shaking beef with watercress

4    |   
Prep Time:
10 minutes    |   
Cook Time:
10 minutes

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shaking beef

When I was food editor at San Francisco magazine, we chose Charles Pham as our Rising Star Chef for his Mission-district restaurant Slanted Door, which blew the doors off any other Vietnamese restaurant I had been to. His signature dish was shaking beef — named for the way it is cooked fast in a constantly moving wok. I tried hard to recreate it at home, but when we asked him for the recipe for our awards issue, I saw how completely off base mine was. Still, I had grown fond of this version, which gets at the velvety-ness of the original by adding blasphemous avocados, and I make it all the time. I use filet tails, which are the super-tender ends of the filet. You can use sirloin or skirt steak instead. You can use all soy sauce instead of adding fish sauce, but it will lack the umami of the original. Speaking of the original, you can find it here.


2 bunches watercress
1 large ripe avocado
1-1/2 pounds filet tails or sirloin, trimmed of fat
2 limes, juiced
1 tablespoon each soy sauce and fish sauce
(or 2 tablespoons soy sauce)
1 teaspoon sugar
freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons grapeseed, canola or peanut oil
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced


Trim most of the long stems off watercress, then wash and dry the greens. Spread on a serving platter. Slice the avocado and arrange over watercress. Cut beef into 1-inch strips. In a small bowl, stir together lime juice, soy sauce, fish sauce, sugar, and about 1/4 teaspoon ground pepper. Now you’re ready to cook.

Warm 2 tablespoons of the oil in a flat-bottomed wok or large saute pan over medium-high heat; add the onion and stir until golden, 3 to 4 minutes. Spread onion over watercress and avocado on platter. Add remaining oil to pan and increase heat to high; add beef in one layer. Let cook until browned on one side, about 2 minutes, then stir-fry meat until no longer pink on the outside, about 2 minutes. Stir lime juice mixture, pour into pan and boil for 30 seconds. Pour meat and sauce over watercress and avocado and serve immediately.