Food plays a big part in culture. When you think of cultures around the world you associate certain food with each one of them. For example, when you think of Vietnam, pho usually comes to mind. I was trying to think of what food is best associated with my Cambodian culture. Lots came to mind. The one that stands out the most has to be lemongrass beef sticks aka sach ko jakak. You’re in for a treat, I had to call my mom for her yummy recipe!
Cambodian (Khmer) beef sticks are a must at every bbq, celebrations, and parties. If you visit Cambodia, you can find beef sticks cooking over open pit at every street vendors, along with everything else you can imagine on a stick (spiders on a stick anyone?). Generally there are two kind of beef sticks flavors; lemongrass paste (kreung) and just a regular red marinate. My favorite is the lemongrass paste beef stick because I feel like it’s the most authentic and you can’t beat the flavors or aroma. Kreung (lemongrass paste) is the heart of many Khmer dishes. We use it to flavor soup, meat, etc. The lemongrass paste consist of lemongrass, galangal, lime leaves, garlic, and, turmeric; combine and pounded in a mortar and pestle until it forms a paste. I remember when I was younger, my parents always make me pound the lemongrass. I would hate them so much, my arms would ache, my back would hurt from sitting on the ground pounding it….now I miss it and realize how important those moments were.
There are many ways to make Khmer beef sticks, but today we are using my mother’s recipe. It was hard to get the recipe from her, not that it was a secret recipe or anything, but she does not measure anything (as do most moms) and my Khmer American self had to figure out what herb/plants she was referring to in English. No worries, I figured it out for you and even have pictures for reference! The secret to my mother’s beef stick is the addition of coconut milk. She said it makes the beef really tender and when it mixes with the lemongrass paste…the aroma is unbeatable! I have to agree with her, when it cooks over the grill…the coconut milk gives a nice charred and a hint of sweeten to the beef stick. I hope you consider making this for your July 4th picnic or future gathering. You don’t be disappointed…especially if you pair it sticky rice and papaya salad.
Khmer Lemongrass Beef Stick – makes about 20 sticks
Kreung (Lemongrass paste)
- 2 lemongrass stalk, trimmed and finely chopped
- 2 lime leaves, finely chopped
- Handful of galangal, sliced
- 4 garlic, peeled
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- Mortar and Pestle
- 2 lbs of steak (chuck steak or brisket meat), medium sliced
- 1 pod of chili pepper, soaked until softened and minced
- 3 Tablespoons of oyster sauce
- 1/2 cup of coconut milk
- 1 Tablespoon of oil (any type is fine)
- 1 tsp of msg (optional, my mother insisted on it)
- Salt and Pepper
- Bamboo skewers
- Make your kreung (Lemongrass paste), by pounding your ingredients in the mortar and pestle until it forms a paste. You can also use your food processor if you don’t have a mortar and pestle. You may want to add little water in your food processor to get the ingredients moving and to form your paste.
- Slice your beef against the grain. You’re looking for a medium thickness to the slices. Too thin, it won’t stay on the stick. Too thick, longer cooking time and it would be hard to chew.
- Combine steak, paste, oyster sauce, chili pepper, oil, MSG, and coconut milk in a bowl. I highly suggest taking a few pieces and cooking them on a skillet just to taste. This is where you can add more salt, sugar, oyster sauce and adjust the seasonings until it has a nice balance. I cooked a few pieces each time just to make sure it wasn’t too salty etc. I got it right on my third try (no wonder my mother didn’t tell me any measurements). Once you got the right balance of seasonings, marinate in the fridge overnight.
- Fire up your grill. You want a medium high heat. If you can, avoid using a electric grill. The results won’t be the same.
- Soak your bamboo sticks in water for 10mins to avoid burning on the grill. Skewer your meat. I would say about 6 pieces on each stick. Space them apart and make sure they are flatten so the meat can cook evenly.
- Grill the sticks 3-4 mins on each side. You can grill longer if you want your steak to be well done.
- Remove from grill when done. These sticks are best enjoyed while still hot. Traditional they are serve with pickled carrots, daikon, and cucumbers. I love it with papaya salad and warm stick rice. YUM!