Ever since that piece popped up in San Francisco magazine several months ago, I’d been anxiously awaiting the arrival of The Slanted Door’s take-home-and-Charles-Phan-it-yourself goodies. When they arrived, I was then anxiously awaiting the time when I could betake myself to the Ferry Building and bring one of those little plastic boxes home for dinner. That time finally came, and tonight we feasted on Shaking Beef.

Everything in each box is neatly packaged, either sous vide or in cunning little plastic tubs, and labelled so there’s no mistake when you follow the stunningly laminated recipe card. I have to admit that I was a bit shocked that Charles Phan was willing to let out some of his precious secrets to the home cook, but when I sniffed the little container of cooking oil, I was shocked no longer. That was not your run-of-the-mill Canola oil. There was something else there. Something pungent, savory. Onion or shallot, perhaps? I can’t say that I’ve ever come across shallot-infused oil before, but there you are: there was something special about that oil and we might never know what. (The author freely admits to having saved the oil container so she can periodically sniff at it and perhaps someday suss out the mystery.)

The stunningly laminated recipe card tells you cooking time, servings (2 for Shaking Beef, which I don’t believe, because I could have ecstatically eaten the whole creation myself), and storage instructions in case you aren’t ready to make the dish the night you arrive home with it. Next on the card is a list of the ingredients you’ll find in the box. Finally, you have a listing of what tools you’ll need and the recipe directions. The only tool listed for Shaking Beef was a wok or frying pan. To that minimalist list, I would also recommend using tongs to turn the beef during the browning process and a wide wooden spatula for stir-frying.

I chose to make my dish in a 12-inch Calphalon “frying pan” because I think that on average more households have that over a wok. Indeed, our wok has never been taken out of its box. I opened and laid out all the components within easy reach of my pan, because when stir-frying, you don’t want to be darting all around the kitchen and risk overcooking your food. Instead of waiting until the end, I actually prepared the dipping sauce before starting to cook, as I didn’t want to be fussing with it when the meat was rapidly cooling. The dipping sauce is another place where Charles Phan gets to keep his secrets. It may be nothing more than a lime (juiced by you) and a salt and pepper mix, but I’m convinced there are great mysterious depths in that salt and pepper mix.

I heated the oil in my pan until it was snapping from the high heat. Adding the filet mignon (damn!) beef cubes, I waited a minute — the directed amount of time — before turning. Since I like my meat more on the bloody side, I only let the meat cook about 45-55 seconds longer. All sides were nicely brown. Next, I was to drain off the oil until only one tablespoon remained in the pan. I’ve always found my eyes to be quite irresponsible when it comes to judging measurements, so I carefully removed the beef cubes (the last thing I needed was that precious meat bouncing to the floor where my rabid cats were waiting with baited tuna breath) to a small bowl, poured all the oil into a ramekin, measured out one tablespoon of oil, and discarded the rest.

I added the oil back to the pan and cooked the container of minced garlic for the required amount of time. Although the directions don’t expressly say this, I actually kept the beef out of the pan, because I hate overdone beef and I didn’t want it to cook any longer. After the garlic came the pre-sliced red onions and pre-chopped scallions. Next, the fish sauce went into the pan. I’m certain this fish sauce was of a quality I could never find in Safeway. The recipe called to stir-fry the aromatics a bit before adding every restaurant’s secret ingredient: butter. It thickened the meat-juice mingled sauce beautifully. I then added the browned beef cubes back to the pan so that they could warm up a bit (if they had even cooled off much, considering how fast this whole dish went) and slid the fragrant mass onto the fresh, unblemished watercress and presented it to my husband. We fell upon the dish — I, to examine the interior of the meat for doneness (it was a lovely ruby red); he, to dunk his meat straight into the lime dipping sauce.

In between bites (we ate standing at the counter so eager were we to try the dish), the experiment was deemed a complete and utter success. At $17.50 for the Shaking Beef, I don’t know that we could repeat the experiment often, but I will sweep off my toque and bow to Charles Phan for proving that yet another element of Out the Door is off the hook.

Out the Door
1 Ferry Building (behind The Slanted Door)
San Francisco, CA 94111

Out the Door and In Your Kitchen 16 June,2005Stephanie Lucianovic

  • Kim Goodfriend

    I happened to swing by Out the Door the day they started the boxed take-home dinners a few months back. I was *so* excited to take that beautifully packaged box of Shaking Beef home to prepare. And even though it’s on the expensive side and I always wish there was more, it tastes just like it does in the restaurant (where I’ve been ordering it since they opened!). YUM.

  • Amy Sherman

    Did you see the Slanted Door recipe for Shaking Beef in the Chron Macy’s ad the other day? I meant to cut it out but now I can’t find it…

  • Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic

    Oops — tried to remove the spam and deleted myself instead!

    Amy, do you recall if it mentioned a special kind of oil or pepper? Since Shaking Beef is a popular Vietnamese dish not invented by The Slanted Door, I’m sure it can be replicated. I’m just conviced that the oil, fish sauce, and ground pepper used are secrets they will (rightly) never reveal.

  • cookiecrumb

    NYTimes ran Phan’s recipe last year, and it still seems to be accessible online if anyone wants to take a look.

  • Amy Sherman

    I think a cook-off tasting is in order. We could buy an order to go, get the package and try the recipe and see how each compares to the other…

  • jstew52

    Here’s the recipe as posted in The Chronicle a while back

    Serves 4

    1 pound filet mignon, trimmed of fat and cut into 1″ cubes
    1 t sugar
    3/4 t salt
    1/2 t pepper
    2 T canola oil, + additional for wok
    1 C thinly sliced red onion
    2 stalks green onion, cut into 1″ pieces
    2 t chopped garlic
    2 t unsalted butter


    3/4 c rice vinegar
    1 T sugar
    1/2 c mirin (sweet rice cooking wine)
    1/2 c light soy sauce
    1 T dark soy sauce
    2 t fish sauce

    to finish

    1 bunch watercress

    Dipping sauce

    1 T salt
    2 t black pepper
    4 T lime juice

    Marinate beef: combine beef with sugar, salt, pepper and oil. Cover and refirgerate 2 hours

    Combine all ingredients for sauce

    Divide meat into 2 eight ounce portions to be cooked separately. Heat walk over high heat. Add 2 T oil. When smoking, add one portion beef and press into a single layer. Sear on one side, then flip with a spatula to other side. Add 1/2 c red onion, 1/2 the green onions and 1 t garlic. Cook 30 seconds

    Add 3 T stir fry sauce. Shake pan to release beef. Add 1 t butter and continue to shake pan until butter has melted, about 30 seconds, spoon over platter lined with watercress.

    Repeat process

    serve with dipping sauce on the side

  • Kim Goodfriend

    Hello dinner! Thanks for posting that recipe.

  • Anonymous

    Here’s something we have at home. It’s an oil thing.

    Slice some shallots really thinly. Heat canola oil in a wok or frying pan and fry the shallots until they’re sort of light golden. Turn of heat, add a pinch of salt or two and stirr the shallots in the hot oil until they’re a darker shade of brown but not burnt. Drain the shallots and use for garnishing stir fries. The oil can be used for stir or whatever.

    Hopefully you can solve the oil mystery

  • Anonymous

    does anyone know the hours of operation for out the door?


Stephanie Lucianovic

A former picky eater, Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic is a writer, editor, and lapsed cheesemonger in the San Francisco Bay Area. A culinary school grad with an English lit degree, she has written for CNN.com, MSNBC.com, Popular Science, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe. Additionally, she has been writing for KQED’s Bay Area Bites since its inception and is the website editor for KQED’s Emmy-award winning show “Check, Please! Bay Area.”

Stephanie was an original recapper at Television Without Pity and worked on a line of cookbooks for William-Sonoma as well as in the back kitchen of a Jacques Pépin cooking show. Her first book, SUFFERING SUCCOTASH: A Picky Eater’s Quest To Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate (Perigee Books, 2012) is a non-fiction narrative and a heartfelt and humorous exposé on the inner lives of picky eaters that Scientific American called “hilarious” and “the perfect popular science book for a reader that doesn’t think he or she wants to read a popular science book.”

Stephanie lives in Menlo Park with her husband, three-year-old son, assorted cats, and has been blogging at The Grub Report for over a decade.

Follow her on Twitter at @grubreport

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