Burmese Beef Curry with Rice Noodles

This Burmese beef curry is made with sirloin, ginger, coconut milk, chiles, turmeric, cilantro, and basil served over vermicelli rice noodles. Curry in a hurry.

An orange tablecloth with a white and gold pattern filled with rice vermicelli, Burmese beef curry and red chopsticks.

A delicious Burmese beef curry that you can adapt to your taste. If you can’t take chiles, reduce the quantity or, if you love spiciness, increase the number of peppers; you can also add some crushed dried chiles as well. This recipe can be served with steamed rice, but I love Chinese vermicelli rice noodles.–Ching-He Huang

LC NOODLING AROUND WITH RICE NOODLES NOTE

Rice noodles come in all manner of widths. In most Chinatowns, you can find fresh, fat, folded rice noodles as wide as a man’s belt being sold on the sidewalk for as little as a dollar a bag. Those are lovely and squishy, although they’re intended for stir-fries and soups and aren’t quite right for this dish. Fortunately what is right for this dish far are the various dried rice noodles that are far more common and readily found in most local grocery stores.

Rice noodles come in varying widths. What you want here is the very skinny vermicelli, which works well in this sorta instance where you simply want to twirl the noodles on a fork before you scoop up some of the gravylike (in a good way) curry sauce. But go on, noodle around with some other sorts of rice noodles, and see what trips your fancy.

Burmese Beef Curry with Rice Noodles

An orange tablecloth with a white and gold pattern filled with rice vermicelli, Burmese beef curry and red chopsticks.
This Burmese beef curry is made with sirloin, ginger, coconut milk, chiles, turmeric, cilantro, and basil served over vermicelli rice noodles. Curry in a hurry.
Ching-He Huang

Prep 20 mins
Cook 10 mins
Total 30 mins
Mains
Asian
2 servings
1056 kcal
3 / 2 votes
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Ingredients 

For the paste

  • 4 garlic cloves crushed and finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
  • 2 fresh red chile peppers seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 large onion peeled and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 handful chopped cilantro leaves
  • 1 handful chopped Thai basil leaves

For the beef

  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 2 shallots peeled and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon shrimp paste
  • One 12 1/2-ounce sirloin steak cubed
  • 1 1/4 cups coconut milk
  • 1 lemongrass stalk* chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce (nam pla)
  • 5 1/2 ounces rice vermicelli noodles

Directions
 

Make the paste

  • Blend all the paste ingredients together in a or in a small food processor.

Make the beef

  • Heat a wok over high heat, add the oil and shallots and shrimp paste, and stir-fry for less than 1 minute. Add the paste and stir-fry for 1 minute. Add the steak and stir fry until browned on all sides, about 2 minutes.
  • Stir in the coconut milk. (For a thinner sauce, you could also add a little chicken stock at this stage. For a creamier curry, you could add some coconut cream.) Add the lemongrass, brown sugar, coriander, and fish sauce. Bring to a boil and sprinkle with the cilantro and Thai basil.
  • Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the rice noodles according to the package instructions. Drain the noodles and divvy them between 2 serving bowls. Ladle the curry over the noodles and serve immediately.
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Notes

*How do I chop lemongrass?

Lemongrass is used extensively in Asian cooking, particularly in Burma, Vietnam, Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia. If you’re not terribly familiar with it, you might have some trepidation about getting it ready to use. 
First, you need to remove any tough outer leaves, chop off the white bulb, and discard those bits. Next, slice rings until you hit the fibrous, tough part–about 2/3 of the way up. Those upper pieces, by the way, can be bruised (just bend them until they’re fragrant and softened) and added to a simmering broth to add some extra flavor–just don’t eat ’em. They’re awfully tough.
Now start chopping those rings. Or toss them into a food processor. Or smash them with a mortar and pestle. Just keep at it until you have something that looks more like flakes, rather than fibrous rings. Anything leftover can be put in a plastic zipper bag and chuck into the freezer, where they’ll be ready for next time.

Show Nutrition

Serving: 1portionCalories: 1056kcal (53%)Carbohydrates: 92g (31%)Protein: 54g (108%)Fat: 54g (83%)Saturated Fat: 32g (200%)Polyunsaturated Fat: 6gMonounsaturated Fat: 12gCholesterol: 194mg (65%)Sodium: 1953mg (85%)Potassium: 1494mg (43%)Fiber: 6g (25%)Sugar: 9g (10%)Vitamin A: 622IU (12%)Vitamin C: 77mg (93%)Calcium: 199mg (20%)Iron: 11mg (61%)

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

I love Ching-he Huang’s recipes as a rule. This Burmese beef curry is different than some of her more delicate creations and contains a lot of fragrant ingredients that balance one another neatly, although during the cooking process I have to admit to having my doubts about the amounts used.

I should, of course, have known better. The strong smell of the shrimp paste is soon lost in the mix of scents from the curry paste, and all the bold flavors are ultimately tempered by the coconut milk. The curry soaks into the rice noodles in a way that is very satisfing, although the thin consistency of the sauce makes using chopsticks a little hazardous.

More texture would work really well, I think, and next time I’ll add something with crunch—baby sweet corn, broccoli, and snow peas come to mind. For those who like Thai and spicy food, get involved in this recipe. For those who don’t, exercise caution and adjust the amount of chili down, but give it a try!

This recipe deserves a tester’s choice designation based on its flavour blast and quick preparation. My timing was total 60 minutes but the preparation is so dynamic that you don’t notice the time going by. The food processor is your friend. Don’t be intimated by the long list of ingredients. They create an indispensable synchrony of aromas and complementary flavours. Also, the vermicelli is the perfect rice noodle for this velvety curry sauce. 

Burmeses beef curry in a white bowl with vermicelli noodles and cilantro and basil garnish.

There’s room though, for this curry to go from great to greater. My “beef” with this beef curry was in the cut of beef. I strongly advise either using a more tender cut or thinly slicing the beef instead of cubing. My slightly chewy beef was delicious and would be considered tender. However, it was a bit more stewy than stir-fried. I needed a bit more time (5 minutes) in the wok for browning and tenderizing which is probably why my cubed morsels were more stew-like.

The recipe didn’t call for salt but I added one teaspoon in the vermicelli water. I had spinach vermicelli and that’s what I used. The recipe should also indicate leaving cilantro and Thai basil for finishing garnishes. These ingredients were listed as chopped in the paste ingredients but were not mentioned in the beef ingredients. Then, they showed up in the beef finishing steps. Minor detail in the road to a bowl of comforting yet exciting beef curry. Try it!

Oh, wow. This Burmese beef curry tastes like it’s been developing flavor for days, and I’m sure happy to find one that’s quick but still delivers that subtle burn on the back of my throat even as I’m tasting a dozen complex flavors on my tongue. And it’s BEEF! I love beef, and it’s not a common curry ingredient.

I was able to make the paste and the finishing lemongrass mixture earlier in the day, so the rest came together quickly at dinner time. Because I was using a Dutch oven rather than a wok, I worried the sirloin would overcook, so I turned the burner to high and seared each piece on only two sides (one minute per side), removing them to a platter before sautéing the shallot mixture which served as a great a pan de-glazer. After I finished sautéing the paste, I added the beef and all its lovely juices back in. Once my mise en place was set, it was indeed curry in a hurry. The sirloin didn’t seize up and get tough, even when the curry sat on the stove for an hour or two. I feel that this recipe made closer to four servings than two.

Rinsing the rice noodles per instructions on the package meant that our final dish was watered down more than we would have liked as the other reviewer noted (should have waited longer for it to drain), even despite the extra coconut milk I added, so next time I will make the noodles earlier and rinse, then toss them with peanut oil. Or serve rice. Since I couldn’t score shrimp paste before making this, I used extra nam pla instead, and I didn’t really miss the shrimp.

Originally published May 5, 2004

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Comments

  1. 3 stars
    Very tasty, would make a couple changes if I make again. Husband does not like heat as much as I do, so used one red pepper, we both agreed two would be better. Also would finish it with a little lime juice maybe, it seemed a little flat tasting. But good flavor.

    1. Thanks for writing, Carlin. Improvisations are part of what makes food personal—they bring it closer to you. A little heat and a bit of tang—both sound wonderful!

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