Saturday was perfect weather in Muscovy, and the Czar relaxed at his dacha. Making the day even more joyous was the arrival of Ghettoputer and the Inscrutable Mandarin, who arrived in the afternoon to tell stories, eat food, and drink liquor in various orders of magnitude.
‘Puter really liked the dinner the Czar made, as we knew he would. The Czar explained that decades ago, there was a tiny Thai restaurant in the middle of an industrial park that served a stunningly good beef salad named ยำเนื้อย่าง (yåem nụ̄ xỳāng, for the Volgi’s benefit), or “grilled meat broth” salad.
Many Thai places don’t even have it, which is a real shame because (a) it’s astonishingly good, (b) it’s easy to make, and (c) it’s incredibly healthy food. The Czar began a lengthy search for a recipe. He found it very few other restaurants, and it… well, they weren’t as good as the original. However, its popularity began to increase over the years, to the point it will be a common-enough option in non-Thai restaurants… the way you see pad thai, udon noodles, or phở served in so many places today…and with that slight uptick in popularity, recipes finally began to appear.
The Czar found one by grill deva Steven Raichlen that was curiously close to the original. With slight adaptation, the Czar managed to get the recipe exactly as he remembers it from thirty years ago. For your enjoyment, here it is.
The recipe consists of three parts: a marinade, the salad itself, and the dressing you pour over the salad.
1 flank steak, approximately 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 pounds in weight
3 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp fish sauce
2 Tbsp sugar
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp ginger, minced
4. Flip the steak over and repeat steps 2 and 3, so you have the same diamond-shaped pattern on both sides of the steak. This will greatly increase the steak’s ability to absorb the marinade.
6. Whisk together the other ingredients in a bowl, letting the sugar dissolve.
8. Place this in the refrigerator and flip it around every 4 hours or so, letting the meat drink in the marinade.
9. The longer you marinate, the better. The Czar allows for about 24 hours of chilling and flipping.
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 Tbsp fish sauce
3 Tbsp lemon juice
1-1/2 Tbsp sugar
1. Whisk these ingredients together in a bowl.
2. Pour them into a plastic container with sealing lid. You can then shake this up furiously (how else does the Czar do anything?) minutes before serving to re-dissolve the sugar. You can make this dressing the day before, or even minutes before. It’s up to you and how much time you have before guests arrive.
1 head Boston or Bibb lettuce, separated into leaves, rinsed, dried
1 cucumber, peeled and julienned
1 small sweet onion (Vidalia or Maui), julienned
12 fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1/4 cup coarsely chopped dry-roasted peanuts
1. Peel the onion and cucumber, and julienne them. For the onion, the Czar recommends you cut across the width of the onion, very thin, so that you can break apart the layers very quickly, as shown. See how that practically jullienes the onion for you?
3. Go start your grill, getting it medium-high to high, around 400° before going to the next step.
4. Retrieve your flank steak from the plastic baggie; throw away the bag. You don’t want this raw marinade anymore. Don’t even pour it over the steak while it’s grilling: it can flare up and char the flank steak more than you’ll like.
5. Plop the flank steak on the grill; if it sizzles, your grill is hot enough.
6. After about 4-5 minutes, rotate the flank steak 90°; this will put a beautiful crisscross of grill marks on the meat. It’s pointless, of course, because you’re going to cut this meat into strips, but let’s be professional regardless.
7. After another 4-5 minutes, flip the steak over to cook the other side.
8. Again, after 4-5 minutes, rotate the steak another 90° to put the grill marks on that side, too.
9. Done? You probably will be: the steak should be medium-rare to medium-well. Rare is too chewy and the blood wilts the lettuce; too much doneness and the steak will be like chewing gum.
12. When the steaks are done resting, slice them across the grain with a sharp knife into quarter-inch-thick slices. Then, cut any long strips into pieces about an inch-and-a-half long. You don’t want anyone choking on long pieces of flank steak, so cut and slice away into happy, bite-sized pieces.
14. Pour the dressing all over the salad.
15. Sprinkle the peanuts on the top and serve on individual plates or small bowls.
Refrigerate any unused portions; you can easily eat this cold the next day…the flank steak isn’t bad out of the fridge, and the dressing doesn’t turn the lettuce leaves to mush, either. It’s really a great two-day dinner-then-lunch meal.
Note: isn’t this supposed to be spicy? Although an increasing number of restaurants serve this with lethal spice added, the Czar’s original experience with this dish was not spicy, allowing the flavors to really come out. Add hot peppers if you want, and some folks add cherry tomatoes, but that’s not how the Czar first experienced it, and frankly, this no-pepper, no-tomato version is way better.