Shake it!

Centuries ago, when I was in my early 20s, I often went to Tanglewood - an incredible classical music festival in the Berkshire Mountains of Western Massachusetts - with my friends Bill and Alan.

One evening - I wonder if they remember this - we stopped for dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant in West Stockbridge prior to the concert. The restaurant was the Orient Express, and it is still there.

As an orchestral musician, I should remember the concert that evening. I don't.

What I do remember was the meal. Shaking Beef or Bo Luc Lac. It is a delicious sauté of beef - beautifully flavored - served over a bed of watercress.

Shaking beef gets its name from the very quick sauté the beef gets while the cook shakes the skillet.

I haven't had it since then, because it was soon thereafter that my garlic allergy developed. And, as you may know, garlic figures prominently in Vietnamese cuisine, so much of that wonderful culinary tradition has been off limits to me.

I don't know what possessed me to think of this dish a couple of weeks ago, but think of it I did. I kind of obsessed about it and told Mark that I wanted to make it. I started googling recipes and, like many dishes in many countries, there is a large variety of authentic versions.

Using these as a guide, I created my own authentic (but non-toxic) version. Most of the ingredients were in my cupboard - all, in fact, except the sweet soy sauce. I had come across this problem once before and solved it by mixing some honey with regular soy sauce.

My Bo Luc Lac was fantastic. I can't say whether it actually tastes like the dish I had in the 80s, because that was a long time ago. But does that really matter if it tastes good? I have made it at least half a dozen times since putting together the recipe and have had no complaints from those who have tasted it.

It is amazing how important the bed of watercress is to the recipe and flavor combination. Once, when I couldn't find watercress (I do live in the desert, after all...), I substituted arugula and have to say that it was a great choice.

Aside from the use of shallots instead of garlic, and the honey-soy combination, the only other change I have made is using beef tenderloin rather than the more commonly recommended cuts. I really like the way tenderloin absorbs the marinade flavors, and it is so ... well ... tender.

Here is my authentic, non-authentic version of Bo Luc Lac.

- David

Bo Luc Lac ~ Shaking Beef

1 1/2 pounds beef tenderloin
1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper, plus extra
3 teaspoons sugar, divided
1 shallot, finely minced
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 teaspoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon honey
1 or 2 pinches salt
1 1/2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons water
6 cups watercress or arugula, washed
2 tablespoon canola oil
rice, for serving

Trim any fat from the steaks and then cut each into 1/4-inch by 1-inch by 2-inch slices. In a bowl, whisk together the 1/2 teaspoon pepper, 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar, shallot, oyster sauce, fish sauce, soy sauce and honey. Add the beef and toss well to coat. Set aside to marinate for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

In a mixing bowl large enough to accommodate the greens, combine the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar, salt, several grinds of black pepper, rice vinegar and water. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Put the watercress or arugula on top but do not toss.

Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet over high heat. Add the beef and spread it out in one layer. Let the beef sear for about 1 minute, then shake the wok or skillet to sear the other side. Cook for another minute or so and shake, until beef is nicely browned and medium rare.

In between shakes, toss the watercress or arugula and divide among 4 plates. When the beef is done, divide the beef and place on top of the greens and serve immediately with lots of rice on the side.

Serves 4

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