Growing up in a first generation immigrant family, primary cuts of beef were hard to come by. So by necessity, little family hacks were utilised on secondary cuts to emulate some of the attributes associated with primary cuts. To tenderise secondary cuts, a household family hack was to use rice wine and bicarbonate soda in the marination process.
The practice of using secondary cuts with reduced cooking times is unheard of in many cooking cultures. In Vietnamese food culture, which embraces the philosophy of ‘head to tail’ dining, it is common practice to use cuts of beef, such as top side, with short cooking times.
Lean cuts of beef are not widely popular in Vietnamese cuisine as they are seen to have little flavour and minimal texture. Because of this, cuts like topside are typically exposed to very little cooking time. You can expect your local pho (beef noodle soup) restaurant to utilise topside in their rare beef option. When thinly sliced and treated with boiling hot pho bone broth, topside takes on a tender and juicy character that we have all learned to love. However, as most have found out, if that top side stays in the broth for too long, it will turn tough, flavourless and rubbery. So, when cooking top side on a grill or on a barbeque there are two home cooking hacks that will allow you to create Vietnamese beef skewers without blowing the budget.
Rice wine and bicarbonate soda are two essential ingredients used throughout Asian cuisine as a method of tenderisation and increasing flavour profile. Bicarbonate soda has the immense power to break down a secondary cut’s chewy, rubbery and dry nature. It is important to note that bicarbonate soda can have a big impact on the marination process, so using it in scarce amounts is recommended. Overuse of bicarbonate soda will result in meat that is soft and undesirable. When marinating overnight, rice wine also has the capacity to tenderise secondary cuts, but because of its acidic nature, it can also drive the marinade and thus flavour deeper into the cut of meat. Primary cuts, such as rib eye, would be a great alternative in this recipe and would contraindicate the use of bicarbonate soda, however the rice wine will assist in improving the beef’s flavour profile.
So next time you are shopping on a budget or see a secondary cut that is heavily discounted, do yourself a favour, pop it in the trolley and try this recipe out to experience Vietnamese food culture in all its vibrant flavour.
1 kg beef topside, thinly sliced
3 lemongrass stalks, finely diced (white part only)
2 birds eye chilli, finely de-seeded and diced
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 Thai shallots or ½ brown onion, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
¾ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon anchovy salt (optional)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon rice wine or last night’s white wine (optional)
¼ teaspoon bicarbonate soda
Roasted peanuts crushed
½ bunch spring onions finely chopped
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon salt
50ml neutral cooking oil
In a large bowl, marinate beef with all ingredients for a minimum of one hour. For best results, marinate overnight. Optional: place beef into freezer 30 minutes before skewering to make the process easier.
Allow meat to return to room temperature before placing on a hot skillet, then BBQ or charcoal grill for 2-3 minutes each side then allow to rest for 2-3 minutes.
In a small bowl add salt and sugar to finely chopped spring onions and mix well.
In a small pot or milk pan bring 50ml cooking oil to smoking point.
Carefully pour oil onto the spring onions then mix well.
Garnish beef skewers with crushed peanuts and spring onion oil.