A few years ago, I borrowed a pair of super-insulated, hyper-warm mittens from a friend. To make a long story short (as if), she knew I have a cold-fingers problem and was kind of dreading the trip. She found these mittens too warm for D.C. winters and thought they would help make my holiday bearable. They (and a few, well-timed shots of bourbon) did. At around the same time, this same friend’s wok gave up the ghost, and she was searching for a replacement. I offered her mine–a heavy, anodized workhorse I’d had for longer than I’d had my kids but that I hadn’t used in a while. A great trade was born. I loved the mittens, she loved the wok. Win win.
Well, until I realized how much I missed my wok. I hadn’t used it in a while (hence the speed with which I traded it away), but I really did love it. So I did some research, bought a new one, and started the process of seasoning it. And stir-frying. In my own, uninspired fashion. No matter how hard I tried, I never turned out anything that tasted even close to what I wanted (which was real stir-fry).
Then I got my (warm!) hands on award-winning chef Charles Phan‘s The Slanted Door cookbook. As much a love letter to San Francisco as a guide to “Modern Vietnamese Food,” Phan’s book offers up evocative photos of both the city and the dishes he serves at his Slanted Door restaurants. Oh, and recipes, of course. And did I mention cocktails? And, like the food and the city, the cocktails are spectacular. The Royal “Pimm’s Cup” is so heavily laced with fruit and mint that Carmen Miranda would have been proud to wear it on her head. Though personally I’d rather sip it than sport it.
First up for me was Sticky Rice with Sweet Potatoes, a dish listed as a starter but with its coconut milk, sweetened condensed milk, and sugar could easily, deliciously start my entire day off right. The black sticky rice wasn’t so easy to find, but I managed and was glad I did.
This Ginger Beef Vermicelli, however, listed only ingredients I had on hand and could, I hoped, help me perfect my stir-frying at last. And it did. Quickly, easily, and absolutely deliciously. I believe my husband used the word “incredible” to describe dinner that night. I was so flush with success that I added Crispy Green Beans to the menu–and to our permanent rotation.
Next up: Mastering the spring roll.
“About ten years ago I met up with restaurateur Bobby Chinn, the London educated New York stock trader who eventually found his calling as a chef,” Charles Phan says. “His hugely successful Restaurant Bobby Chinn opened in 2001 in Hanoi, and he followed up a decade later with a location in Saigon. When I visited him in Hanoi, we hopped on his scooter and he took me to a street stall where a woman was stir-frying beef and garlic, which were served over noodles. The key to her delicious dish was getting a caramelized crust on the beef without burning the garlic. At the Slanted Door we do this by stir-frying the beef and garlic separately, but at home, just give the beef a quick stir-fry before adding the garlic.”
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Thanks to our friends at Ten Speed Press, we have a gorgeous copy of The Slanted Door to give away. Leave a comment below the recipe to enter the drawing and we’ll announce a winner on Friday, November 7. Tell us what kitchen technique you’d like to master or have, happily, mastered. Giveaway is open to U.S. residents only.
- 6 ounces bavette or flank steak, thinly sliced on the diagonal
- 4 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- Pinch of kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and julienned
- 2 teaspoons fish sauce
- 3 cups cooked rice vermicelli
- Flavored fish sauce for serving
- Lettuce, torn
- Roasted, unsalted peanuts
- In a medium mixing bowl, combine the beef slices, 1 tablespoon of the oil, the cornstarch, salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Use your hands to toss together and set aside.
- Heat a wok or skillet over medium-high heat until a drop of water evaporates on contact. Add 1½ tablespoons of the oil and heat until shimmering. Add half the beef and cook, stirring, until the beef is browned, about a minute. Add half the garlic, half the ginger, and half the fish sauce and continue cooking until the beef is cooked through, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. Repeat with the remaining oil, beef, garlic, and fish sauce.
- Serve the beef on top of the vermicelli, and a bed of torn lettuce. Sprinkle with peanuts, and serve with flavored fish sauce alongside.