I love beef – in all shapes, sizes and flavour! This Vietnamese Lemongrass Beef and Rice Noodle Salad (Bún Bò Xào) is a perfect example of the sharp, crystal clear flavours that personify much of South East Asian cooking. Okay, okay, let’s forget the coconut milk for a second and try that sentence again, shall we?
I learnt to make this dish from a very old and wise Vietnamese lady, much like my granny, during one of my stays in Vietnam, many moons ago.
Let me break down the Vietnamese name for today’s recipe because I’ve seen so many stupid, yes stupid, English translations out there, even by people who should know better!
Bún = rice vermicelli noodles
Bò = beef
Xào = lemongrass
It’s a heavenly salad, much in the fashion of the Burmese Let Thohk Sohn (Rainbow Salad), with the lemongrass beef and all its drippings sitting on top of a bed of rice noodles alongside salad ingredients, topped with crushed peanuts. Add to this, a piquant, aromatic, homemade dipping sauce that I like to drizzle (pour?) all over – oh my, I get palpitations just thinking about it! Ideally eaten at room temperature, I’ve just as often served it warm to my husband who dislikes (for want of a better word) anything not warm!
And you know what? The lemongrass beef itself is perfect served over a bowl of steaming Jasmine rice, just like the Japanese Beef Shigureni.
A good quality cut of beef is essential as we’re only briefly cooking the meat, in fact, keep it pink in the middle the way I do. So we need tender cuts of beef that require minimum cooking. Tender cuts come from the middle – the rib and loin – as these are support muscles that have less connective tissue because they get less exercise.
What’s perfect for this recipe?
Sirloin – lean and boneless, great for all quick cooking, my favourite.
Rib Eye – probably with the most flavour but fattier
Fillet Steaks – very lean and tender
Rump Steaks – firmer but full of flavour
Feather Steaks – taken from the blade, not as well known and are relatively inexpensive. I quite like these, you get flavour without the price tag
Vietnamese Lemongrass Beef and Rice Noodle Salad is a substantial Vietnamese salad with vegetables, starch and protein and eaten with a piquant sauce.
For a stronger flavour, marinade the beef for a couple of hours while you get your hair done (!) or even the night before.
At the end of cooking time, I like to add a couple of tablespoons of water, just for a little bit of sauce, but traditionally, it’s kept dry and the rice is moistened but the drippings as well as the dipping sauce.
The rice noodles – rice vermicelli, the really thin kind, like angel hair pasta. I can get the fresh version here in the UK, very easily in most major supermarkets. You can always use the dried version and follow cooking instructions.
Just before serving, I quickly toss the noodles in a tablespoon of sesame oil for added flavour.
Marinade the beef with half the lemongrass and fish sauce while you get the salad ingredients ready, you know, the chopping, etc.
The salad part – bean sprouts, lettuce, cucumber strips, julienned carrots and definitely some herbs. You can be as creative as you like here and use as much or as little. I always have tropical herbs on my windowsill, all year round, my favourites for this salad are coriander, shiso (perilla) and Vietnamese coriander. Mint is also good. However, if you don’t have access to the more exotic ones, stick with mint and coriander and experiment with what you can get, like regular basil leave
You can either assemble the salad or just place everything on the table and let everyone help themselves.
Vietnamese Lemongrass Beef and Rice Noodle Salad
Vietnamese Lemongrass Beef and Rice Noodle Salad is a substantial Vietnamese salad with vegetables, starch and protein and eaten with a piquant sauce. For a stronger flavour, marinade the beef for a couple of hours while you get your hair done (!) or even the night before.