Packed with protein, iron and other essential vitamins, beef jerky is a favorite snack for individuals who want to get their nutrition on the go as well as those who are prepping to remain in one place for a very long time in order to outlast the sort of doomsday scenario that appears more likely with each passing day. (Sigh.)
But we weren’t talking about sheltering in place in order to avoid climate change, monkeypox or January 6th rioters looking to rekindle that DC magic; we were talking about beef jerky — which now comes infused with cannabis in California.
In Vietnam, a non-infused variety of everyone’s favorite dehydrated beef product is a staple on salad, and it also is on top of some of the greenery at chef Daniel Le’s Southeast Asian restaurant Essex Pearl on the Lower East Side in New York City.
A fixture in the kitchen starting at the age of 15, Le grew up eating his grandparents’ traditional Vietnamese cooking and now incorporates ingredients and flavors from the northern and southern regions of Vietnam into the menus he creates. As Le explains to InsideHook, that’s how a green papaya and beef jerky salad ended up coming out of the kitchen at Essex Pearl.
“It’s very popular throughout Vietnam and Thailand. People in Cambodia and Laos have had their own renditions of it. Nobody really knows who started it first,” he tells her. “I grew up eating what was basically beef jerky, shredded papaya and fresh herbs with soy sauce. Our version at Essex Pearl is a little bit different, but it has flavors I enjoy and there’s a nostalgia to it.”
Le’s major twist on the dish he grew up eating is that the jerky in his green papaya salad is marinated in a mixture of fish sauce, honey, oyster sauce and other ingredients instead of just soy sauce and is prepared in a dehydrator as opposed to being grilled slowly over charcoal.
“The jerky is a little on the saltier side because of the fish sauce, but my dressing is a bit on the sweeter side. The papaya itself is kind of earthy. That kind of rounds everything out,” he says. “When you mix everything together and dress the salad, the flavors play off each other because you’re hitting every note on the palate. There’s also a little bit of kick to it.”
While the Vietnamese-style salad sounds summery, it’s traditionally actually more of a four-season dish. “Southeast Asia has a very tropical climate, so almost everything is year-round,” he tells her. “There are no really seasonal vegetables or fruits that you would find, and you can basically get papayas year-round. It’s common to find beef jerky in a papaya salad in Vietnam because the weather is so humid and dry. Back in the day, they would just hang-dry the beef to dehydrate their jerky and then use a grill for some smokiness and to remove any bacteria that’d grown on it.”
Fortunately, you can use an oven for Le’s make-at-home recipe.
Essex Pearl’s Green Papaya and Beef Jerky Salad
Ingredients for the jerky and lemongrass marinade
- Son Fish Sauce – 1 cup
- Clover Honey – ½ cup
- Light Brown Sugar – ½ cup
- Minced Lemongrass – 4 sticks
- Lee Kum Kee Oyster Sauce – ½ cup
- Cracked Black Peppercorn – 2 tbsp.
- Beef Top Round – 5 lbs.
- Son Fish Sauce is more concentrated than the fish sauce you typically see. Using this recipe with a different brand of fish sauce will be less salty, so you would need to use more than what the recipe calls for.
Directions for the jerky and lemongrass marinade
- Gather fish sauce, honey, brown sugar, oyster sauce and black peppercorn and whisk in a mixing bowl.
- Remove the bottom root of lemongrass (1 inch from the bottom) and peel the outer layers. Coarsely mince the white part of the lemongrass and discard the rest. Add to the marinade mixing bowl and set aside.
- Pull beef top round and trim away all fat, skin and sinew on the outer beef. If not comfortable doing so, ask the butcher to remove it. Lean meat is ideal for making this beef jerky. Slice into thin rounds, about ¼ inch thick.
- Mix beef and marinade together and allow to marinate overnight, a minimum of 12 hours is ideal, but eight hours is also okay.
- After marinade time, preheat the oven to the lowest temperature (200 degrees is the most standard).
- Lay marinated beef on top of a wire rack that fits inside a tray. If no rack and tray combo, place the rack on oven racks and use a drip tray underneath to catch any drippings. It is important to circulate air or else the jerky will not dry out properly. Cook for 2-3 hours, or until the beef is dry. Each oven is different so cooking times will vary.
- Cut beef jerky into strips using sheers or a knife and allow to cool before storing away.
Ingredients for the coconut-soy dressing
- Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend. The dressing will foam up but that is okay, as it will settle.
Ingredients for the salad
- Shredded Green Papaya – 2 cups
- Beef Jerky Cups – ½ cup
- Thai Basil – ½ cup
- Mint – ½ cup
- Cilantro – ½ cup
- Sawtooth Cilantro – ½ cup
- “Rau Ram” Vietnamese Coriander – ½ cup
- Roasted Chopped Peanuts – ¼ cup
- Coconut-Soy Dressing – ½ cup
- All ingredients can be found in most Asian stores. Latin stores also carry most of the ingredients as well. Make sure to use green papaya, as semi-ripe and ripe papaya will be too soft.
Directions for the salad
- Peel and wish green papaya. Use a Japanese mandoline with medium julienne teeth to shred papaya. Make sure to cut into 4-inch sections before using the mandoline as this will help with the ease of eating.
- Pick Thai basil, mint, coriander and rau ram off the stem. Cut sawtooth cilantro into 1-½ inch pieces.
- Toast chopped peanuts to a golden brown color. If you do not have a food processor, avoid purchasing whole peanuts as they will be very hard to chop with a knife.
- Combine green papaya, beef jerky, Thai basil, mint, cilantro, sawtooth cilantro and rau ram in a mixing bowl along with the dressing. Thoroughly mix and top with peanuts when ready to eat.
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