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