Easy weeknight dinners are a challenge for everyone. Believe me, I understand all too well the pull of a drive thru or takeout after a long workday. In fact, I succumb more than I care to publicly admit. I’m not immune to a fried chicken-biscuit combo and I know I should cook myself a nice balanced dinner more often, energy levels be damned. Doesn’t mean I always do it. That’s why everyone should have a few simple tricks in their back pocket. This is one of mine. A simple piece of beef, marinated in flavorful ingredients, quickly cooked and served with anything you like.
I suppose this starts as a Vietnamese inspired dish – lime juice, fish sauce, ginger – but I don’t think the Vietnamese use hoisin or soba noodles so I guess it’s more of an all encompassing Asian inpired dish. Regardless start with a thin piece of beef, flank steak works particularly well, and marinate it in a simple mixture of fresh lime juice, ginger and Vietnamese fish sauce. Sometimes I’ll even grab a frozen piece from the freezer, throw everything in a Ziploc and toss it in the fridge before I leave for work, to let it marinate and defrost at the same time.
A good sear in a screaming hot pan – cast iron is ideal – and I finish it in the oven. Generally 10 minutes will get medium well, 6-8 minutes for medium rare and 4-5 minutes for rare but this all really depends on the thickness of the steak. Pay attention; I consistently overcook my steak because I lose track of time but the good thing is, flank steak is pretty forgivable so don’t fret. After cooking, a 10-15 minute rest is important; don’t skip this part. While the beef rests, I’ll make a quick peanut dressing to toss with some soba noodles. Slice it up, toss it together, and eat. Incredibly easy and delicious.
So there are a few things to discuss. Vietnamese fish sauce plays an important role in this dish. It is a wonderful ingredient; rather pungent on it’s own but great in sauces and marinades. If you think you don’t like fish sauce, try to. It doesn’t taste fishy or stinky or funky in the finished dish; just adds a nice balance of salt. Also, the longer you marinate the beef the better. I recommend a minimum ½ hour but go as long as several hours if you can for better flavor, even try my defrost/ marinade trick above. If you don’t have a pantry stocked with these Asian basics, you can find everything in a well-stocked grocery store these days but I highly recommend a trip to an Asian market. It’s a hoot and you’ll find all kinds of interesting things.
There are a few shortcuts, like blanching the vegetables quickly during the last minute the soba is cooking, that make things a bit easier but I realize even this might be a little involved for some. In that case, skip the noodles. I’ve eaten this beef on a pile of salad greens, on a roll as a sort of quickie bahn mi and have added it to noodle soups. The main thing to remember is to get something delicious on the table without killing yourself in the process. Get there any way you can.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: QUICK TRIP TO FLAVORTOWN. I don’t eat a lot of beef but when I do, I like to prepare it this way. (That was very Dos Equis guy, wasn’t it?) Simple, flavorful, fast; a winner in so many ways. Dishes with these qualities are hard to find and it’s good to keep a few of them in mind for everyday emergencies. I use carrots, celery and dried shiitake because I nearly always have them on hand, but use any vegetables you like – snap peas and raw cucumber slices are rather nice. Make the noodles, stuff a sandwich, add it to the top of a salad, toss it with some stir-fried vegetables. It all works.
Seven years ago: Chino Farms Strawberries
Six years ago: Cobbler & Cabining Annoyances
Five years ago: Rhubarb Syrup, Hipster Cocktails
Four years ago: Pear Frangipane Tarts
Three years ago: Mexican Chocolate Pudding Pops, Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Vanilla Cardamom Roasted Rhubarb
Two years ago: Guinness Crème Anglaise
Last year: Mango Lassi Freezer Pops
FLANK STEAK WITH PEANUT SOBA NOODLES
So flank steak is by nature, thick in the middle and thin on the ends, which can cause for some uneven cooking. If you like your steak a consistent degree of doneness, cut it into appropriate pieces so the thinner pieces can cook less than the thicker. You can, however, use this unevenness to your advantage if you’re cooking for people who like their steak anywhere from rare to well done.
for the flank steak:
2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice (from one average sized lime)
2 Tablespoons Asian fish sauce (nuoc mam or nam pla, available at Asian markets and many grocery stores)
½ teaspoon finely minced fresh ginger
½ teaspoon sambal chile paste (or sriracha)
1 pound flank steak
for the peanut dressing:
3 Tablespoons creamy peanut butter
1 ½ Tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
1 ½ teaspoons hoisin sauce
1 Tablespoon fish sauce
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
½ teaspoon sambal chile paste (or sriracha)
½ teaspoon finely minced ginger
For the soba noodles:
2 bundles of soba noodles (about 7-8 ounces)
4 dried shiitake mushrooms
2 medium carrots, peeled and julienned
2 medium celery stalk, julienned
2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
- Marinate the steak: If needed cut the steak into a 2-4 pieces to make it more manageable.
- Combine all the marinade ingredients (lime juice, fish sauce, ginger, sambal) in a Ziploc bag and marinate the flank steak at room temperature for 30 minutes while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. If marinating longer, refrigerate until needed.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- For the dressing: In a medium bowl, whisk together the peanut butter, soy sauce, hoisin, fish sauce and rice vinegar until smooth.
- Whisk in the sesame oil and sambal until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
- Cook the flank steak: Remove the steak from the marinade and pat dry with paper towels. (If the steak is too wet, it will steam rather than sear. Not good.)
- Heat a heavy sauté pan (cast iron is great) over high heat until screaming hot. NOTE: if your skillet does not have an oven proof handle, put a sheet pan in the oven to get nice and hot.
- Add the steak and sear, without touching, for 3-4 minutes until well caramelized on one side.
- Turn the steak and place the pan directly into the preheated oven. NOTE: if your sauté pan does not have an oven proof handle, transfer the steak to the hot sheet pan and return to the oven.
- Cook for about 5-6 minutes for medium rare, 7-8 minutes for medium, 9-10 minutes for medium well (depending on the steak thickness). I cooked my steak for 10 minutes and it was nearing medium well; more than I would have liked but still delicious.
- Remove from the oven and let rest for 10-15 minutes, covered with foil.
- For the soba: meanwhile, bring a pot of medium pot water to boil.
- Add the shiitake mushrooms, turn off the heat and let soak while you prep the vegetables.
- Cut the carrot or celery in long thin strips – if you have a mandoline, this is pretty easy. Set aside until needed.
- Remove the shiitakes from the water and slice into thin strips.
- Add the strips back to the pot and bring to a boil.
- Add the soba noodles to the pot (be sure to remove the little paper bundle tags) and cook according to the package directions, likely 6 minutes.
- 1 minute before the soba is done, add the carrots and celery strips.
- Reserve ½ cup of the mushroom/soba cooking water then drain the soba/vegetables. Do not rinse. (If you like, save the mushroom/soba water for future soups or whatnot.)
- Add ¼ cup of the reserved mushroom water to the dressing and whisk until combined. If needed, add a bit more.
- Reserve 2 Tablespoons of the dressing to drizzle on top.
- While still slightly warm, add the noodles/vegetables to the bowl and toss to coat. Set aside.
- Assembly: once the steak has rested, slice across the grain into thin slices.
- Give the soba/vegetables a little toss and pile on a serving platter. Top with the sliced steak. Garnish with a drizzle of the reserved dressing, cilantro and sesame seeds if desired. Serve warm, room temperature or cold.