It is easy to think of Beef Lok Lak as just another stir fry meal, but there is something truly unique about this traditional Cambodian beef dish. Lok Lak consists of intensely flavoured cubes of beef which are dipped in a lime pepper sauce and served on a bed of crisp lettuce and sliced tomatoes.
A popular dish in Cambodia, Beef Lok Lak is usually on the menu in eateries and is also a favourite in the home. This particular recipe comes from my cooking experience at Nary’s Cooking School and Restaurant in Battambang (a city in northwest Cambodia). The day began with a trip to the local markets to firstly introduce us to local delicacies and produce, and to also purchase ingredients for the meals we were to prepare. Passionate and proud of his heritage, our host Toot (Nary is his wife’s name), was both thoughtful and thorough in his instructions, and this enabled us to create a dishes that were spicy, vibrant and most of all authentic.
Phsa Nat market in Battambang where it seems almost anything can be bought.
Preparation Time: 20- 30 minutes Cooking Time: 5 minutes Serves: 4
Marinating Time (Optional): 30 minutes to overnight
- 750 g (1 1/2 llbs) porterhouse steak (Note 1)
- 4 – 6 plump cloves of garlic, grated
- 2 tbsp oyster sauce
- 4 tbsp dark soy sauce (Note 2)
- 2 tsp chili sauce
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tbsp oil, plus 2 tsp for frying (Note 3)
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/2 tsp cornflour/cornstarch
- 1 iceberg lettuce
- 4 – 5 sliced tomatoes
Lime pepper dipping sauce
- juice of 3 limes
- 1/2 tsp of each, sugar and black pepper
- pinch of salt
- Set off your beef lok lak with finely chopped spring onions, chives, or coriander leaves.
- Cut the beef into smallish cubes. Place them into a flat dish so they are not crowded and form just 1 layer.
- Add the garlic, oyster sauce, dark soy sauce, chili sauce, black pepper, sugar and oil to the beef. Massage the marinade into the meat. Set aside. (Note 4)
- Separate and wash the lettuce leaves. Shake off excess water and pat dry with paper towels or a clean tea towel. Arrange the lettuce on individual plates or on a large platter. Add sliced tomatoes on top. (Note 5)
- Place the lime juice in a small bowl. Add the sugar, black pepper and a pinch of salt. Stir. Set aside.
- Add 2 tsp of oil to a medium fry pan. When the oil is very hot, add the beef in small batches. Stir fry vigorously. Remove and place each batch directly onto the serving plates. (Note 6)
- Turn the heat down to medium high, if there is any marinade left in the bowl, tip it into the fry pan. Dissolve the cornflour/cornstarch in 1/4 cup of water. Pour the mixture into the fry pan. Stir until you get a thick glossy sauce. Pour this sauce over the beef.
- Garnish and serve with the lime pepper dipping sauce.
- Porterhouse steak is cut from the short loin area of the beef with the T-bone removed.
- Regular or light soy sauce can be used as alternatives. I use dark soy sauce as it creates a darker, more dramatic colour in the beef.
- Toot wasn’t fussy about what type of oil to use.
- To create a deep colour in the beef, l marinade anywhere between 30 minutes to overnight. During the cooking class in Cambodia, we marinated the beef for the same amount of time it took to prepare the accompaniments for the Lok Lak (time was of the essence) and we still created a delicious dish!
- I haven’t been prescriptive with how you should serve Lok Lak. In Cambodia, it is served with rice on the side and a fried egg on top. I usually skip the egg and prefer to arrange the beef on top of steamed rice, with the salad on the side.
- Be mindful of the hot oil as it will spit and splatter when you add the beef. To avoid too much liquid building up in the pan, only add small batches of beef cubes at a time. You don’t want to end up with beef stew.
Cambodia takes travellers from its ancient Kingdom to its modern cosmopolitan centres in one journey. There’s the pandemonium and charm of the capital Phomn Penh; Siem Reap’s cafes and night-life; the iconic temples of Angkor War or the rustic simplicity of rural life. Yet, amid the marvels and majesty of Cambodia, there is also poverty and destitution left behind by the genocide of the 70’s. It is this side of Cambodia which is also unforgettable.
It was out of a desire to have a human connection with the people of Cambodia, that my family became involved with The Cambodian Children’s Fund (CCF). Founded by Australian Scott Neeson, CCF works towards lifting children and their families out of crippling poverty through education, support, and by delivering community and sponsorship programs. Our connection with Cambodia became very real when we decided to sponsor a child. The photo on the left is my daughter Grace with the little girl we chose to sponsor. Through this little girl, we see hope, possibilities and a brighter future for Cambodia and her children.