This bright, balanced Thai grilled-beef salad will be your new favorite summer salad
Thailand’s famous grilled-beef salad known as nam tok is far more than just a steak salad. Served warm or at room temperature, it features slices of deeply charred steak tossed with thinly tossed shallots and handfuls of torn mint and cilantro in a bright, bracing dressing. The cuisine’s five signature flavor elements — hot, sour, salty, sweet, and bitter — work in balance, making for a light but satisfying dish that’s traditionally served with steamed jasmine rice.
After testing a handful of cuts, we decided flank steak was the best choice for our version of this dish. After a few minutes over a modified two-level fire, this uniformly shaped, moderately priced cut was beefy and juicy, and it sliced neatly.
The name nam tok (literally “water falling”) refers to the beads of moisture that form on the surface of the steak as it cooks — an age-old Thai cookery clue that the meat is ready to be flipped. While this method sounded imprecise, we found it to be a surprisingly accurate gauge of when the flank steak is halfway done. Here’s why: As this steak’s interior gets hotter, its tightly packed fibers contract and release some of their interior moisture, which the fire’s heat then pushes to the meat’s surface. When turned at this point and cooked for an equal amount of time on the second side, the steak emerged deeply charred on the outside and medium-rare within.
For the dressing, we used a base of fish sauce, lime juice, sugar and water, and then added a Thai chile and a mix of toasted cayenne and paprika, which added earthy, fruity red pepper flavor. We also made our own toasted rice powder, a traditional ingredient in Thai grilled-beef salad recipes.
As for the vegetable components, we chose ones that complemented — but didn’t compete with — the grilled beef: The requisite mint and cilantro, plus a thin-sliced cucumber, which contributed a cool crispness to this nicely balanced, complexly flavored Thai classic.
Thai Grilled-Beef Salad
Serves 4 to 6
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon white rice