Inspired by a dish that chef Luke Nguyen cooked in his TV show, this stir fried beef and chayote combo is another example of the yin-yang concept that is found across various Asian cuisines. The ingredients are simple, few and inexpensive, the seasonings are minimal, and yet, the aroma and flavors are so complex, one would think that a dozen herbs and spices went into the preparation.
Speedy cooked this dish for our lunch today. He was a bit worried that it was too salty but I loved the boldness of the fish sauce and the subtle sweetness of the brown sugar, a combination that I will forever associate with Vietnamese cooking.
Undoubtedly, a good fish sauce is essential. Not only does it impart the necessary saltiness, it also conveys a flavor and aroma that are decidedly Asian.
For best results, use a tender cut of beef. Sirloin, top round, bottom round and tenderloin are good choices.
It is also important to cook the chayote just until tender-crisp. I remember reading a blog long ago, I can’t remember anymore which one, but I distinctly recall the blogger scoffing at the term “tender-crisp”, a term often used to describe vegetables in a stir fried dish. Well, cooks who know how to stir fry properly (see stir frying basics) can easily understand what “tender-crisp” means — vegetables that are cooked just until done so that the edges are tender but the center is still firm.
“Tender-crisp” is not so much a classification of a one-dimensional texture but more of a description of the sensation in the mouth as one eats a properly stir fried vegetable — the vegetable feels tender as one begins to bite into it but before the teeth completely cuts through it, one realizes that the tenderness is only partial as the center has retained the crispness of the vegetable in its raw state. Put another way, “tender-crisp” describes distinct layers of textures that are inexorably intertwined.
Stir fried beef and chayote
- Cut the beef slices into thin slivers.
- Place the beef in a bowl. Add the sugar and fish sauce. Mix. Allow to marinate while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
- Peel the chayote. Cut off the hard core and discard. Cut the flesh into sticks about a third of an inch thick and two inches long.
- Heat the cooking oil in a wok or frying pan.
- Saute the garlic until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Drain the beef (reserve the marinade) and add to the garlic. Stir fry (again, I recommend that you go through the stir frying basics) just until the beef changes color about two minutes.
- Scoop out the beef and transfer to a plate or bowl. Keep warm.
- Throw the chayote sticks into the wok. Stir fry until tender-crisp, about four to five minutes, depending on how mature the chayote is. Note that you may need to deglaze the pan with a few tablespoonfuls of water as the sugar in the beef would have caramelized and mixed into the oil. Since chayote needs a couple of minutes to cook, to avoid the sugar from burning, add water, little by little, which should also help the chayote strips stay moist.
- Return the beef to the wok. Pour in the reserved marinade. Add black pepper. Stir fry for another minute or until the beef is heated through.
- Pour the beef and vegetables onto a platter. Sprinkle with the onion leaves.
- Serve hot with rice.