Thai Grilled Beef Salad

I spent some time in Thailand towards the end of 1995. While there I fell in love with the complex,  layered flavors that make up their everyday cuisine. I loved the food so much that when I got back to the USA in 1996 I bought up every Thai cookbook that I could get my hands on. I still have, and use, only one of those books it is called "True Thai-The Modern Art of Thai Cooking". It was written by Chef Victor Sodsook. I have never found a better teaching tool for Thai Cuisine than this book! You can still purchase "True Thai" at amazon.com if you are really interested in the finer points of creating authentic Thai Cuisine at home.

Thai food has an amazing amount of layered flavors in every dish! One of the most popular Thai foods-Tom Ka Gai, or chicken and coconut soup-has sweet, sour, salty, spicy, creamy, and fresh flavors in every single spoonful. The Thai people are blessed with some of the truly greatest tasting food on the planet.

Last night I was craving those flavors, and decided to do Thai food for supper, so I made Tom Ka Gai and Yam Neua-Fiery Grilled Beef Salad. The salad came out so lovely that I decided it was worth sharing! I will share my Tom Ka Gai recipe with you on another day as it is a bit complex.

Incidentally...this salad and the dressing are completely fat free except for the steak and the peanuts. So if you wish to preserve the integrity of the low-fat quality of the salad simply use a leaner cut of beef, grilled shrimp, tofu, or chicken breast instead of well marbled sirloin, but it will NOT be nearly as yummy!!!

Fiery Grilled Beef Salad

for the dressing:
1/4 cup finely sliced cilantro stems
1-3 Thai chilies-minced (or 2 minced Serrano chilies)
3 cloves garlic-crushed and finely diced
3 Tbs. light brown sugar (or coconut-palm sugar if you can find it)
1/2 cup lime juice
2-4 Tbs. fish sauce (depending upon your personal tastes)
in a nonreactive bowl whisk everything together; dissolving the sugar. Set aside.

for the salad:
12-16 ounce well marbled sirloin or ribeye steak

1 cup very thinly sliced red onion
8 ounces peeled and thinly sliced seedless cucumber
2-3 tomatoes chopped into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 cup chopped mint-thinly sliced (chiffonade)
1/2 cup chopped roasted (unsalted) peanuts
1 large head of romaine, iceberg, or butter lettuce (or a combination thereof) chopped for salad

If you are able-grill your steak over charcoal 4 minutes per side until rare to medium rare. If you are not able to grill your steak-simply pan sear it in a good cast iron skillet 4 minutes per side. Remove the steak from the heat and allow it to "rest" for a minimum of 10 minutes.*(see below)

Toss the remaining salad ingredients together in a big bowl with the dressing.

Arrange your salad on 4 dinner plates. Once your steak is fully "rested" slice it into very thin strips. Arrange the meat on the salad in an attractive fashion. VOILA! You have just mastered one of the most popular Thai street foods in existence.

*Why rest a steak?

The Perfect Steak is a Juicy Steak: http://culinaryarts.about.com/od/beefporkothermeats/a/Resting-A-Steak.htm

If you were to cut into a steak straight from the grill, you'd see a huge pool of juices come spilling out all over your plate. But if you wait five minutes or so before cutting into it, you won't see that. The juices will be in the steak, not on the plate. Here's why:

Think of a steak as a bunch of little cells, each one filled with juice. When you cook it, the heat causes those little cells to contract, which in turn squeezes the juices toward the center of the steak where it's cooler. Imagine a water balloon. When you squeeze it at one end, the water shifts to the other end. So your hand squeezing the balloon is like the heat of the grill.

Fortunately, the way those little cells get squeezed is only temporary, provided you've cooked the steak properly. Given a few minutes to cool down, those cells will revert to their former shape and the juices will migrate back from the center to be redistributed throughout the steak. If you overcook a steak, those little cells won't bounce back in the same way, and thus cannot reabsorb those juices. Of course, in an overcooked steak, much of the juices will have evaporated anyway.

Resting a Steak is About Cooling the Steak

As is the case with so much to do with cooking steaks, there is a key temperature involved in resting a steak. The idea with resting is basically allowing the hot steak to cool to about 120° to 125°F. At that temperature, the cells have relaxed enough so that the juices can flow back in.

Now that you know about the 125°F, you should be prepared to forget about it. Just like when you cooked a steak to 135°F for medium rare, you didn't measure it with a thermometer. Poking a hole in the meat will cause all the juices to come pouring out. This is the case whether the steak is on the grill or resting on a platter, and obviously that's the exact opposite of what we're trying to accomplish here.

Guidelines for Resting Steaks

A useful guideline for resting a steak is to let it rest for approximately as long as you cooked it. Another guideline is to let it rest for five minutes for every inch of thickness. (The perfect steak is 1½ inches thick.) Some cooks talk about resting meats 10 minutes for each pound of meat. As you can see, all of these guidelines are basically saying the same thing. Rest your steak for five to seven minutes before slicing it.

The way I like to rest my steaks is to take the steaks off the grill, transfer them to a cutting board and then tent them under a big piece of foil. You can then use these five to seven minutes to prepare a sauce, make a salad, get your side dishes ready, set the table or whatever. And if you're so far ahead of the game that you truly don't have anything left to do, you can relax for five to seven minutes with a refreshing beverage.

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