One of the greatest benefits to living in China for me is that vacationing in exotic places is just hop away. Traveling around South East Asia has become something I take a little bit for granted. In fact, I’ve started dreading my trips to Hong Kong. They usually mean I’m making a visa run, either to get a new one or to get a stamp on my old one saying that I’d been out of the country at least once in three months.
But traveling can be absolutely heaven when you can escape from the city and from work in favor of beautiful beaches, vibrant cultures and wonderful shopping.
On top of all of those reasons, I love traveling around South East Asia because of the creative ways each culture uses its ingredients. They all basically have the same products to work with, and each country and region puts its own spin on them.
By far my favorite trip has been the one we took last October to Northern Vietnam. We cruised Halong Bay, hiked through the mountains of Sapa, and lounged on Hoian’s beaches. And I was in heaven, not because of the sight seeing, but because of the mix of French and Asian cuisines. Croissants, pans au chocolat and strong coffee for breakfast, a smoothie in the afternoon and dinner spreads of spring rolls and noodles and seafood. All the way through Northern Vietnam, I could not stop ordering one dish. Every time we went into a restaurant, I would seek it out on the menu, and beg Walker to let me have it again. Green papaya salad with beef jerky. It was fresh and crunchy, with bright herbs and lime and dark sesame oil and fish sauce.
Even though we’ve been home for more than six months now, I still can’t stop thinking about that salad. I loved how healthy it was and how sinful it felt. Fortunately, before I left, I snagged the recipe from our favorite restaurant in Hoian (which I’ll share with you next time!) for green papaya salad. That recipe didn’t include the beef, so I looked around and adjusted, adjusted, adjusted until like Goldilocks’s porridge, it was just right.
Now don’t go skipping this beef jerky just because it elicits images of long road trips and Slim Jims picked up at gas stations during bathroom breaks. Give it a shot. I promise you it’s unlike any beef jerky you’ve ever had – tender and flavorful, and made with quality ingredients. You’ll never think of beef jerky the same way again.
Vietnamese Beef Jerky
Thit Kho Bo
Makes 1 pound
2 pounds beef rump or bottom sirloin roast
6 Thai chiles, chopped
1 large stalk lemongrass, trimmed, halved lengthwise and cut into super thin half circles (1/3 cup total)
1/3 cup lightly packed light brown or brown sugar
About 1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 tablespoon light (regular) soy sauce
1 tablespoons dark (thick) soy sauce
1. To make the beef easier to cut, freeze it for about 45 minutes, until firm. Use a sharp knife to cut thin pieces, each about 1/8-inch thick. Cut across the grain to get the most tender results. Transfer to a pan or bowl. Set aside.
2. For the marinade, put the chiles, lemongrass, and sugar in a mini food processor if you have one. I don’t so I just chop and grind to a fine texture. Add the fish sauce and both kinds of soy sauce, and process to blend well.
3. If the meat has released juices as it defrosts, pour them out so it doesn’t dilute the flavors. Then pour in the marinade. Use your hands to ensure that each piece is coated on both sides. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to marinate for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
4. Position 2 racks in the upper and lower third of the oven and preheat to 300F. Line two baking sheets with foil or parchment. Raise the rack in the oven to the highest point possible, and arrange the beef on top of the parchment, and bake for about an hour, until the beef is a dark reddish brown and has shrunk to about 75% of original size. Keep an eye on it though so that it’s done too your taste. (I pull mine out at around 45 minutes) They should be slightly flexible when done; don’t let them get crisp and dark brown. Store in the fridge in an airtight container until ready for use. Let the beef come back to room temperature as you prepare the rest of the salad.