Noodle bowls show Vietnam’s contrasting flavours

Christopher Kimball

AP – After eating our way through Vietnam, it became clear that contrast was one of the defining features of the cuisine. Tender and crunchy. Spicy and fresh. Hot and cool. Many times all in the same dish.

Bowls of rice noodles were a perfect example; the springy noodles come topped with a combination of savoury seared meat and fresh raw ingredients. For our take from our book Milk Street Tuesday Nights, which limits recipes to 45 minutes or less, we liked the rich, meaty flavour of sirloin tips.

After pounding the meat half-inch thick to speed even cooking, we soaked the beef in a gingery marinade with fish sauce and a bit of brown sugar, which helps brown the meat. A topping of mint, cilantro and peanuts provided crunchy, fresh contrast.

Note that sirloin tips sometimes are sold as flap meat or faux hanger. It’s fine if tips are in two or three pieces, as the meat will be sliced for serving. If you can’t find sirloin tips, flank steak is a good substitute; if the flank is of an even half-inch thickness, it does not need to be pounded.

For the noodles, check the package directions for soaking times, as they can vary. If the noodles are in very long strands, snip them a few times with scissors after draining to make them easier to eat. If the taste of the fish sauce is too strong in the dressing, thin it with a few teaspoons of water.

Ginger beef and rice noodle salad. PHOTO: AP

GINGER BEEF AND RICE NOODLE SALAD

Start to finish: 40 minutes

Servings: Four

INGREDIENTS

Quarter cup plus one tablespoon fish sauce, divided

Two tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger, divided

Three tablespoons plus two teaspoons packed light brown sugar, divided

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

One pound sirloin tips, patted dry

12 ounces thin rice noodles

Quarter cup lime juice

Two tablespoons water

One teaspoon chili-garlic sauce

One tablespoon peanut oil

One cup fresh mint leaves, torn

One cup fresh cilantro sprigs

Half cup roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped

In a medium bowl, combine one tablespoon of fish sauce, one tablespoon of the ginger, two teaspoons brown sugar, one teaspoon salt and quarter teaspoon pepper. Set aside.

Place the sirloin tips between two sheets of plastic wrap and, using a meat mallet, gently pound them to an even half-inch thickness. Add the beef to the fish sauce mixture and turn to coat. Marinate at room temperature for 15 minutes.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the noodles and immediately remove the pot from the heat. Let the noodles stand, stirring two or three times, until tender, three to five minutes. Drain in a colander, rinse under cold water and drain again. Transfer to a large bowl and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining quarter cup fish sauce, the remaining one tablespoon ginger, the remaining three tablespoons brown sugar, the lime juice, water and chili-garlic sauce until the sugar dissolves. Set aside.

In a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high, heat the oil until just smoking. Add the beef and cook until well browned on both sides, turning once, about six minutes. Transfer to a plate and let rest for five minutes. Meanwhile, to the noodles add half cup of the fish sauce–lime juice mixture, the mint, cilantro and peanuts; toss to combine. Transfer to a serving platter or individual bowls.

Cut each piece of meat into thirds with the grain, then slice as thinly as possible against the grain. Place the slices on top of the noodles and drizzle with the accumulated juices. Serve with the remaining fish sauce – lime juice mixture on the side.