Vietnamese Grilled Beef Rolls (Bo Cuong Hanh Huong Recipe)
Bò nướng hành hương is a wonderful South-Vietnamese specialty. It's a dish of beef wrapped around sliced yellow and green onions, then grilled to medium doneness. The beef is infused with the aromatic scent of green onions and five-spice powder rub with honey. The blend of all the flavors gives the meat a sweet, sour, bitter, pungent and salty taste.
The dish is traditionally served with vermicelli rice noodles (bún) and aromatic Vietnamese herbs, but I served mine with nước chấm, ginger guava sauce and crushed peanuts. The main component of ginger guava sauce is guava jam. It can be difficult to find, but it's available in some Indian stores. Make the effort to find it because the flavor is amazing, and it contrasts with the beef very well.
I make this dish quite often for parties because it's easy to eat in one or two bites and doesn't interrupt conversations. Try it as an appetizer at your next dinner party. Your guests will love you!
Note: Glossary of relevant Vietnamese cooking terms.
Bò = beef
Bún = vermicelli rice noodles
Cuốn = rolled
Hành = onions
Hành hương = aromatic onions
Nướng = beef
Thịt = meat
Yields: 6 servings2-½ pounds "outside" flank steak (see tips), sliced paper-thin
8 green onions, sliced on the bias (about 4" long)
1 yellow onion
1-½ tablespoons five spice powder
1-½ tablespoons papaya paste (see tips)
½ teaspoon red chili powder
½ teaspoon baking powder (optional)
2 teaspoons honey
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
1 clove garlic, finely minced
4 tablespoons canola oil
2 teaspoons light sesame oil (optional), for drizzling
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds, for garnish
2 tablespoons unsalted roasted peanuts, coarsely crushed
Prepping the onions:
Trim the green onions. Cut about 2 inches off of the long white part (save it for another dish) and use the long dark green part. Blanch (dip for 5 seconds in boiling water then transfer to an ice-cold bath) the green onions, drain thoroughly and pat dry on a paper towels. Sprinkle with salt.
Thinly slice the yellow onion. Sprinkle with salt. Once the onion is soft, remove as much excess liquid as possible and pat dry with paper towels.
Marinating the beef:
In a bowl, combine the baking powder, five spice powder and red chili powder. Rub the beef with the spiced powder. Add the garlic, papaya paste and honey. Drizzle about 1 teaspoon of canola oil, chill and allow to marinate for about 15minutes.
Remove the beef from the refrigerator so the meat returns to room temperature.
Soak the wooden skewers in water for about 30 minutes. This step will prevent the wood from burning when put on the grill.
Pat the meat dry and season with salt and pepper.
Using a cutting board, spread the thin slices of beef and, stacking them next to each other, form about a 10-inch long piece. Place the yellow onion slices and long strips of green onions in the center and tightly roll the meat around the onions into tight cylinders. The onions should be tucked in the beef slices. Don't over-stuff the beef or the roll will burst; the diameter of the roll should measure about 1-½ inches. Repeat until all the beef is used.
You could secure the rolls with toothpicks but I threaded the beef rolls onto skewers, forming a grid between the beef rolls and the wooden skewers. Brush the beef with a little canola oil.
With a brush, grease a cast iron skillet grill (a regular frying pan would work but you won't get the nice grill marks) and heat until it's really hot, almost at the smoking point. Place the beef on high heat for 4 minutes using tongs. It's important that you do not pierce the meat so it stays moist and tender. You want to create nice grilling marks. Flip the meat on the other side. Grill for 3-4 minutes to medium doneness.
Transfer the beef to a platter. Drizzle with sesame oil and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Cover with a piece of aluminum foil. Let the meat sit for at least 5 minutes before slicing.
Using a sharp knife, slice the rolls into 1-½" pieces. The recipe yields about 25-30 pieces.
You can serve the beef rolls with bún (Vietnamese rice noodles), nước mắm, aromatic herbs (mint and Thai basil), pickled daikon radish and carrots and crushed peanuts. I served them as appetizers with ginger guava sauce (check the tips section for the recipe).
How to make five-spice powder: Dry-roast 1/2 stick of Saigonese cinnamon, 1 star anise, 2 cloves, 1/2 teaspoon of fennel seed and 1/4 teaspoon of Sichuan pepper. Place all the ingredients in a spice grinder (I use a coffee mill that I use exclusively for grinding spices) until it becomes a fine powder.
The flatter the onion is, the sweeter it is. I always try to pick flatter-shaped yellow onions at the market.
Don't marinate the beef for too long. The spice rub might brown the meat and the final product won't look as appetizing.
Another idea is to use a barbeque. Summer is on its way; you could grill the beef rolls on the outdoor grill.
Baking powder and papaya paste are great meat tenderizers to ensure juicy and moist meat. Papaya paste was Baji, Lulu's late grandma's secret for tender meat. Peel a green papaya. Grind the cubed papaya with seeds in a blender, place about 1 tablespoon of papaya paste per slot in an ice-cube tray and freeze them. Transfer the ice-cubes 3 by 3 into sealable plastic bags and place back in the freezer. I think it's the best way to keep the same flavor without getting freezer burn. I store them exactly the same as I would extra pesto.
Ginger guava sauce is not the authentic way to serve bo hanh huong but I think the spicy and sweet note of the sauce pair perfectly with the meat.
How to make ginger guava sauce: In a mini-blender (or a regular blender if you don't have a mini), combine 1 tablespoon caramelized onions, ¼ cup guava jam, 1-½ teaspoons sugar cane vinegar (or any other white vinegar), 2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger root, 1 tablespoon honey Dijon mustard and 1 teaspoon hoisin sauce. Pulse until smooth; add up to 2-3 tablespoons of water for a smoother flow (if necessary). Add 2 teaspoons of sesame oil. Season with salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature.
Technically, I do not use flank steak but the outside flank of the steak (the best part), called nạm. Just mention to your butcher you're making bò hành hương. You could also ask your butcher to slice the meat deli-thin for you. If you don't have an Asian market nearby, you could always use tender rib-eye steak or top sirloin (which is less tender though). If you're slicing the meat yourself, placing the meat in the freezer for 15-20 minutes beforehand helps you control the thickness of each slice of meat. Make sure the slices are as thin as you can make them. Also make sure the meat is sliced against the grain to ensure optimum tenderness.
If you're looking for a vegetarian equivalent of bún bò nướng hành hương, check out my braised rolled yuba recipe (tàu hũ ky kho).Published By: on April 5, 2010.