Shaking beef is a classic Vietnamese dish made with seared beef fillet that’s been marinated in soy sauce, rice wine, and oyster sauce, and is served with pickled onions and a lime dipping sauce. Here’s how to make it.
Bò lúc lắc is irresistible. The flavors are intensely delicious and the charred exterior of the flash-seared beef contrasts nicely with the rare, melt-in-the-mouth interior. The image shows an unadulterated bowl of the delicious shaking beef, but it’s amazing served with all the extras. The accompanying pickled onions offer a beautiful tangy kick to the whole dish. And the classic dipping sauce of salt, crushed black peppercorns, and a generous squeeze of fresh lime is simple yet adds so much depth and flavor. I would confidently say that any one of these components would have any Vietnamese person salivating, let alone all of them combined together on one plate.–Thuy Diem Pham
For the marinade
- 18 ounces beef fillet cut into 1 inch (2.5 cm) chunks
- 4 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons minced red chile peppers such as Thai, seeded if desired
- 2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce (or tamari if gluten-free)
- 1 tablespoon rice wine
- 1 teaspoon oyster sauce
For the dipping sauce
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons crushed black peppercorns
- Juice of 1 lime (about 2 tablespoons)
For the pickled onions
- Juice of 2 limes (about 1/4 cup)
- 4 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped red chile pepper such as Thai, seeded if desired
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 2 red onions cut into matchstick-ish pieces
- 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 10 scallions sliced diagonally into 2-inch (5-cm) pieces
- 7 ounces (about 2 cups) watercress
- 1 tablespoon Crispy Fried Shallots
Prepare the beef
- In a large bowl, combine the beef with all of the marinade ingredients. Mix well and refrigerate for 3 hours to let the marinade penetrate the beef.
- About 30 minutes before cooking, remove the beef from the fridge.
Make the dipping sauce
- In a small bowl, combine the salt and pepper and squeeze the lime juice into the bowl. Stir to combine.
Make the pickled onions
- In a small bowl, combine the lime juice, sugar, garlic, chile, and fish sauce. Stir until the sugar dissolves.
- Add the red onions and use your fingers to lightly toss together, taking care not to bruise the onions. Let the onions pickle while you cook the beef.
Cook the beef
- In a large frying pan or wok over a medium heat, warm 1 tablespoon oil. When the oil is hot, add the scallions and sauté for 1 minute. The scallions should still be green in color. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and scrape the scallions into a small bowl.
- Wipe the pan clean with paper towels. In the same pan over high heat, warm the remaining 2 tablespoons oil until it reaches 375°F (190°C).
☞TESTER TIP: An easy way to tell when the oil is ready is to place a wooden chopstick into it–when lots of bubbles form on the surface of the oil, it’s ready.
- Working in batches to avoid crowding the meat, add some of the beef and a little of its marinade and spread everything out evenly in the pan. Sear the beef for 30 seconds, then turn the pieces over and sear the other side for a further 30 seconds.
- Working quickly, carefully lift the pan off the stovetop and toss the beef vigorously. This is how the dish got its name, so feel free to go to town on your shaking! If you do this right you can expect lots of flames and drama. Shake the pan for 30 seconds, over a high heat at all times. Never take your eyes off the meat–don’t allow it to burn.
- If working in batches, place the shaken beef on a plate while you do the next batch.
- Add the scallions and continue shaking for a further 15 seconds. The beef should be nicely charred on the outside and rare in the middle.
- Arrange the watercress on a platter, scatter the pickled onions over the watercress, and arrange the beef on top.
- Garnish the dish with the crispy fried shallots and serve with the dipping sauce.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
This is such a fun and satisfying recipe to make—from beginning to end, I felt like I was at play the whole time. The results really do speak for themselves. Tender, juicy chunks of seared beef bursting with flavor, the sharp dipping sauce, the crunchy sweet and pungent shallots, the quickled red onions (which definitely exceeded my expectations in terms of how delicious they would be—I was eating them straight!) and the crunchy fresh greens. It was a sensory playground.
For the marinade, I used Thai bird chilis, and I kept most of the seeds, 4 Elephants Fish Sauce, and Braggs Liquid Aminos in place of soy sauce. The red onion rested while the beef was marinating, so it had over two hours to pickle, and it was amazing when the beef was finished cooking. The sauce did have a great texture with the coarsely ground pepper and salt suspended throughout. The simplicity of the sauce was perfect with the other multi-layered flavors, and the acidity really balanced the oily-sweetness of the fried shallots.
Serves 3 hungry people, 4 if served with rice or some kind of bread.
I did indeed see the “flames and drama” with the shaking of the beef and the addition of the marinade and scallions. My cast-iron pan is heavy and I barely lifted it off of my open flame gas stove as I shook the pan. The flames rose around the edges and licked the air above the pan (which was really gratifying). The beef ended up well seared and still rare in the middle and absolutely delicious!
I actually used some of the shallot oil for searing the beef in this recipe (because why not?) and I’m thinking of using some for breakfast eggs tomorrow!
I loved the end result as did my wife. My son liked the beef part and chose not to try any of the other components of the dish.
I used red jalapeños and didn’t use the seeds. I used Red Boat brand fish sauce and regular tamari. The sauce was lovely and textured. The beef was nicely charred and rare inside. Very tasty!
I used red Thai chile peppers and have learned my lesson about leaving the seeds in. Most of the time it’s okay, but often the seeds in these chiles can make the amount of heat in a dish uncomfortable. I have found that Red Boat Fish Sauce is a quality fish sauce that isn’t too salty. I also use low-sodium Aloha brand shoyu, it has a smoother flavor than others I’ve tried.
This sauce seems so simple but it makes a huge difference when eating the beef. The salt crystals add a pleasant textural element to the beef.
I make pickled onions for a number of dishes and have never thought to add a chile pepper but I’m pretty sure this is going to be my go to recipe from now on, it’s a really nice touch. I used the same red Thai chiles (without the seeds), and, again, the Red Boat fish sauce.
I used my wok for this recipe so it was pretty easy to get the heat I needed to sear the meat. I did do it in batches though, just to make sure I wasn’t steaming the beef instead of searing it.
This fed 4 people easily but we also had other sides as well (the Smashed Cucumbers was a nice addition to this meal) along with a nice big bowl of jasmine rice.
Originally published January 22, 2021