned. this will not take long. if you are cooking indoors, you can just add the beef to a very hot pan or wok and turn until the beef is browned, again, this won’t take long.
cook the rice noodles per the package instructions, and serve the beef with the carrots, cucumbers, and rice noodles along with the blend of three herbs. dip into the vietnamese nuc cham dipping sauce and enjoy!