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when the stars align

Recipe: thai sizzling beef

The logistics of coordinating a full moon ski where I live can be a tricky business. There are a few criteria to be met:

1) It should be during the full moon (otherwise it’s just a night ski).
2) There needs to be enough snow to ski.
3) It needs to be a clear night (so you can see by moonlight).
4) It can’t be too windy because ground blizzards are pretty miserable by day, as it is.
5) It can’t be too cold, which has more to do with the wind most of the time.
6) You should be completely familiar with the route.

#6 is assumed, but it’s good to state it anyway. Just like you should have plenty of extra layers, hats, gloves, headlamps, food, water. Our local mountains are notorious for brutal winds which in turn scour the snow into 20-foot drifts that border bare ground. It is what it is. I was coordinating a full moon ski with friends, but really I was just hoping Mother Nature would let it happen. Weather forecasts were for cloudy skies and breezy conditions (gusts to 25 mph) five days out. Around here (and perhaps where you live too?) the weather forecast is most accurate right when it is happening. We got a good dump of snow on Sunday, then bluebird skies on Monday. I waited for afternoon clouds to form, but they didn’t. It was go time!

nichole gets felix into his snow suit in the parking lot

Jeremy and I met up with our intrepid friends Nichole, Luke, and their 2 year old, Felix. We marveled at the fat, orange moon rising over the Great Plains as we geared up in the parking lot and braced ourselves against the wind. Heading out toward the lake, Luke pulled the sled carrying Felix (Luke is super fast, this is how we make him ski like the rest of the mortals) while we kept moving to stay warm and keep up. As the moon rose higher, we admired how bright the stars remained overhead. Luke spotted something on the western horizon moving southwest, up, and across the sky. We watched it and ran through the possibilities: not a plane (lights not flashing), not a satellite (too bright), could it be… space station! Well how cool is that?!

felix got out of the sled to ski with us for a bit

luke is ready to head down the hill with felix in the sled

Once home, Jeremy did verify that it was the space station we saw crossing the sky (magnitude -1). I could not have hoped for a better evening with dear friends. Okay, we could have done without the winds, but at least they weren’t gale force. The next morning, we awoke to…

big fluffy snowflakes

taking a break in the afternoon to get a little ski tour

it snowed all day

I love the snow so much. In summer, I remember it with great longing. It lingers in my mind. I obsess about it until the storms return, hopefully in autumn. I get that way with food too. There are dishes I miss from our Southern California days that stir my taste memories. Thai sizzling beef was a favorite of ours at Min’s Kitchen in La Cañada. It’s a marinated beef over fresh spinach with peanut sauce served on a sizzling platter. I’ve been meaning to reproduce it, if I could. I’m no recipe developer, I just know when I like a dish.

flank steak, fish sauce, vegetable oil, sugar, salt (omit the salt)

slice the beef

mix together


My first attempt involved a complicated marinade that resulted in a nearly disintegrating meat. The flavor wasn’t right either. I decided to go for a simple marinade of fish sauce, sugar, and oil, which is what ended up working for me. The next time I try it, I may add a little oyster sauce or thick soy sauce. For the peanut sauce, I like this one recipe from a cookbook that I picked up some 20 years ago in an Asian grocery store. While the beef is marinating, you can whip this up.

peanut butter, peanuts, coconut milk, tamarind, fish sauce, masaman curry paste, sugar, paprika, garlic

all of the ingredients prepped

combine in a pan

after 15 minutes of simmering

After marinating, drain off any excess liquid and pat the beef dry. Mine was pretty dry already, so I just sautéed it with a little oil. When the beef is nearly done, drain off any excess liquid and then add a cup of the peanut sauce (more if that is your desire) to the hot pan and stir to coat the beef.

brown the beef

add the peanut sauce

cook the sauce down a bit

I realize that sizzling platters are not standard in most households. I probably wouldn’t have even thought to do it except for this cute little shallow cast iron pan I picked up a few years back on a fall shoot. I was waiting for the rain to clear out and decided to kill some time in a little mountain thrift shop. Amazing what you can find for $4. If you don’t have this, you could conceivably use a regular cast iron skillet or say “to heck with that!” and keep everything in the original pan. If you’re doing the skillet route, pile fresh spinach on the skillet and pop it over a high flame. When the pan is good and hot (a drop of peanut sauce should dance on the surface), add the hot beef on top. Let it sit a few minutes to get a good sizzle going and then serve. If you want to use the same pan that you used to cook the beef, just push the beef to the side and toss the spinach in over high heat. When it wilts, scoop the beef on top of the spinach.

fresh spinach

and sizzling beef

The flavor is close to that of Min’s Kitchen and I think next time I will increase my spinach-to-beef ratio. Min’s Kitchen typically serves this with a Thai cucumber salad in the pan, but that was going to get messy so I served it on the side. Definitely make the salad because the whole ensemble is a heavenly balance of the savory and sweet beef with peanut sauce, the mild green flavor of spinach, and a bright, crunchy, sweet and sour of the cucumbers. I ran a little victory lap around the kitchen.

sizzling thai beef with thai cucumber salad

Thai Sizzling Beef
[print recipe]
inspired by Min’s Kitchen

1 lb. beef, sliced thin and against the grain (I used flank steak)
2 tbsps vegetable oil
1 tsp sugar
2 tbsps fish sauce
1 cup peanut sauce (see recipe below)
3 cups fresh spinach

peanut sauce
from Thai Cooking Made Easy by Sukhum Kittivech

1 tsp masaman curry paste
2 tbsps fish sauce
2 tbsps peanut butter
3 tbsps tamarind juice (I mixed 1.5 tbsps water with 1.5 tbsps tamarind concentrate)
3 tbsps sugar
1 tsp paprika
1 clove crushed garlic
2 cups coconut milk
4 tbsps crushed peanuts

Make the peanut sauce: Place all peanut sauce ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce to a simmer and stir occasionally for 15 minutes until sauce has reduced to 1 1/2 cups in volume. You can store this in an airtight container for up to a week in the refrigerator.

Prepare the beef: In a medium bowl, mix the sliced beef, 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil, sugar, and fish sauce together until the beef is evenly coated. Let marinate, covered and refrigerated for at least an hour, not more than 24 hours. When done marinating, pat the beef dry if it is particularly drippy (mine wasn’t). Heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large sauté pan or wok over high heat. Sauté the beef until it is just pink. Drain off any excess liquid from the pan. Add a cup (or more) of the peanut sauce to the beef and stir it together. The sauce should begin to bubble. At this point you can either push the beef to the side of the pan and toss in the spinach, letting it wilt, and then stirring the beef and spinach together or you can serve it “sizzling” by piling the spinach onto a large, flat cast iron pan. Heat the pan over high heat with the spinach on top. When the pan is hot (a drop of peanut sauce should sizzle), pile the hot beef over the spinach. Serve immediately. Serves 4-6.

more goodness from the use real butter archives

pim’s pad thai
thai shrimp salad stir-fried flank steak vietnamese bun bo xao (beef noodle salad)

12 nibbles at “when the stars align”

  1. Kristin says:

    Your moonlight ski sounds great…as does the recipe! I’m sure my weirdly picky kids (won’t eat “normal” food but love Asian) will enjoy it.

  2. marcie says:

    Oh man that looks amazing! So jealous of all your snow.

  3. Brandon @ Kitchen Konfidence says:

    I am totally making this. Been on the Paleo Diet for the past two weeks, and I’ve been cooking recipes like this. Usually I substitute almond butter for peanut and honey for sugar. Haven’t made anything with beef yet. This looks so yum!!

  4. Kath the Cook says:

    Got to love the victory laps – we all need them now and then. Looks fab

  5. Samantha @ Blissful Domesticity says:

    That looks amazing. I’m going to have to borrow this one for sure, I think even my kids would eat it!

  6. Brynnie says:

    Yum to the Num. Definitely going to try this one! And Kaweah with little snowflakes gracing her beautiful face…precious. :)

  7. jill says:

    What a fun night for you…
    Kaweah is such a love…
    nom nom, lovely recipe!

  8. afracooking says:

    Your pictures of the meat just look amazing! Great recipe!

  9. Clark & Sumner says:

    Loved this one, Jen. Made my Tuesday night. Xoxo

  10. jenyu says:

    Kristin – ;)

    marcie – thanks!

    Brandon – are peanuts not allowed in the paleo diet?

    Kath – thank you xo

    Samantha – it’s an easy one to love!

    Brynnie – hope you like it!

    Jill – xo

    afracooking – thanks!

    Clark & Sumner – yay! If you guys come visit me, you get to pick what you want me to cook for you :) xo

  11. Emilie says:

    Yum, that tasted good. My peanut sauce was a bit runnier than yours looks but was beautifully tasty with rice and your (slightly adjusted) cucumber salad.

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