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 savory 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 flavor of sirloin tips.
After pounding the meat ½ 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 ½-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.
Start to finish: 40 minutes
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon fish sauce, divided
2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger, divided
3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons packed light brown sugar, divided
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 pound sirloin tips, patted dry
12 ounces thin rice noodles
¼ cup lime juice (2 limes)
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon chili-garlic sauce
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 cup fresh mint leaves, torn
1 cup fresh cilantro sprigs
½ cup roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped
In a medium bowl, combine 1 tablespoon of fish sauce, 1 tablespoon of the ginger, 2 teaspoons brown sugar, 1 teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Set aside. Place the sirloin tips between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and, using a meat mallet, gently pound them to an even ½-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 2 or 3 times, until tender, 3 to 5 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 ¼ cup fish sauce, the remaining 1 tablespoon ginger, the remaining 3 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 6 minutes. Transfer to a plate and let rest for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, to the noodles add ½ 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.